Monday, January 19, 2009

Rupert River Destroyed

In case you missed it, the Rupert River is pretty much destroyed. I'm surprised at how quickly the hands of man were able to dismantle such a strong force of nature and rearrange it to serve our purposes. Check out these pictures of what was still a pristine wilderness just months ago... many more pictures displayed proudly on the Hydro Quebec website:

George River Log

Well one river that won't be dammed is the George River. It's simply too far away to run transmission lines to. For now. I ran it last summer in four weeks with a group from Keewaydin Camps. Here's the log I kept. Being light so late into the night enables much writing in the tent, so it's long!

Salisbury, Vermont 05769 USA
(802) 352-4770
Leaders: Steve King, Mel Joyce

Trippers: Canice Ahearn, Jaume Anfruns-Grimaldi, Lolo Cappio, Luis Gubern-Anfruns, Charlotte Gutfruend, Sam Lewis, John Stone, Jared Rosenfeld

July 12 Trippers arrive, Lake Dunmore
July 13-14 Shakedown and packing
July 15 Depart for Sept Iles
July 16 Arrive Sept Iles
July 17 Train to Schefferville
1 July 18 Truck to Iron Arm, Lac Attikamagen
2 July 19 Fox Lake
3 July 20 Height of Land Portage to Lac Doublet
4 July 21 Lac LaPorte
5 July 22 Lac Talon (Delta Aquarids meteor shower)
6 July 23 Ni d'Aigle, Riviere de Pas
7 July 24 The Crossing
8 July 25 Falls Campsite
9 July 26 REST DAY
10 July 27 South of George River junction
11 July 28 North of George River Junction
12 July 29 Lac de la Hutte Savage, Wedge Point
13 July 30 Lac de la Hutte Savage, Wedge Point
14 July 31 Lac de la Hutte Savage, Wedge Point
15 Aug 1 Haute Falaise, south of avant poste
16 Aug 2 George River Lodge
17 Aug 3 Lac Slanting
18 Aug 4 Colline Wedge
19 Aug 5 Wedge Hill Bends
20 Aug 6 Pebble Beach a.k.a. Best Campsite Ever
21 Aug 7 REST DAY (Perseids meteor showers)
22 Aug 8 Point d'interest
23 Aug 9 8 miles above Helen's Falls
24 Aug 10 Helen's Falls Portage
25 Aug 11 Below Rapides Sarvakallak
26 Aug 12 Ford Island
27 Aug 13 Arrive in Port Nouveau (Kangiqsualujjuaq)
28 Aug 14 Fly to Ft. Chimo (Kuujjuaq) and Montreal
Aug 15 Stuck in Kujjuaq, enjoying the Aqpek Jam Music Festival
Aug 16 Fly to Montreal, Arrive at Keewaydin

July 12th-14th -- Trip Prep

One muggy summer day, from as far away as Barcelona and as nearby as down the lake, a swarthy crew was united at Keewaydin Dunmore. Our mission: to paddle canoes from Schefferville to Kangiqsualujjuaq. First step: Swim tests. Who can complain about dips in Dunmore? Charlotte and the Spaniards could, and did. The Spaniards even managed to evade the swim tests altogether, arriving to camp hours late. Luis’ luggage was even tardier. Not wanting to get stuck shaking down on the Otter again, we prayed for rain, checked Eddy-Flower for river levels, prayed for rain some more, then went to the Otter, prayers unanswered. Working each and every eddy over and over with peel-outs, eddy-outs, ferrying, and surfing, we lashed the soft-core campers into shape, hammering home the fundamentals and searching for appropriate boat pairs. No one got an eye infection, and the Gorge was quite fun as usual. After washing the film of manure from our bodies, we were introduced at the Kicker, and envied by all. Campers spent Monday packing, except for Luis, whose luggage was still in the black hole of the Burlington International Baggage Claim. Then everyone joined the younger Wigwams/Longhouses as substitute staff persons, except for Luis, who went with Steve to reclaim his luggage. They had been looking for it for days, and Luis and I found it for them in five minutes, right on a chair behind the front desk. “Idiotas!” We spent the evening pouring over maps and picking the well-versed mind of Seth Gibson back at the wilderness cabin. This is it!

July 15th -- Salisbury, Vermont to Burgerones

With an early breakfast thickening in our stomachs, and an encouraging sendoff from Owen warming our hearts, we set out for the Great Northern Beyond. Seth took the helm. Blazed through Vermont like hell on wheels, then glided through the border with Parkay-lubricated smiles opening the way. Lunched at a rest stop along route 20 to enjoy Caribou pate supplied thoughtfully by Seth, then dinnered at a unique Irish restaurant in Malbaie that they called “MacDonald’s”. Afterwards traced the northern shore of the flueve they named after St. Lawrence, crossed the fiord-like Saguenay River on a ferry, and sputtered up to our campsite in Burgerones, where we were greeted by a sublime double rainbow over the bay.

