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Guide's Report

By Geoffrey Peake

Warming up with an instant casserole

Monday, July 23, 2001

PETER
BREWSTER


Campsite: Palmer River 58º 51.53'N, 64º 02.00'W
Distance Today: 11 km
Total: 199 km

 It's amazing how a journey of only a few kilometres can take you into a whole other world. We continued our upstream tracking of the Palmer today, although we were delayed in the morning by wind and rain. I was up about 6 a.m. and did a walk around the campsite because I was worried something might blow away -- the wind was roaring over the pass and through camp and one of my worst fears (based on actual experience) is that vital pieces of equipment (like canoes) will blow away while we are sleeping, never to be seen again. The gusts, fortunately, were not strong enough to rearrange our canoes, but after a quick check to see that everything was secure I could at least crawl back into the tent and relax.

  Today, Sean and I wore the one-piece Gore-Tex drysuits that we had brought to protect us from the cold waters of the Labrador Sea. These suits are somewhat uncomfortable to wear -- tight gaskets seal around wrist, ankles, and neck -- but they prevent all water from seeping through. In the beginning they were a hassle to wear. The neck gasket especially clung so tight to your neck it made your eyes bug out. We called them the body condoms. But today they proved to be the ideal thing; you can wade up to your neck in water and still keep dry, so Sean and I were free to cross the river wherever we wanted without fear of soaking our clothes. And we must have had to cross the river two dozen times today, constantly switching from one shore to the other for the easiest route for tracking and hauling.

  The rain and wind continued most of the day. It was so chilly that we hardly had time to enjoy our lunch -- the moment you stop moving in these conditions, your body heat dissipates quickly in the chill damp air. Tom and Peter had to start pacing back and forth on the sandbar to generate some warmth before we headed off.

  The valley has closed in tightly here, so tight there's no sense trying to hike up and get a signal on the sat phone. The cloud ceiling has dropped so that the tops of the hills are shrouded in mist; down the valley cliff faces rise like ramparts to the south, and half a dozen waterfalls cascade off the slopes.

  The moment we hit camp tonight, everyone burrowed away in their tents to warm up. Tom's feet were freezing today, and by the time I finally rolled into the tent, he was cocooned away in his bag-dreaming (so he said) of warm beaches and tennis games.

  This was one of those nights when everyone could have just skipped dinner and gone to bed. Normally on our trips, we never buy commercially prepared dried -- or God forbid, freeze dried-meals, preferring to make everything from scratch. Last night, for example, we had a baked macaroni, made with three-year-old cheddar, seasoned with fresh onions, herbs and some sherry. I know people who head out on trips with all their food commercially packaged. The trouble with these meals is that when people are tired (like tonight) no one feels like making dinner. This is where the miracle of food drying comes into play. Tonight we had a dried casserole that HACC Quartermaster D. Andrew Peake prepared for us, following our mother's time-honoured recipe. The meal was prepared in full in the comfort of his basement hovel, then placed on racks and dried in a commercial food drier. He meticulously packed the contents up, provided instructions for rehydration, then placed it in a Ziploc bag. Tonight all I had to do was open the Ziploc, dump the contents into the large pot with 8 cups of water, soak for an hour bring to a boil and voila! -- 15 cups of Beef Casserole. This is as close to an instant dinner as we get, and it tastes great too. Perfect for a night like tonight!

  One of the unfortunate things about online trips in general is that they consume our social time. Normally, the big social event on our trips are the nightly rounds cards, usually euchre, that has been the hallmark of every trip I've been on in the last twenty years. So far we haven't even brought a deck of cards out even once. Most evenings we're dealing with charging computers, writing stories, editing pictures, or trying to get the #$%* computer to hookup with the phone. This time directly subtracts from our social time, which is just the price of doing an online trip. But tonight, with no possibility of sending anything, we can relax a bit. Andrew stopped by our tent after dinner to socialize and we had unusually animated and cerebral discussion (for the HACC anyway) about Canadian writers (Tim Findley, Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, etc) and the merits of their work.

  Tonight I'm writing by candlelight. The extensive cloud cover has made it actually dark down here. One unusual quality about the Palmer River valley has been the large amount of rockfall we've heard. There hasn't been a night yet where the sound of rocks careening off the cliffs hasn't echoed around the valley. We've heard three or four rockslides in this spot alone this evening, and as I'm writing now the rumble of more rockfall continues. It would be easy to imagine that somewhere above, lost in the clouds, giants are lobbing rocks down into the valley for their amusement; I have to say there's something a little unsettling lying in your tent and hearing rocks clattering down the hills but you have no idea just how close they're going to roll. An interesting place to spend the night, to say the least...




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