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Guide's Report

By Geoffrey Peake

Avoiding a wrapped canoe

Tuesday, July 24, 2001


Campsite: Palmer River 58º 50.17'N, 64º 06.37'W
Distance Today: 7 km
Total: 206 km

We managed to make another few hard won miles today as we continue our climb to the height of land. In good paddling conditions, seven kilometres might take us a little over an hour. Today it took us seven. From our campsite tonight we can gaze down the valley from where we've come and marvel that we hauled our boats up it. We have definitely come to the end of the navigable part of the Palmer.

  Most of our day was spent waist deep wading up the river. The river was too fast to use the tracking lines, so dragging and hauling is the fastest option. With every waterfall and tributary stream, the Palmer is shrinking in size, but on these big drops there is still enough water to float our boats -- and wreck them if we're not careful. About an hour after we started today, Sean (my canoe partner) had gone back to help the others through a particular difficult section, and I continued through the last steep bit on my own. The water here flowed between two rocks in a sharp drop, and as I hauled my boat through I found that the stern sank quite neatly between these two rocks, and dropped below the waterline. In seconds the back half of the boat was filled with water and I suddenly found myself holding a boat that had dramatically increased in weight. I couldn't hold onto the boat and it began to slide backward in the current, filling with water as it went. Sean and Tom scrambled over to help me, and after bailing the canoe out (which took a while) we were afloat once more and on the move.

  The biggest fear in these rapids is that of the wrapped canoe. This happens when the boat either overturns or (as in my case) fills with water and gets caught in the current. The weight of a canoe filled with water is in the order of thousands of pounds, and when you combine that with the flow of water pushing against it, canoes can easily wrap around a rock and bend in half. This is definitely something to avoid on this trip -- or ANY trip.

  We had lunch at a small lake that provided a brief rest from the constant hauling. A few hundred feet beyond where we were eating Andrew found some curious rock structures. The rock here is unusually fractured in places into long spear-like columns, and someone had organized the rocks into rectangular shapes that at one time look like they could have been completely covered. We assume they were some kind of food cache, and judging from the caribou trails that run just a few feet away from them, that would make sense.

  After lunch, the hauling became more severe and our progress slowed. Eventually, we were obliged to carry our boats and gear around a hopeless morass of loose rock and boulders where the river fairly tumbles through. Portaging through this country is rough business. The valley is cut with ravines from tributary streams, and willow (the bane of portaging canoeists) grows profusely in dips and hollows. The portaging is good practice for the big carry, which will begin tomorrow and will probably take us two days. In a straight line, we have perhaps 12 km to travel to the Korok -- some of that is lake travel but most will be on the portage trail.

  Just a note of appreciation to those of you who have left comments on the site -- today at lunch we downloaded them (they're sent to us in email format) and read them out. As always, there is a certain amount of surreal quality in knowing there's a whole bunch of people out there following our trip. Most of the time it feels like we're just sending words and pictures out into space. A few people have commented on the photos of the bread the other day. The recipe for that is very simple, but the trick is doubling the yeast, keeping the salt to a minimum, and letting it rise overnight. As it turns out, we forgot to bring salt on this trip -- it was one of the things that misplaced during the packing phase at the Scout Jamboree, so we don't have to worry about putting too much salt in our bread now. Also, in regards to treating water, we have never actually treated our water on any of our trips. While it is quite possible that we could find impurities even in the amazing water up here, we are just willing to take that chance. Tom Stevens was treating his water at the beginning of the trip, but has stopped -- it's hard to put chlorine into water that is so sparkling and clear.

  Anyway, our journey continues. Soon we will be leaving Labrador and the Torngat Mountains behind us, as we begin our downhill run to Ungava Bay.

360 pix

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