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Daily Trip Log

By Peter Brewster

Everything on track (and wet!)

Monday, July 23, 2001


 ON A SMALL LAKE, UP THE PALMER RIVER: How are things in Florida?

 Just asking.

 It occurred to me today, tracking up a rushing river of cold water under low, weeping mist, that somewhere it might not be raining.

 We have no way tonight (Monday) of getting a satellite phone line out, so enclosing are the mountains. No way to check on what's going on elsewhere in the world.

 That in itself is bizarre, of course, and becomes the pivotal paradox of an on-line wilderness canoe expedition: we are in an extremely remote location, but with a move of maybe a kilometre upstream from this welcome camp the entire world would be available through the sat phone.

Andrew Macdonald checks out one of the spectacular falls that drop off the Torngats in numerous places -- here into the Palmer River. Michael Peake photo

 Here, it seems as though we are in Waterland, suspended in liquid above and below. Running water beside and behind us, clouds choking the tight valley where the Palmer, narrowing to about 20 feet wide, runs through a small, shallow lake on its way from the height of land.

 At least three huge waterfalls are tumbling hundreds of feet from ridges buried in the mists. They just appear dramatically out of the drab grey overcast. I never get tired of looking at them, nor can I resist mentioning them in this journal on a regular basis. Unless seen firsthand, it is very hard to grasp the full majesty of these falls.

 Rain started sometime after midnight, a changing wind heralding something other than yesterday's sunshine as we went to bed. At three a.m. or thereabouts, Sean, Mike and I all heard three jet aircraft not too far away (military from Goose Bay or commercial planes flying rather low?). At eight a.m. it was still raining, and the Governor, who had been snoring less than usual, pronounced an all-day rain.

 He was mostly right. The wetness quit long enough for a quick breaking of camp, but started up again before long and continued.

 Tracking itself is, by nature, a damp business away, but doing it in a cold rain driven by a 15 km/h wind adds another dimension.

 For anyone who has stumbled onto this site and is not a canoeist, tracking is the cunning art of motivating a canoe upriver by means of ropes attached fore and aft. The bow is angled out slightly to catch the advancing current, and the canoe then rides out from the river bank rather like a sailboat running just off the wind.

 So the bowman, rope in hand, moves along, trying not to fall over loose rocks while acting primarily as a tractor, but adjusting the length of the rope as needed. The stern man, also rope in hand, keeps the canoe angled correctly by letting out and hauling in while also trying not to fall over rocks, willows, etc.

 When the river gets rocky or overly swift, it is frequently necessary to get in and haul directly on the canoe while up to your ass in the aforementioned cold water.

 This is known to be fun, and like the waterfalls, needs to be experienced for the full effect.

 Today was actually a highly satisfying exercise in tracking, bringing the outfit to about the 300-feet above sea level point.

 The Palmer is having a high-water year, judging by the vegetation that is flooded and little channels that would normally by dry.

 The extra water makes tracking more challenging, and enables us to progress a bit further with canoes carrying the gear.

 But tomorrow the portaging will begin. The river has narrowed, willows crowd the banks, and a tumpline has started to look more attractive than a tracking rope.

 But portaging. Ah, portaging. It is much better done without rain.

360 pix

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