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  • Sunday August 1, 1999

    Cool runnings

    Peter Brewster writes:

    ON THE WINISK: There were five happy campers when we woke this morning to a grey, wet, 10C (50F) day.

    After the oppressive heat of southern Ontario the last month, it was a pleasure to feel the cool air of the north. The unhappy camper was Tom, who is a heat hound at heart and dragged out pile sweater and pants before breakfast. Within minutes of launching the boats we were all knee deep in the river, negotiating a rocky mess where the river runs out of Winisk Lake. But it's been hot up here, too, and the water is several degrees warmer than the air.

    This river rolls downhill nicely after leaving the lake, and we had a great morning running riffles and rapids, getting the feel of the Dagger canoes for the first time.

    Pulling the boats over a log rack on portage. -- Michael Peake photo --> to photo gallery

    Since l985 our group has exclusively used Old Town Trippers in 17 foot and 20 foot sizes, and they are fine boats. But circumstances this year dictated a change, and we have two 17 foot Dagger Ventures and a 16 foot Legend. Early verdict? They track extremely well, have excellent manoeuvrability and certainly aren't slow. If there is a downside I'd say the initial stability is well, different, and the 16, which I am running with Peter Scott, is wet in the bow.

    That said, the canoes are beautifully made, and I like the ergonomics. The cane, and webbing, seats are comfortable and very well positioned for our disparate group, with heights ranging from 5ft. 6in to 6ft. 4in and weights from 170lb to 240lb.

    There has been a nasty upstream wind all day, creating a sloppy chop on the open stretches of river. The rain has drifted in and out, at times appearing as a mist on the trees, and temperatures have not moved much above the morning. It was 11C. at lunch.

    The good thing about wind and cool weather, as any northern traveller knows, is that the bugs are light at worst, and only if you wander back from the riverbank into the dense willow and spruce are they a problem.

    Under the grey canopy of cloud, the river looks like beaten pewter, and spotting rocks in the rapids is not always easy.

    This stretch of the Winisk is bald eagle heaven. I have never seen so many in one area. Family groups, the young fluffy, curious and already enormous, rose from the trees and flew ahead of the canoes most of the day. They'd alight to perch on the very top of a spruce, looking completely out of proportion to the spindly, bending branches.

    This is a big river, with lengthy open vistas as you sweep round the large bends. Water level is very high, and there is no bank between river and bush. Campsites could be tricky to find.

    We covered 30 km (19 miles) today. We are camped tonight on a rocky point at a widening of the river, with the cabins of a native hunt camp in the far distance. Space for tents is cramped, because of the encroaching forest, but Mike and I had first choice of site tonight and lucked into a delightful mossy flat, just big enough for the tent, about 20 feet from the water. No bugs worth mentioning and a brisk breeze to dry wet gear. Winning the nightly tent site lottery is what I call good tripping.

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