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ALL ABOUT CANOES
Thursday August 12, 1999
A great day
Geoffrey Peake writes:
A wave of disappointment washed over me early this morning as I woke to the steady patter of rain on our tent. Dave was up, though, reliably as ever, preparing the batter for cornmeal pancakes.
Despair turned to joy when the rain suddenly subsided, and the clouds gradually dissipated to reveal a powder-blue sky and brilliant sunshine to fuel our power-hungry electronics.
There was much rejoicing in the group at the change of weather--doubly so because this was twelfth night, a hallowed night in the HACC calendar (see P. Brewster's journal for more info) For me, there was one other significance to this day: our last night camping on the river. We intended to make the most of it.
As Chief Guide, and Head of the Power Committee, I decreed that we could not leave the site until our battery had received sufficient charging to sustain the power demands of our electronic appliances. Each night, in order to write and file the stories, we need over two hours of computer time, and about half an hour on the satphone. In addition, Michael's scheduled appearance on CBC Radio today (This Morning--10:40 AM) would demand another 40 minutes of phone time. My rough calculations revealed we would need to wait until 3 PM until the battery would be charged enough.
Surprisingly enough, even without a book to read the time went by quickly enough, and at 3:05 PM we were again caught in the inexorable downstream pull of the Winisk. Although we had only 10 miles to paddle to our site, we were heading into the last set of whitewater on the river, Limestone Rapids. The packing of the boats reflected the approaching hazard. All loose items were packed away. Lashing straps were fastened to all the packs, and the large whitewater paddles and lifejackets were again summoned.
The Winisk has cut a broad swath across the band of Limestone that blocks the river's course here. The river is lined with creamy white cliffs, broken and shattered in many places. The Winisk has forced a way though this obstacle with a dozen channels that braid through a myriad of rocky islands and bars. The main flow of the river has blasted a deep water channel through the middle of this. As a rapid, it was quite easy. There were very few rocks to dodge. But in mid-channel, the hungry standing waves were lurking for over-laden canoes such as ours. We ran the upper section close to river right, skirting the edges of the worst waves in the middle. The crux came when the river divides around a high rocky island. The left channel passes between steep cliffs on both shores, and the main flow of the river goes here. While we could have easily skirted to the right of the island, avoiding the worst of the waves, we desired to have a truly great campsite for the evening, to celebrate both the glorious twelfth and our final night on the water. The best site, as is so often the case, was on the opposite side of the river. We would have to negotiate a way through the waves, all the while ferrying to the far shore as quickly as possible before the current swept us past the site.
Despite our load, and some large waves, we managed to work our way across to the small eddy with a compact cobble beach. Above lay an excellent site with a commanding view of the rapid, easily our best campsite of the trip. The sweep and majesty of the Winisk here is a far cry from that first diminutive rapid we had paddled twelve days earlier. The river has surpassed even my expectations of size and stature.
The marks of spring break-up, which I noticed at last night's camp, are doubly obvious here. Signs of rocks shifted by ice were evident on top, over 12 meters above the river. The receding flood had deposited a ring of ready-made firewood that marked the shore like a bathtub ring.
Tom and I, ever ready to make the most of the great weather and rapids, carried our boats up to the start of the last set three times to get another run in. The canoes, unburdened with gear, bounced through the worst of the waves that Tom and I took special care to find.
Afterward we enjoyed a wide variety of delicacies and treats including Veuve Cliquot Champagne, Remy Martin Cognac (sorry Sean), Pate du fois gras, cuban cigars, chocolate covered coffee beens, and artichoke hearts. Dave revealed several fireworks which we ignited once it got dark, and we regaled ourselves with many toasts to the HACC executive.
As I write now, the rain is again falling on my tent. The day ends as it began--but what a great day, a day that reminds us, as Peter Brewster once said, why we got into canoeing in the first place.
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