July 16th --Burgerones to Sept Iles

Slept through my quiet alarm until 6:40, and scrambled to break camp before Seth arrived. Seth arrived. Finished breaking camp and headed to the local café for oefs and jamon, avec café. Drove through sweet kayaking country, with amazing waterfalls dropping in around us. The signs for the rivers told us they were good salmon fishing streams as well. Sadly, we also passed many dams, as this region was the first to be bound and gagged by Hydro-Quebec. Reached Sept Iles at 2pm, bedraggled by hard driving. Met Tim Horton. Loaded the boats on board the Quebec North Shore and Labrador train, then went to a place not many wilderness trips have gone: the Mall! We had a shopping spree even the Hilton sisters could envy, procuring last minute items, including the last of the bug spray and a fishing license that all of my “children” could legally fish with. Jumped back in the van to be whisked away to our campsite just outside of town, on the sandy bank of the Moisie River. Gymnastics and wading and feeling excited along the beach, retired to the tent too tired for complex sentences. Only fragments.

July 17th Sept Iles to Schefferville

Woke at 4:15, then woke up the cooks at Le Chaudron and forced them to cook our oefs and jamon. Sped on over to the train and loaded up, weighing in our campers as well as our gear. (After dumping War and Peace, The Odysy, Don Quixote, Gone with the Wind, Anna Korenina, Infinite Jest, and some of the other longest books ever written, Jared’s library/riverbag only weighed 45llbs! Left the station on time, with Seth clutching the fence as if he wanted to hurdle it, catch the train in one single giant bound, dive in through a window, and stow away on our adventure with us. His spirit at least will be with us, guiding us along vicariously, riding aloft in cottony clouds, and offering sound advice in times of turmoil. We’re on our way with a Kah Key Kay. Train was eating track by 7:58am. Sit on the left for the Moisie River canyon, then prepare for massive granite batholiths to spring up around you, sweating off tendrils of waterfalls, which collect and make more waterfalls. Multi-pitch climbing and class five creek boating opportunities are crowding this lonely corner of Quebec. Rolled on through lakes and a burn and then more of the burn and on through the burn some more. Passed a wreck from a derailment this spring, when heavy rains washed out the tracks again. Just a little ore and twenty cars spilled over the cliff. The track is better now. Six Quebecois were heading down the Moisie, and got off for their own adventure. A soloist was heading down the Magpie, already in his anti-social scene by himself, but spoke fondly of the George, except the black flies. A friendly Naskapi fellow named James grew increasingly concerned about our welfare on the river, and peppered me with questions, such as, “what do you do if a person goes crazy from black flies?” Which the correct answer could only be, as we learned, putting their clothes in a zip-lock with both Labrador tea and tamarack. James was full of bogus antics such as claiming speckled trout will go bad unless you eat it there on the spot, raw and still twitching, and waving his arms around, explaining the size of a bears head. After adamantly disapproving of our decision to attempt such a trip without a guide, he offered to join us as a guide. We would have to wait for him for a few weeks to get ready, however. I declined the offer. After several rounds of our own version of Apples to Apples, and four minutes shy of 14 hours “getting to know each other”, we arrived in Schefferville, train-sick, fatigued, and hungry, but with an electrical chord of excitement pulling us along. Oksana greeted us at the train, shuttled us back to her place in a few loads, fed us delicious chili, and tucked us goodnight.

July 18th Day 1--Schefferville to Lac Attikamagen (Tomb-Raider Campsite), 12km

Got up around 6, and waited for Oksana to shuttle a couple clowns (literally) to the train station, then visited Air Saguenay over at Squaw Lake to drop the resupply food and organize the date, location, and cost of the resupply. Then Oksana took us to the Northern for fresh food. Oksana shuttled us in on the improved road, two trips at one hour each, and after lunch in the rain (our only one all trip!) we were finally on the water. Put in at Iron Arm, with a drizzly day clearing into light cloud cover and slight winds. Camped below the second T on the word Attikamagen on map 2, where the swamp recedes around a small knoll and a small church is built on a grave-sized pile of rocks. Spent the night comparing Songa and Keewaydin tripping styles, and with as much maturity as we could muster, selecting the superior techniques from each. Diplomacy at it’s finest and most hilarious.

July 19th Day 2 – Tomb Raider Campsite to Fox Lake—15K

Flat water day, with a very occasional upstream slog instead of the two marked portages, due partially to missing the “winter road” altogether, and partly because the winter road was muskeggy. In a drier year, the portages may be a better option. To find them, paddle past the outlets where the creek comes in, and look for a wide swath cleared through the boreal. Spacious campsite on Fox with ample firewood, a delicious sunset, and beautiful pizza.

