Campsite: Palmer River 58º 54.90'N, 63º 52.57'W
Distance Today: 20 km
Total: 182 km
Today's journal is a double entry; I was too bushed last night to file a report, and too busy this morning to do it as well. One of the problems for me in writing these daily journals is that I prefer to write at night in my tent, after everyone else is gone to bed. Lately, though, these days have been quite tiring and sometimes it's just a lot easier to wait till the next day.
In the past, our experience with northern travel has taught us to have an innate distrust of ideal conditions -- too many days of amazing weather with incredible scenery invariably leads us to expect corresponding days of miserable conditions. That is the feeling we are getting now, like somehow, we're getting away with something on this trip that shouldn't happen -- extended stretches of great weather in an area renowned for just the opposite. We're not complaining, mind you, just reveling in our good fortune to experience this place under sunny skies.
Today (Saturday), has for me been one of the most tiring days in as long as I can remember. This morning, Andrew, Tom and I embarked on a small hiking trip up a side valley. Our goal was to gain access to the high plateau of the Labrador-Quebec boundary and get a view of Mt. Caubauvik (5200 ft). We headed up from camp and followed a route up a stream that headed east out of camp. I had spied out a route on the map that gradually worked it's way up steep-walled peaks, following a small trench-like route up to a pass at the border ridge.
At first, our progress was swift, as we followed caribou trails through the tundra grass into this amazing valley ringed with cliffs; at the end of this we took a right hand turn and entered what can only be described as an eavestrough valley bounded on one side by a two thousand foot face. We worked our way up this valley, through broken rock, gradually climbing. As we rose higher, patches of snow became more common; eventually the snow became so deep it filled the valley bottom, and the river cut a path underneath it, breaking into the open in places. We continued our climb, and soon found ourselves walking over snow deposits many years old and that were covered in a variety of rock debris, from fine sand to large rocks that had dropped from above. The water here had cut large caverns underneath this ice, and in places the ice had become thin enough that it had broken through. The going became very tricky through here, and as we continued it became harder to avoid walking over these snow bridges -- in places the valley bottom was little more than 10 metres wide. The snow conditions became more treacherous, and looking up at the steep faced slope on our right, I thought all it would take is one loose rock and we'd be trapped in a rockslide. If any place had death trap written on it, this was it. So regretfully we reversed our route back to the start far from our planned goal.
Normally this is where the story would end. By this time we had been going about four hours, and by the time we reached camp it would be dinnertime. But I felt there was a better route up the rock slope to our right. Tom had experienced enough loose rock hiking for the day and opted to return to camp, but Andrew was willing continue, so the two of us headed up again, this time climbing steep and fast. The sun was beating down and my clothing was drenched with sweat, but with each step we rose above the valley and our view improved. Finally by 6 p.m. we had reached as far as we could go. I definitely have underestimated the scale and steepness of these mountains -- the glacial carved headwalls along the ridge lines are too steep for us to climb. We looked at that last headwall for a while, pondering whether it was worth giving it a try, but it looked like it was going to be too much for us.
So, reluctantly, we headed back for camp -- but not before taking a QTVR panorama shot
which will allow you, the reader to share, as much as it is possible, the view we had today on the mountain.
By now, it was 6:30, and by all rights we should have headed back to camp. But both Andrew and I, slightly fanatical when it comes to mountains, and once we had descended a thousand feet or so, I spotted yet another route -- farther up the valley -- that looked promising. I suggested we quickly check it out, and Andrew, who is always game for this kind of business, agreed. Well, before you know it we were slogging our way back up another pile of loose rocks again, sweating profusely, still not willing to accept the fact that we weren't going to make it to the top of any ridge today. By 7:30 the sun was starting to set behind the mountains. We finally got a view of the rest of the route ahead of us and, lo and behold, there was the ideal route to the top of the ridge. If only we had been there a few hours earlier...
We felt some degree of satisfaction at finally figuring out the route; we had a handful of trail mix and some lemonade and started heading back down to camp. We didn't get there until 10 p.m. -- the others were there, dinner cooked, fire roaring, boisson ready, eager to hear of our adventure.
Anyway, here I am, last one up again, writing the story of our little adventure. In the big scheme of things it doesn't matter much, but what impresses me the most about this country is how incredibly pristine everything feels. Today we passed a waterfall that emptied into a deep pool of water a remarkable colour of blue. Andrew commented that it looked like a river of Windex. We both laughed that this wasn't maybe a very appealing metaphor, but that's exactly what it looked like.
The other amazing thing is that today marks the end of the first week of this trip. When I think back to that first night on Saglek Bay, it seems like a year ago. The variety of scenery we've seen so far -- the coastal paddling, the fjords, the mountains, not to mention the caribou and polar bears -- is without parallel on any of our other trips. I'm just grateful that we've been able to do so much in a week. How I wish my life at home was this productive!!! Anyway, it's late and I've probably said too much. I think I've earned some sleep tonight...
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