ON THE KOROK RIVER: We're over the border.
The height of land between Labrador and Quebec was crested at about 4 p.m. today, and the sigh of relief was audible, no doubt, in Toronto.
It has been a very grueling portage from our last camp on a small mountain top, where we spent a day pinned by driving rain and bitter windchill.
Miraculously, the skies emptied of their vitriol overnight, and we had clear, sunny weather for the dangerous and frustrating descent down to the Palmer River.
What followed is best called challenging.
The Palmer valley is as rugged as it is beautiful, criss-crossed by deep gulleys and overgrown with willow.
Carrying our outfit, which contains rather more gear than the average canoe group (waterproof cases for the computers, Infosat phone, and Nikon cameras, plus a tiny generator and its gasoline) over this stretch of the valley tested everyone
As was observed during the hot afternoon, this may be the land God gave to Cain, but He likely got this bit of it for back taxes.
The day was long, the view -- as it has been all the way -- incredible, except that bent under a heavy load the horizon is whatever I can see under the brim of my hat. The senses, at these times, are best suspended, except for the constant awareness that a foot placed wrong could mean a wrecked knee or ankle.
The closest influences are the smell of new leather tumplines, the fragrance of Labrador tea on the wind as a boot crushes leaves, the pervading awareness of one's own sweat.
It was a grind. Camp last night was in an enormous rock garden, acres of loose, rolling stone, with a lovely little waterfall feeding a creek and the lumpy, snow-covered peaks of the Torngats looming large.
Immediately ahead was a lacework of channels, draining their load of recent rains down river but still holding enough to float a laden canoe.
Over it all, a perfect half moon in an icy blue sky which paled to light graphite as night fell, bringing temperatures close to freezing but not low enough to deter the mosquitoes and blackflies.
We hit the packs again early, unsure whether the route would remain the agony of yesterday. But once through the little channels, there was easier portaging over more level ground to another small lake. Then another.
And so it went. By midday we knew we could make the Korok tonight. The height of land was visible, the weather perfect for work: cool breeze, overcast sky.
At the high point, a small ceremony was held to remember Angus Scott, father of HACC regular Rev. Peter Scott, who died just before our departure.
Angus, an accomplished and adventurous canoeist, would have savoured the moment had he been there: brutal portage beaten, a rarely travelled wilderness river in sight, Ungava Bay beckoning 80 miles downstream.
It was downhill from there to the river, the landscape opening into an enormous valley of a softer flavour than the Palmer was.
Our views are open, across rolling, lush tundra, with sandy shorelines and rounded hills. Looking back towards the coast, however, the Torngats are still there, snow prevalent on the higher slopes.
A large owl greeted the gang as we climbed the riverbank to look for campsites. Wolf scat is everywhere. We expect to see black bears, and caribou, which have been absent except for solitary animals since Nachvak Fjord. There should be brook trout and char in the river.
Then, of course, there's the time change. Watches have been turned back. There'll be an extra hour in bed tonight.
Now THAT'S the kind of welcome to Quebec we need.
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