July 20th Day 3 – Fox Lake to between Blenac and Girard—30K

Skies split early. Portages along the winter road were dispatched of promptly. Crossed our only height of land! Celebrated our way down well-hydrated rapids, which would be a drag in low-water years, but served as perfect warm-ups for us. Bald mountains surround us now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find some creeks with waterfalls coming in soon. 12 rapids were marked on the maps today, although headwinds on long lakes became the central theme. Only the right half of Lolo’s face got sunburned, so we must be heading east. Rosenfeld keeps springing questions like “Is Art Dead”, and “What’s the derivation of the word “artifice””, sparking lengthy debates about the self, and causing me to miss several paddle strokes. Our crew proved solid today. No trouble finding some one to help with something, it’s already done. Only trouble is that we’re all so experienced that we’re set in our ways. We learned that from Seth.

July 21st Day 4-- Girard to Lac Talon-- 21K

Spirits high with the second hot sunny day in a row. Spent the morning gliding through the narrow lakes of the headwaters, draining along with the water off the land, squeezing through breaks in the hills, glacial skid marks really, bearing short sections of rapids. Used consensus-based decision making to reach the verdict that we must indeed climb the small craggy hill to have a look over Lac Girard and Lac LaPorte, so we trudged through a swamp, weaved our way up through taiga moss and boreal on a maze of caribous trails, then broke through the tree line for the first time, pulling off layers (not all of them) as the infernal sun baked down. From our perch on top, we could see for the first time just how “out there” we were, with no sign of anyone for miles and miles and miles, just rolling hills and lots of water. We could see into the George watershed, and scouted out the Peace. Yoga and mountain top philosophizing and collecting caribou antlers and people throwing rocks at my head while I tried to negotiate a number two. Then back down to water level for lunch, with Mel dumping the first aid kit in the lake and Steve losing then finding his hat. Situations remedied, and off!
breathing in discovery
vast immensity
filled with near fatal stillness, paddling across
deep vast perfection opens
around us now and we become

July 22nd Day 5—Talon to Ni d’Aigle—36K

We awoke at 5 for the big day, with fog so thick, the vestibule was an entirely different world. The sun wasted no time dispelling the fogs myths, and the glassy truth of Lac Talon became gloriously revealed. Shot an insignificant rapid then we be Jammin’ on Lac Jamin. A large bald eagle swept overhead and a huge Musky lurked beneath my boat as we snuck down River Left (hereafter RL) to the top of the SIV, which looked more like an RIII to me. We carried it on the left, following a 200m trail with a slightly messy put-in, where I moved a few rocks and rolled into the water with one of the boulders and submerged up to the neck with a splash. Rescued myself but lost my dignity. Shoved off one at a time because of tight launch pad, then re-grouped in a big eddy and continued down the pouring rapids, enjoying it immensely. Approached 2nd SIV cautiously, and scouted from the island. The RL channel was too dry to be any good, and RR boasted large waves, certainly the purpose for the SIV rating. We lined a small ledge drop to gain access to the R shore of the island, and then ran the L side of the R channel, hugging the cobbled bank of the island to avoid the big waves. Rivierre Foquieres came in, and we hit several smaller rapids without worry. Then scouted the RIII. The river grew muscles after gaining flow from the Foquieres, and this rapid required several moves to avoid big holes. The crew was up to it, so we discussed the line and went for it. All boats cruised the line and avoided taking in water, except for one boat, which didn’t follow the line whatsoever, entering a hole sideways instead. Miraculously, they wiggled their hips with all the right hula-hula dance moves in order to avoid dumping, were released by the hole, and limped into the eddy, full of water and worry. “Bust out the bailers!” Moving on, we approached a rather long and apparently harmless stretch of rapids. Gazing at the rapid, I saw an easy line RL, a slightly harder one RR, and passed over the center, knowing it would be silly to risk a center line on a river this wide. I proposed RR, and Mel proposed the safer bet of keeping to the L. Our conversation grew taught as we debated what was too hard and what was not hard enough, and somehow, with the unfortunate complexity of the challenged male, I vowed to run the center drop, full of idiotic confidence. What unnecessary and admittedly poorly chosen point I was trying to prove escapes me, and as embarrassing as it is to recall, I distinctly remember standing before the crew in all my distorted sense of glory, delivering a Brave Heart speech, providing my false insight as to the perils of the river we’d meet further down, invoking my minions to rise to these challenges, etc., etc., ad nuaseum infinitum, ellipsis… anyway, we had a captive audience, so poor Sam and I straddled our craft and set out with noble strokes. Not long into our ill-fated run, we watched as two Hawaii Five-O-sized waves dumped over each gunwale, swamping us as deep as Davy Jones’ locker in an instant. “We’re swimming!” I yelled, grabbing the first aid kit and my river bag with the sat phone. That strange adrenalized sensation of release and intense focus came over me. “Swim for shore HARD!” I yelled to Sam, and he did. I grabbed the boat and barged it with all my might towards an approaching eddy, kicking my legs while dragging the crippled load. “This is our stop, Sam. MAKE this eddy!!” and he did. Gasping in the frigid whitewater, we swirled into the safety of a generous eddy, bobbed together with the boat, bags, and paddles, then took a few more strokes to crash into the rocks. The Jewelry and a dinner wannigan chugged on down center stream at a discouraging rate. Sam and I hastily scrambled to drain our over-hydrated canoe in order to give chase. “After those Wannigans!” As we peeled out Mel’s boat joined us and corralled the escaped cargo into an eddy, the other boats ran the navigable left line, and all five boats took off downriver after loose gear. Although we recovered nearly everything, an axe and my camp chair sank to the bottom, with much of my pride attached. To cheer us up, our first Caribou appeared. Sam spotted it, thought it was a large boat crossing the river, then it rose from the water, transformed into a great beast, redirected an entanglement of antlers at us, and trotted along the shore as if modeling on a runway. We ate lunch in the post-marvel of the sight, with a violently hot sun drying Sam and I out quickly. Lunch was scarfed. As we continued, many small creeks joined rank, adding strength to the river on it’s march downhill. A family of six Caribou ambled along beside us awhile, posed for photos, then scattered. Camped just downriver from Ni d’Aigle at the next point past the nest on RL. Cut a trail through the alders to clear a way up to the flats. Being a day ahead, we proposed a rest day and were met with loud cheers of “Vale,vale!!” and ridiculous dancing/rolling on the ground with glee. Silliness by the fire with Luis and Jaume plus Northern Lights filled the night. Luis and John developed their now famous “Saturday, Nah nah nah nah!” dance. Discussed highs and lows together. Debriefed the day extensively over the campfire with cocoa and much singing. Apologized to Sam and the crew for our swim, and if that decision to try that line was the Martin Luther to my popedom, then I never claimed to be infallible anyway. At least we learned caution early on, and suffered only minor consequences with our lesson.

