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By Geoffrey Peake
When your canoe hits a rock

Campsite: Lower Korok River 58o 49.99'N, 65o 45.48'W
Distance Yesterday/Today: 38 km
Total: 360 km (that's 215 miles for those non-metric individuals)

Thursday, August 2, 2001


In a perfect world, you get to the end of a trip right on time, it's a beautiful sunny day, and there's a crowd of friendly people waiting there to shake your hand, offer you a beer, and congratulate you on completing a difficult journey.

Alas, this is not a perfect world we live in. It's about 11:30 p.m. We are still camped at the mouth of the Korok River. I can hear the sound of the last rapids rumbling away 500 yards or so from my tent, but everywhere around us is enveloped with a ghost-like fog that has prevented us from leaving this place, and threatens to strand us here another day.

First, let's back up a bit and fill you all in on our last day on the river (Aug 1). We awoke to a rainy, windless buggy morning, packed up our gear, and headed off for our destination for the day -- the final rapid on the Korok, and the rendezvous spot where we were to be met by a motor boat that was to take us the last 30 miles around the point and into the town of George River. We had resigned ourselves to another day confined behind the mesh of our bug jackets. Yes, our bug jackets do work, but over the course of several days, a few always make it through the lining or cuffs or any other possible opening, and (as some of Michael's pictures show) they can do a considerable amount of damage. I have a particularly bad patch of bites around my neck and at my wrists, where they are too numerous to count but must number in the hundreds. Morning is the worst time; when I wake up they are unbearably itchy, and I do the one thing you're not supposed to do -- I scratch them. I scratch and scratch and scratch until they are red and swollen but somehow this feels better than just leaving them alone. Then I soak them in the river for a while, and by the time we get going in the morning, I hardly notice them any more.

Anyway, we had set off in another seriously buggy day when suddenly, without warning, a brisk wind sprang up from the south. Literally, within about a minute or so the clouds of blackflies that had been feeding off of us virtually uninterrupted for the last few days were blown towards Ungava Bay. In a moment, all of us had stripped off bug jackets and hats (most of which had acquired a sediment of dead blackflies in the collars and arms) and we were finally able to paddle without bug armour on. What a massive psychological lift for everyone -- I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from us. Those who have not experienced what it's like to be assailed by bugs on a constant basis for several days without pause have no idea how demoralizing this can be.

Anyway, we now were flying down the last few miles of the Korok, headed for the last real rapid that we would have to run on the river. Our trip notes had described this as a very rocky grade 3. The last grade 3 we had run had taken us nearly an hour to navigate and had required extensive lining, so we expected this next rapid would be much the same. What we found was a river channel almost completely choked with a mass of boulders and rocks with no clear route through. I found a path that snaked through shallower water, but looked simple and had no big drops, so we began our run, and things were going quite smoothly too. Sean and I had worked our way through the upper channel and were heading for the crux of the run -- the steepest part where, based on my initial reading of the rapid, I expected to have the most trouble. We had spotted a nice little chute, rocky but runnable and had just about worked our way through it when suddenly -- WHAM! We hit a rock right in mid-channel that stopped us cold and spun us sideways.

Now those of you who are not familiar with running rapids should know this: hitting a rock in mid current is not a good thing. Canoes have a tendency to spin sideways, and the force of the river itself will pull at the upstream side of the boat and try to pull it under. The instinct that whitewater paddlers need to develop is to lean DOWNSTREAM when hitting a rock to avoid being flipped. If your canoe does flip, it will then want to wrap itself around the rock, and in some cases the force of the water is so strong that once the boat is wrapped, it will remain stuck there until either the water level drops or you bring in heavy machinery to pull it off. We struck that rock so hard that Sean's paddle flew out of his hand -- he only just had time to grab it before it floated downstream. Meanwhile, I had to jump right out of the boat into the water, waist deep, to get some weight out of the boat so it wouldn't catch on the rock. All this happened within a few seconds, Sean and I pulled the boat off and had moved it to deeper water when suddenly -- WHAM! Brewster and Andrew slammed into the same rock a few feet behind us. In all our excitement, we had forgotten to tell them not to take this channel, and they had followed behind us. They too spun sideways now, and I waded upstream to give them a hand while Sean watched our boat. Tom and Mike had figured out that they probably shouldn't follow and started lining down another route.

Eventually, we got everything straightened out. The rest of the rapid was quite shallow but we ran the rest of it with ease.

Jean-Guy, the guy from George River who was going to pick us up from the mouth of the Korok had said he might be able to get us that evening if conditions are good. The tides on Ungava, if we haven't mentioned, are among the highest in the world (30 to 40 feet high) and render navigation out of the town of George River virtually impossible except for a few hours a day when the water is high enough to fill the bay. We were racing down to be at the last rapid in time for the high tide, when the final rapid is submerged and it is relatively easy to bring a boat in (at low tide the grade 3 rapid is nearly a kilometre long and a mess of slippery rocks and ledges). We reached the last rapid right before the tide was high, and gave Jean-Guy a call on our sat phone -- he said the weather was too rough for him to come that evening, and we should try again early Thurday morning.

Well, wake-up call was at 5 a.m. this morning; we figured that would give us enough time to portage around the last rapid on the river (which is not runnable, and is not covered by the high tide) and be ready to leave around 7 a.m. The rain started this morning right before five and by 7 a.m. it was pouring steadily. Not surprisingly when we phoned to see if Jean-Guy had left, he was still there. Apparently, things were so foggy in George River he could hardly see his boat. "Maybe we try in the evening", so we sat and waited -- the next high tide was about 12 hours away. Within minutes of calling, the sky cleared, a north wind sprang up, the temperature dropped (thanks to those of you who sent letters to the Minstry of Weather, your T-shirts are in the mail) and the bugs disappeared. The sun came out and we were able to enjoy a pleasant afternoon drying the mass of wet clothing and gear that had accumulated over the last few days of running rapids. I even had a chance to make up some cinnamon buns and a coffee cake. Everything looked perfect for being picked up that evening

And then...

About 4 p.m., just as the tide had started to rise, a thick bank of fog moved in from off the bay. Temperature dropped some more. The hills disappeared. Everything disappeared. We called Jean-Guy, hoping conditions would be different in George River. Jean-Guy says "I can hardly see my own house, maybe we try tomorrow morning."

And so here we are, stuck by the same kind of weather that kept us from flying in at the beginning of this trip. There's a strange kind of symmetry here at work, and it seems to be our fate on this trip to have to deal with it. At least we were able to dry most of our wet gear and store it. But our flight from George River is scheduled at 11 a.m. tomorrow, and, to be honest, it doesn't look very promising that we'll be on that flight.

And so there you have it folks. That's where we are. One of the realities of online trips is that we have no idea yet when or how we will get out of here. So far, everything is an unwritten book. We've been in this situation before, and all you can do is hope for the best. The truth is that tight schedules and wilderness tripping do not often mix. As ever, we are at the mercy of the weather whether we like it or not. We've traveled too many miles over the years to get too worked up about this kind of thing. All we can do is wait and be ready. We'll keep you posted...

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