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Daily Trip Log

By Peter Brewster

River high, mountain high

Tuesday, July 24, 2001


 400-FOOT LEVEL, PALMER RIVER: A day of full-contact, no holds barred river work.

 With a nice one kilometre portage at the end, starting with a near-vertical climb out of the gorge where, it would appear, water progress has ended.

 Most of us feel as if we took on the All Blacks rugby team single handed in a grudge match.

 But it all happened under a blue sky, which is a miracle after the all-pervasive sogginess of Monday, and the way things looked when we went to bed last night.

 (Readers will note that we are a day behind with the journals, as it was impossible to get a satellite phone line out last night because of the mountains.)

 I woke this morning early with the heat of the sun on my head through the tent wall. It was so unexpected that, in my usual early a.m. stupor, I at first thought we were on fire.

 The sun can wake us any day it likes, I say.

 On the river, it was mostly hauling in the water and very little actual tracking. The Palmer, running high and still extremely clear, is a brawling little stream up here in the higher reaches. Fast, deep holes, huge mid-river boulders, nasty chutes. Willows line the banks and blackflies made their first real attack.

 As most of my 160 pounds tends to be IN the water, because of my lack of verticality, I seem to present a ready target for the current and found my feet off the river bed all too often.

 My paddling partner, Andrew, whose legs are 30 years younger anyway, has a presence in fast water that belies his sinewy, lean build. But at over six feet he's mostly above the surface.

 The Palmer drops dramatically in short bursts, coming into the lake where we camped last night, and into and out of the beautiful deep lake where we had lunch today.

 One waterfall, among all the ones seen so far, stands out from today, and Mike got great photos of it. It was wide, high and completely handsome.

 Near its base, a mother duck and her brood bobbed precariously in a little eddy, apparently unsure whether to risk going down a rapid or trying to go up to escape what I am sure they regarded as a monstrous intrusion.

 Our group held tight to a rocky ledge as Mama got all her ducks in a row and they fooled us by ferrying across to the other side, where there were willows low to the water.

 From camp tonight I have a much more open view than has been the norm. Behind, the river and its gorge-like narrows, wending downhill in fine style. Did we really haul up that?

 There are 4,000-foot peaks visible on three sides of the lower valley.

 Ahead, yet another small lake, which seems to have a resident solitary duck -- although I'd guess there's another around...

 We are gaining altitude.

 Progress is being made.

 Another 10 p.m. supper is ready.

360 pix

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