July 23rd Day 6—Ni’d’Aigle Rest Day—Zero K

Spent the morning lazing in the sun, with the girls busting out the bikinis and the boys busting out the binoculars. Feats of strength began with thumb wars and escalated quickly to swimming races, canoe races, and wrestling. Exploring and swimming in the falls was next, then fishing or else reading, and Charlotte dominating the only good yoga rock until Steve dethroned her, and our own version of apples to apples plus nuk nuk chuckles. The sun smiles on our warm group, Labrador Tea and Tamarack laughs in the wilderness, hooligans running amok in the tundra. River level dropped about six inches overnight, according to my cairn calculator.

Thursday, July 24th Day7—Ni d’ Aigle to GB on hill RR below class III, 21 K

Hot on the water by 7 as per usual, then rafted up to lounge a long time and sing and float. Made 5K while tanning ourselves, as temps rose to 80 degrees Fahrenheit by 8am, setting records I’m sure. River dropped another several inches last night, but still plenty of water as we threaded our way down the first RII and RI. Rafted up and floated and sang and sunned some more. Mistook a flock of wood ducks for geese, which got us paddling again. Ran a long set of RI-II, reading the rapids as they came, hitting eddies to bail and regroup. Jammed out to Luis singing Bob Marley, then saw a big cascade frothing down a large hill and decided to investigate. After an atrocious bushwhack all the way up the hill, we came out into a fairy-tale slab of granite, just perfect for glissading down on our bottoms, splashing easily into the wading pools and escaping the bugs with frequent submersions. Took the waterslide back down to the river, with a few extra bug bites, then resumed our downriver course around a big bend and through an RI and RIII on RL, employing a host of techniques including lining and lugging around every river feature capable of swamping, flipping, or otherwise abusing our open canoes. Made camp RL atop a bluff overlooking the RIII we had just come down. Marked as GB but a rough trail straight up and ridiculous bug problems lower the rating.

July 25th, Day 8, Bluff Site to Falls Campsite, 18K

Lots of whitewater and bugs today. Hugged RL all day, shooting RII’s fine, and lining the intro drops of the long RIIIs, then running out the boulder-strewn rapids. RI’s were mostly washed out with the high water. Definitely dropping every night. We can see green paint a few feet up the rocks from where Chewonki came through two weeks ago, and red paint from an unknown party. At the RIII-RIV-RIII combo, we lined some, then gave the command to stay close enough to RL in order to kiss the boulders, and some of us actually did kiss the boulders. Canice then splatted so hard into a boulder head on, that she rode the bow up onto the boulder, with Jared nearly taking in water as the stern sank backward. They weren’t the only boat to bonk a rock, or have to bail, but they popped the best wheelie. A Snickers bar was saved by Jaume in an act of heroism by a man who doesn’t even like Snickers. Later, Luis sent his water bottle adrift, to be rescued after a quick run along the rapid. Mel and I were relieved to make camp unscathed, and opted for the luxurious space of the caribou moss meadows RL, across from the falls and their surrounding burn. “OSTIA!” Luis’ eyes are pointing in opposite directions! The bugs are all around us! My bug bites have bug bites. As I write “Canice's face is so swollen, she looks like a Gorgon”, Lolo looks over my shoulder and asks, “What’s a Gorgon?” We are all torn up from the swarm of black flies, which has enveloped us for the past three days. My chest looks like I went hunting with Dick Cheney. 80’s and sunny again today!

