ON THE PALMER RIVER:
The hard part has begun.
The uphill slog, by water and portage, that will bring us to the height of land between Labrador and Quebec and the headwaters of the Korok River.
We said farewell to saltwater yesterday afternoon, leaving the old Hudson Bay post site where Nachvak Fjord splits around 3.30 when the wind died a little and the crossing to Tallek Arm looked friendly.
It had been a wonderful spot to spend a night and morning, surrounded as we were with panoramic views and the remnants of history.
It's a very beautiful but truly lonely place. Even amid the bustle of a six-man camp I felt the weight of long ago winter months spent in splendid but no doubt anxious isolation.
A meeting place, to be sure, for Inuit travelers long before the Bay opened shop. But then the people who have inhabited Labrador for centuries have been everywhere here, and traces of their passing are there for the watchful eye to see.
But the view down Tallek was tantalizing - a narrowing inlet about 10 kilometers long, with towering mountains hemming it in to create a classic glacial valley.
A tailwind wafted the three Old Town canoes along. We made great time while gawking up at waterfalls tumbling hundreds of feet, snowfields on the sheltered tips of the higher peaks, and rock formations for which Tom usually had a text-book description.
Arrival at the Palmer itself is a little anti-climactic. The bay is shallow, the estuary braided. We had a miscue initially by pulling in to the south shore, but soon found the main channel on the north side.
Paddling wasn't an option for very long, though, and then it was all hands to the track lines and haul away, boys.
Basically, water running gin clear down a glacial valley in a stream too swift for subsurface vegetation feels pretty much as you'd expect: It's damned cold.
The troops (Geoffrey, Sean and Tom) who used neoprene booties on the ocean fared quite well coming upriver last night. They don't grip like a regular boot but the insulating value makes a good tradeoff. Mike and I used our old canvas river boots and had grip but could feel the water temperature clearly. Andrew had low-cut hiking shoes over neoprene socks and was probably the least troubled.
However, when we were having supper at 11 p.m. and wind was sending the temperature down towards 2C (34F) Geoff was happy as usual in bare feet and sandals!
Yes, it was about 10 o'clock when we quit the track lines for the night, close to the 100-foot contour and the first big bend where the river disappears between the hills. We're camped on a gravel bar with the main channel of the Palmer to the right (north) and a little side-run of to the left.
It's a day to re-pack for the uphill grunt, hike the hills and reconnoiter, nap and eat ANYTHING that has serious weight.
Gotta get those packs down to manageable proportions, in spite of the rum, baking supplies, cheese, salami, oats and noodles that constitute the bulk of the food. Plus, of course, the delectable home-dried dinners Andrew (Corky) Peake did up for the gang.
The sun is warm in the valley but the wind has a nice cool edge. The encroaching mountains mean that getting a satellite phone line out is tricky. The angles have to be just right.
So this laptop is going for a hike, up to where Mike has radioed that he has got a signal on the phone.
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