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Guide's Report

By Geoffrey Peake

When the weather changes

Thursday, July 26, 2001

PETER
BREWSTER


Campsite: Palmer River 58º 48.70'N, 64º 08.25'W
Distance Today: 5 km
Total: 211 km

A long time ago (or so it seems) when we were back at the Scout Jamboree, someone warned us about Northeast gales. "When the wind switches to the northeast, you could be stuck for a few days," she said. Well, today the weather has pinned us to this hillside and lashed us with rain for almost 15 hours without so much as a moments break. The rain began early this morning and continued without break until evening. The fact is, on every one of our trips, there are always days where the weather is just too harsh to move. With fresh snow on the hillside just above camp, and the wind chill temperature measured at -12ºC, today is definitely one of those days.

  Yesterday, as Brewster mentioned, we had a grueling day of portaging over some rugged topography. One of the realities of not having any previous trip reports of this part of our route is that we have to learn as we go. In this case, we made a decision to take a higher track on the portage in the hopes of avoiding the boggy and brushy terrain lower down. In retrospect we should have stayed with the river, as carrying our mountain of gear up and over has proved to be slower than even I would have believed. By the time we had humped our loads up to this spot yesterday we decided it would be best to camp here and get an early start in the morning.

  And then the weather changed.

  We have a certain protocol for days like today. In the past, we have spent more than our fair share of days stuck in a tent and actually I really look forward to these days because they give you the kind of unstructured time that often is lacking -- especially on these online trips. Today, for example, Tom, Sean, Andrew and I had a chance to play some cards. In fact we must have played six hours of euchre and hearts without pause. All the while the wind was shaking the tent and pelting down around. Every once in a while I would poke my head out and give an update on the ever-descending snow line. A few times we had to make forays to grab food and utensils, and learned first-hand how long it takes to lose feeling in your fingers in these conditions.

  Although every tent manufacturer known to man says never cook in a tent, on days like this the thought of cooking outside is just not an option, so we placed the stove on the lid of Andrew's wannigan and fired up a few batches of popcorn, some hot chocolate, some cornbread -- in short, anything that would lighten the load. Mike and Peter were holed up in their little tent reading for the day. (Mike finished his book and had to borrow mine.) He managed to get a line out and sent some pictures. Just for fun he also checked the weather at Saglek (http://www.weatherunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=saglek) and it showed winds at 90 kph, for a combined wind chill of -20º C! We tried to imagine what 90 kph winds would do to the section of coastline we paddled. I keep imagine those sheer cliffs and headlands being pounded by waves rolling in from Greenland...

  Later in the evening, the other gents had grown tired of their books and scintillating discussion (such topics as daily bowel movements, relative merits of single malt scotch, and other such arcane topics) and moved in to join the party. Sean persuaded the Governor to open his special reserve cabinet and fetch the unopened bottle of Remy Martin, which seems to magically disappear when in the vicinity of the Director of Research and Libations. Mike brought over the latest crop of emails and comments and read them out to the crew, who by this time had all partaken in the festive atmosphere that strangely manifested after the opening of the cognac. By this point the rain had stopped and the cloud cover had dispersed enough to give a regal view of the Torngats draped in a thin mantle of new snow. Even the Director of Tennis and Golf was roused (some might say dragged) from the hot depths of his sleeping bag to view this fine sight. At this time I produced from my secret stash, a CD of various songs I had kept for an occasion such as this, and popped it into the computer -- the first song was a bit of an inspiration of sorts, Ella Fitzgerald singing "Blue Skies". It was a great evening and we were all -- as Drew would say -- loving life.

  Now, some of you might be thinking what an abomination and sacrilege to bring such luxuries as a CD on a wilderness trip; but lets face it folks, we've got satphones and computers and a #$%&*!@ generator along-all of which I might add we have to carry for another 8 km or so until we reach the Korok -- so what's another half-▀ounce plastic disk? That's my reasoning anyway...

  Let's hope for some better weather tomorrow, and some better portaging terrain too for that matter, otherwise we're really going to have to push it to be in George River (Kanqsualujuuaq) a week tonight. We've been in tight places before and made it. I hope we can do it again.




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