July 26, Day 9 Falls Rest Day, 0K

Shady tent site where dreams come and go all morning. Hawaiian pineapple ham a la John and coffee for breakfast while a breeze and fire smoke keep the murderous bugs at bay. We all share the one good sitting rock. Canice tries to paint the boys toenails. “Are you serious?” Luis admits that Columbus is his dad. Checked out the falls. Big spags dinner.

July 27, Day 10, Falls to Last Rapid on the Peace (Dillon’s Portage Day), 30K

Up at 5, out by 7. Pre-portage rapids were run in the sweltering heat of a muggy morning. With bugs joining us in droves, we lined L down an RIV, and ran everything else RL. Dillon’s Portage was easy. Simply hit the shore high above the rapid, take a hard left, then six rights, five lefts, leap across a giant swamp, ferry across a different river, scale a mountain range, look for Dillon, and then start over. This should be called Everyone’s portage, because we’ve all been lost on it. At least, it took us a while to find our way, and an entirely straightforward way was never established. After an hour and a half wasted roaming around, we regrouped and continued down rapids, bugs driving us to the brink of sanity and even into insanity. Then the breeze would rescue us, allowing temporary recollections of normalcy, then back to the stifling placid air and the tormenting of the bugs. Trees grew scarce on the shore. Scotland was sighted. Suddenly we were outflanked by storms in the center of a long string of rapids. We gunned it down the fun RIII’s to escape being dumped on, and somehow miraculously the two approaching storms sped up on either side of us, but the cold fury of lightning and ice merely curtained us. We were spared except for a few massive raindrops. Today was a WILDERNESS DAY! Good rapids, bushwhack portage, tons of bugs, thunder, lightning, swimming (but not during the lightning), and a sunset to remember.

July 28, Day 11, Last Rapid On Peace to Blueberry Bluff (didn’t actually camp on the mesa but up and around the corner at the GB site at mouth of tributary on W side of lake, just south of where the Deal River comes in on E side of lake) 27k

Stiff back wake up. Crazy hot and buggy breakfast (not only bugs for breakfast, but mostly). Slugged bug brew and then paddled 8k to the confluence, where we scampered up a gneiss slab to enjoy bars and get a good aerial view of the bright storms rolling in on the momentous moment. Raincoats came out, but Lo! Saved again. On down the George. The George! Feeling smaller in an ever-larger landscape. Jaime and John cornered a goose in the rocks, Jaime managed to nab him, and he was on tonight’s menu. Pulled over to lunch on the sandbar across from stunning waterfalls that resemble lightning bolts. And Lo! Real lightning bolts complemented them. “Lightning positions in the trees”. Jon plucked the goose in the downpour as the rest of us alternately grew hungry or were grossed out. The wind blew in a patch of blue, and we were on our way into the festering headwinds. Barely made 3k before a bear sprinted down the mountain, barreling like a maniac through the shrubs, and then sniffed after us threateningly from the shore. Paddled away from the beast, but had to hit the trees again as another storm drew dismal curtains. Hunkered in a pile of driftwood amongst alders, we were pinned down for an hour and a half this time as icy sheets collided in a lightshow of astral proportions. The boys comforted the girls. The boys were comforted by idiocy. I thought happy thoughts and hoped for the best. Sammy the Zen master took a nap despite the bone shaking thunderclaps and the hair raising electrical blasts. Compromised safety. We searched for heart-shaped stones. Mel began to teach us how to read minds, and the sun emerged again. Our hardy crew struck out with song upon the clearing lake. Scotland appeared through the clouds. We weaved through a narrows, where green hills glowed out from behind thinning clouds. A giant bear strode casually to the river in front of us, stared for a long time (too long) then stared some more, until striding off as casually as he came. Suddenly, a grand mesa superimposed itself across the lake and out of the fog. A long sandy slope just begged to be climbed. So we climbed, and climbed. Hand over hand over hand over hand… over hand… over hand, it was taller than we had thought! And once we gained the flat, open summit, we discovered a field of blueberries, plump and ripe! 360-degree views of mountains and rivers, with no signs of man in sight. As we skied down the sand mountain, two monstrous rainbows opened around us, as if we were the very pot of gold. We could have slept on that hill, but Mel discovered the real campsite just around the corner. “Firewood!” time to clean the goose. John and his kitchen crew made short work of supper, with a delicious local sauce made of blueberries, mint, and spruce needles. Short hike up the tributary to explore, looks cool up there! Steve and Luis paddled across the lake to drown the carcass, with the moon and the wolves howling. We all set up tents close together, with pots and pans, or in my case, a hatchet tucked beneath our pillows to chase away bears. Mel never taught us how she reads minds.

