There is a bizarre paradox to sitting baking on a beach
while icebergs float serenely in the fjord.
It’s 6 p.m., and our first full day on the water is
stumbling towards supper with a pattern emerging of how we’ll deal with
wind and tide. And weather.
The paddling has been good, except for one hard slog against
the wind, and after some food we will travel further while the sea is calm.
You see, a normal day’s canoeing will not do here. The
wind is typically down early in the morning, gets up by noon or 2 p.m., and
then seems to settle again late in the day.
Our task is be in step with nature and not fight it.
Mike and I, who have tented together for almost 20 years,
were awake this morning soon after five. It was light, having never gone
totally dark, and things outside looked much as they had when we fell quickly
asleep at 11.30 p.m.
Everybody was up and about before six, and after porridge
and coffee the Gore-Tex dry suits
appeared on those who chose to
bring them and we headed out towards the narrow entrance to Saglek Fjord
The entire huge bay gets tagged as Saglek, but there is a
sharp twist in it that leads deep inland which actually is the real thing.
Off its mouth was a decent –sized iceberg, grounded
off a rocky beach and shot through with cracks and fissures. We sat in awe at a
respectful distance – though I don’t believe it was in any danger
of rolling – because chunks can fall off them without ceremony.
Sean and Geoffrey Peake paddle past an iceberg in Saglek Bay. One of the thousands that make their way south on the Labbrador Current every year. Michael Peake photo.
Other, smaller bergs litter the rocky inlets.
Here we picked up company. Seals appeared everywhere, five
on one occasion, to check out the brightly-coloured interlopers.
Having them cavort and roll, 20 feet from the canoes, brings
to mind paddling in northern Ontario with otters around. The same whiskered faces,
intent concentration, enviable ease in the water.
The ocean is a clear as Waterford crystal, but even though
they tracked us faithfully no one spotted a seal underwater.
‘Our’ dining beach, with sunshine bouncing
harshly off the smooth rocks, is at the mouth of a stream which flows from an
inland lake. Lording over the scene is a 2,00-foot high lump of rock with a
superb ridge running up from the west side.
The terrain is, of course, treeless. Very few scrubby
willows. But there is plenty of green from the moss and lichens, and the shades
grey and brown are endless.
This makes it very easy, as happened yesterday, to spot
caribou and black bears. Polar bears blend in rather well up here, and we are
watching the light-coloured rocks keenly..
Skies are empty of clouds. Pale blue is all there is up
there, and though evening will darken it to indigo I’m predicting another
day like this tomorrow.
LATE) FLASH: We paddled until 11.15 p.m. beside the most spectacular very
cliffs, with a feeling of being inside a cathedral. The rock is fissured
vertically with myriad colours, lines and cracks reaching all the way up to the
2,000-foot high tops.
Coupled with icebergs turned pink by the setting sun, ducks
flashing before the canoes in flocks, and the ocean swells licking the
shoreline, it was eerie and so very beautiful.
At 10.30 p.m. we started the crossing of Bear’s Gut, a
two kilometre narrows, in calm seas, and turning into the inlet hauled the
boats up in twilight.
The only tentable ground was high up above the shore, and
the bare essentials made it up there before everyone slept instantly and well.
I managed a small Scotch surrounded by snoring.
I find it doesn’t spoil the flavour.
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