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ALL ABOUT CANOES
August 6, 1997
Geoffrey Peake, Chief Guide of the Hide Away Canoe Club (HACC) writes:
The rain has passed and the bright glow of sunshine is illuminating the
tent. As I write I am busy killing mosquitoes that were foolish enough to have
accompanied me inside--present count is 40. At last I can relax. We are camped
about 80 feet above river in a beautiful but impractical spot. Beautiful
because we have chosen a broad and steep sided esker as a campsite. Rolling
hills of green moss are broken with sand and gravel flats that stretch up the
hillside nearly a kilometer to the east. I feel liked we are camped on a golf
green. Tonight our tent sites are flat and perfectly situated for a view up the
river towards the rapids. But it is an impractical spot because of the steep
and awkward climb up from the water, especially when you're hauling nearly 1000
pounds of gear! Needless to say, though, it's a superb site and a fitting
reward to another difficult day on the river.
Another 21 kilometers on the water today, and believe me, they were
hard won. Past our campsite we entered into a series of ledges too steep to
easily run. With a combination of portaging, lining, and judicious paddling, we
worked our way slowly through the bewildering array of channels, some scarcely
wide enough to fit a canoe.
Gradually, as we rode downstream, the many channels became one and we
were faced with a substantial set of whitewater. We generally try to avoid the
largest waves as we descend. In this set Tom, my trusty bowman (or is it
bowperson?) and I led the way. Ahead the river ran over a series of ledges in
the middle with a good portion being deflected to the left bank. From above we
could plainly see the standing waves of 4 feet or more that erupted as the
water piled on top of itself. We chose a narrow course between the course and
shore that seemed hardly wider than a razor's edge. To head too far out means
risking riding in those waves. To head to close risks hitting the back current
which, at our speed, would flip the boat around in a second--and would surely
mean a dunking.
I shout my commands to Tom, and he obeys.
"Draw...a little more. OK. Crossdraw. Forward! More!. OK. Here
we come. Good. Backpaddle. Backpaddle. Brace. Great! Almost through"
And so the rapid goes. We hit the razor's edge and ride down, racing
past wave on one side, rock on the other. Right on course. What a great
The others follow through and we pause at the end to bail and drink
some water. The stress and adrenaline of whitewater creates a powerful thirst.
Below that we hit a difficult section where the river flows over a seeming
endless series of ledges, throwing up huge waves in mid-current that would
swallow our boats in a flash. We skirt the edges, lining and hauling when
necessary, running as much as we can. It's exhausting work, though, both
mentally and physically. We keep looking ahead, hoping the river will calm
down. The river keeps dropping.
Finally we approach the last drop that we all remember from the last
trip. Here the river funnels into a gap of less than 100 feet. Shooting
through this gap is several thousand gallons of water per second, flowing in a
smooth tongue that erupts into standing waves as it slows. A steep bank and
ledges on either shore would force our course right into midstream.
I walk ahead to scout it. Normally my 'inner voice' will tell me
whether to run or not. I look. Watch the water. Study the waves and current.
Nothing comes. Occasionally I just draw a blank. And to make matters worse,
lining is not an option either. It's either run or portage, and believe me the
last thing we want to do is carry.
We discuss it among ourselves. Finally, a decision is reached. I'd
love to say we braved the rapids and won, that we faced down those waves yet
again. Alas, mortality and practicality got the best of us (visions of lost
satphones and computers danced in our heads). We portaged. At least I know
that my mother, reading this, will sleep a little better tonight.
With nearly one-third of the rivers drop to Ungava completed in these
last three days, we have now finished the upper river. Tomorrow, we're on to
Indian House Lake, and a break from the rapids.
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