Tuesday, July 29th, Day 12—Mesa to Wedge Point—37k

Arose at 4:30, caffeinated, tossed back some cereal in a light drizzle. Shoved off 6 sharp. Paddled out backwards, watching the mesa disappear in mist. Slight headwinds were scoffed at as we took a ferocious pace and made 8k before 7:30. “We’re going for it!” The crew has eyes on an extra rest day at Wedge. We’re on a placid lake, clouds lifting, perfect temperature, we’re going for it. Bald mountains provide rest for the eyes as we plunk up the lake. Saw Wedge in the very distance, and it drew closer towards lunch. Headwinds increased steadily, but with the wedge growing bigger in the distance, we grew stronger. Paddle strokes came from the heart. Moving the paddle through the water felt like waving a feather through the air. We crashed over waves. Hit the beach across from Wedge Point by 3:30. Called up our boy Jean at Air Sag to get them in here a day early for us. He said weather was going to get worse, and that they would come first thing in the morning to get us resupplied before the storm. Windy night on the beach.

Wednesday, July 30th, Day 13—Rest Day Wedge Point

6:30—woke early to inform Jean of flying conditions. Unfortunately I could not, in good conscience, deliver a glowing report. Rain and low-lying cloud cover. Windy. Time to write letters in the rain. Eggs and Roast Beef Hash and Labrador Tea and bars and beef jerky and more Labrador Tea and good conversation about our homes and bad conversation about never mind and another bad weather report to Jean and revising our letters home and re-revising our letters home and more bad conversation. Not much chance of a plane getting in here today. Socked in sipping more Lab Tea mixed with cocoa, white sugar, and hope. Jon asks Steve if he can rename one of the Trippers. Steve says yes. Jon christens his Tripper with giant letters: “KING BERNARD THE PELVIS”. Mel makes the observation that this name looks a lot like King Bernard the Something Else. Mel also makes the assertion that the font is less than discreet, and kindly reminds Jon of Ellen’s request to keep the names discreet. The words “obnoxious” and “awful” flow to her lips. Jon sees nobodies point, and goes off offended, like a misunderstood ee cummings in his early years. Luis sleeps literally all day until a helicopter fools him into thinking the plane is arriving, whipping him into a hollering Spanish frenzy. The tent shakes wildly, and he comes exploding out of the half-open zipper in just his heart boxers, grinning ear to chubby ear, and yelling something about his “pelotas”. Inukshuks are constructed in the sand by worthy architects Lolo, Mel, and Canice. More Lab tea. Dark, grey weather suits this stubborn landscape. The drear and the immensity compliment each other, and transform into a foreboding emotion, which eventually fills each resident with stoicism. Each moment is like a mineral deposit dripped through stone, percolating your being in atonement. At seven o’clock, the plane makes an attempt, but turns around half way in fear when a mountain erupts from the clouds and he narrowly avoids spilling his Clif bars.

Thursday, July 31st , Day 14—STILL AT WEDGE!

6am report to Jean: blustery winds, low lying clouds. Jean says he won’t be sending planes into this maelstrom anytime soon. Schefferville is closed down. Winds howl, then sigh, then howl some more, blasting tent flaps and shocking many of us awake. We sit torpidly with coffee in our hands undrunk, letting dim thoughts coil through our heads, as the tarp flaps and threatens to take off, abandoning us for someplace better. We’re hunkered down in the folds of a thin line of gnarled spruce, almost invisible in our non-entity on the edge of this enormous grey beach. Snuffing and heaving mule of a storm lends not a moment of true peace. A freight load of fog lays over us, brooding. We’ve already learned some of this land’s stoicism. We’ll take what it gives and our complaints are irrelevant. Crudely, we force a fire and build a breakfast. I call Jean and exaggerate, explaining how the sky has opened slightly. He says “Still too bad to take off.” We eat pea soup and Clif bars. At the behest of a hungry mass, I call Jean and blatantly lie to him, describing large patches of blue, girls running from all directions to sunbathe in their bikinis. “Bikinis?” he says, “We’ll be right there, I’ll pilot a plane myself.” Alas, still no plane by evening. The choad has a tumor. Raisin Bread, Tuna Pizzaghetti, soup and crackers, Clif bars. Steve challenges Luis on the beach, and the rope throne game takes off, with challengers aplenty. Water bottle game is next and Jon and Luis decide to race all the way down the beach, an epic marathon of Athenian proportions. Rain, yoga, rock sculptures and more rain and no plane. Enough calm to throw a Frisbee disc, so I call Jean again, and the mountains are lost then revealed then lost again in dark roils of cloud. Slashes of sun reassert themselves for a blink, electrifying the hills in magical green, fresh mossy velvet. Echoing falls sound like plane engines. “No plane tonight,” Jean tells me. White caps froth atop each wind-whipped wave. Wind is at least 15 knots. Across the waves, scattered summits poke through the haze, like a quick suggestion sketch left deliberately incomplete, to emphasize the sparse loneliness of this northern farness. You wouldn’t know it, but the sun is setting behind this drear, exiled in some happier place. Phantom plane engine sounds haunt the night. A stack of hastily written, then revised, then re-revised letters grows stale next to me, the urgency of their excited words growing more and more false each day.

Friday, August 1st , Day 15-- STILL AT WEDGE—

A chevron of breakers crashes across our beach. A helicopter buzzes our camp. I call Jean and tell him to get a plane in no matter what. He says they’re waiting to hear from the chopper. A plane rises triumphantly like a phoenix from the flames of anvil shaped clouds. It buzzes us, banks a huge turn, plops down on the lake, and taxis over across the lake to deposit several bodies and gear on the opposite shore! I call Jean and tell him to get a damn plane in here, because someone else did and we need our damn food. He promises a plane will be aloft momentarily. Finally, results. We’re resupplied. Letters from home and candy and US Magazine and muffins and donuts from Oksana and YES WE CAN Obama T-Shirts from the Spaniard’s parents and they’re not even American! Fresh Chicken for supper and moldy Pepperoni for a bonfire sacrifice on the beach. Jared and I scale a Homeric hill behind camp, discovering a vast place where wooly Mammoths would fit right in, mooing or grunting or whatever they want in the sand dunes, tundra, and barren ridges.

Saturday, August 2nd Day 16—Wedge to Haute Falaise, 25k

5am wake up to brilliant breakfast of real eggs, real bacon, real bread, real good. Hit the choppy surf by 7:15, crossed over carefully at the lakes narrowest neck, buzzed along the shore of the wedge, and followed a Caribou cow and her baby until they scampered off into the hills. Stopped at a camp where we had seen the first plane land yesterday, despite worries from the campers that we might be murdered. To the contrary, we were treated like royalty, being greeted at the beach by Serge and Jean-Phillipe with warm welcomes and handshakes. Invited in for coffee, we trudged up the hill and ducked our heads to enter a toasty longhouse. Bannock and Labrador tea was thrust upon us. We mixed in with, of all things, a TV crew, who were filming a show for Radio Canada about three native youths. Without any motive other than generosity, Serge gave us a tour of the sacred burial grounds, allowed us to partake in an Innu ceremony, and gave us a lesson on Innu culture and the history of this particular settlement. He told us that the name for this lake is Mushuanipi in Innu, which means “place without trees”. Fifty old tent sites exist here, where families would come to harpoon the caribou as they swam across the lake. The Innu people were inland peoples, who migrated in chase of the herds. Inuit was the name for the seacoast people, who survived by fishing and hunting walrus, seals, etc. A woman who was something of a specialist on indigenous water rights gave a spiel on dams in Quebec, mentioning that the George was slated to be dammed but no one knew when. During a ceremony when we gave a tobacco offering, an elderly medicine woman named Elizabeth grew very serious, and locked my eyes in an eerie staring contest while ripping into an impassioned soliloquy in her native language. I nodded knowingly, not wanting to seem disrespectful. Jean Philippe later translated, saying how she had been telling me the story of how here brother perished at a spot downriver when his canoe was swept away in some massive rapids, and that she would be our spirit guide but we must be extremely respectful of the river. To prove our gratitude, we helped move a few war canoes, and erected several Teepee poles, even helping to lash them together and stretch canvas over them. Then we were fed a hearty warm lunch, downed more bannock, and said a prolonged goodbye before hitting the George once more. Tailwinds blew us to Haute Falaise (tall cliffs) in no time, and a bear escaped up the hill as we portaged to a protected nook back away from the point where many more ancient tent sites were discovered. A crew of us scampered up the big mountain above camp while the dinner crew, only to cook over the fire again anyway, fixed the stove.

Sunday, August 3 Day 17

Haute Falaise to George River Lodge, 25k

Woke late at 6, but still broke by 7:15. More wind at our backs, so decided to sail. Made it to top of first set of rapids at 1ish, with a big bald eagle overhead. A bear followed us down river for several kilometers, looking all too eager to make our acquaintance. We thought we had lost him, and pulled over on RL to get whitewater-ready and down a bar. All of a sudden, the massive beast erupted from the alders at breakneck speed. He was across a small cove from us. Cameras came out, binoculars went away, being unnecessary at such close quarters. For some reason several of us thought it would be good to walk towards the monster to get better pictures. Mel tossed a furtive glance in my direction and yelled “Let’s go, NOW!” No one needed convincing as the bear charged directly into the water and started swimming at us. Choosing the unknown rapids over a fight with a ginormous bear, we got in river-order quickly and snuck down the RL side, hopping eddies but proceeding with urgency. Boat scouting through mellow rapids, I kept peaking over my shoulder to check on the boats with a double purpose. The bear was galloping after us, until he reached the spot we had launched from, where he sniffed around and then gazed downriver to where we were paddling hard away. Luckily the rapids gave it up easily down RL, with an occasional foray into the bigger waves towards RC in order to skirt around rocky points, then dodging back hard RL and snapping into eddies. The set was long and fun despite the initial bullying by the big bear (he looked to be about 450-500 pounds, with a scarred up head and ugly face that only a mother could love). Shortly after dispatching the rapids and the bear, we paddled across a wide eddy to the George River Lodge. We hit the beach, and I went scouting for Pierre. A very brief encounter gained us permission to camp on the beach, which we did with gusto. After supper, Pierre came down with his sheepish border collie to join us for tea and chitchat while we obliged the black flies with their nightly feast. After 30 years running the Lodge, Pierre has collected many great stories and also an encyclopedic knowledge of the local flora and fauna. He said we might start seeing salmon now, as his camp is the highest point of the river they can travel. According to Pierre, the George River Herd is one of 8 subspecies of Caribou, and in addition to being the largest herd in the world, they get larger as individuals than in any other herds (375 pounds max for a big male). Pierre also informed us of the fact that we could legally fish salmon without a permit, and showed us the best spots to find them on the maps.

Monday, August 4 Day 18 GRL to Wedge Hill Bends near Lac Kashapuatshitik 45k

Typical wilderness day! Long, runnable rapids, perfect sunny but cool weather, huge fish, stunning scenery, and true wilderness. Said multi-lingual goodbyes to Pierre at 7, and with one eye still leery for our bear, we scurried our way down the first set (IV on the map, II in our experience), after exiting lac slanting on hard RR. Made it to confluence with Facousz by 9, and at the behest of Jean Phillipe, turned up Facousz for a spell, marveling at the crystalline blue waters, as clear as a window and cold as the tip of a witches nose. It was already 85 degrees, so we bathed in the clear waters, ate some bars, tracked a wolf with a pup, and Jared caught up on some reading on a picturesque boulder. Then we stepped on the throttle and careened down a 3.5km long set of continuously moving water, not really rapids, in 10 minutes, meaning we averaged 21km per hour, or 13.5mph. Not bad. Then Jaume caught 2 huge speckled trout. Then we ran an RI, followed by an RII, then an RI, all on RR. Let the current carry us down a long straight, where interesting geology got our imaginations working. Found the next RI-II to be nothing but small waves, but around the bend was a nasty pour-over, dumping into a sieve on RR. We found a good line on RL, and rode a long, long, long RI with a fantastic view of the hills, then plunked across a wide part of the river with many sand bars to camp above a fine swimming beach. Conquered the mountain South of camp to get views of a bare canyon, a huge natural dam on a tributary, and stair-step waterfalls. The thin air atop the mountain smelled of stone and Christmas and eternity. We’ve left most trees behind, but a few remain, huddled into a few pockets where the land is hospitable enough, in valleys beside creeks. But the peaks of rounded stone grow close around these pockets, proving that rock rules this land. The distance heaves with earth-toned ridges and “wedges”. The shadows fill the cirques, where dirty snow curves contours. Silence swallows everything. Surprised a family of Caribou while running down the mountain, and they ran along for a moment. For that moment, I was a caribou.

Tuesday, August 5 Day 19 Wedge Hill to Wedge Hill Bends, 27k

Peeled out at 7, buzzed through first RI,RII, RIII, RI rapid combo on RR without incident. 6k of flat stuff, then bars at 9:30. Scraped down RR for another RII. Crossed over, unwisely, to RL above a long set, very narrowly escaping being swamped wholesale. Found ourselves stuck on the bedrock side of the river, with big waves and unrunnable lines below us, banks too steep to line. Lined upriver for a few hundred yards in order to be able to ferry back across to RR, losing several hours in the endeavor but retaining our respect for the wide, powerful river. Ran the set RR, in a drop pool manner that was full of little moves around cobbles but not nearly as nasty as the bedrock side. Had lunch, caught two monster rainbow trout, one arctic char, and then continued along for another 12k of fun, easy whitewater, staying RR the whole time. At one point, where the river takes a big oxbow bend to the R, where the map showed a class IV, my boat came timidly around the corner expecting to have to eddy out quickly in order to scout the IV, but a huge bear was hiding behind the rocks a mere ten feet from us, so we were forced to charge out into the river. Luckily, the class IV was retired or else moved on to another part of the river. Made camp in the trees behind a small beach near where a tributary comes in on RL. Camp was a little difficult to find but well protected. Charged up the big hill South of camp with a small posse, chased ptarmigans, and Jon was kidnapped by black flies and forced to march up a different mountain than us, so we had to track him down and stage a rescue just before dark.

Wednesday, August 6, Day 20 The Bends to Pyramid Hills, 20k

Broke at 8:15, by which time the sun had raised the mercury to a sweltering degree. The wide river seems to empty the sky. Shade is at a premium, but icy splashes are always able to send shivers that shock the core. Having scouted from the mountain the night before, we bombed down the RII, RIII, RII on RR with ease. Just around the bend, we found the best echo spot any of us had ever experienced. A full 15-second delay made it seem as though there were copycat elves across the river, messing with us for their own amusement. We would belt out a phrase in unison, then go about our business eating bars, and just when we had forgotten about the echo, those crafty little elves would yell at us as if spontaneously. Enough time had passed for us all to say “Nope, it’s not gonna work”, and then bam, there was our phrase, almost non-sequiter by this time. To find the spot, pull over where granite spits come out on RR, face across the river, and yell loud. This phenomenon is not to be missed. 2k flat, RII, RIII, RII combo mostly not even rapids, so we proceeded RR. Approached Gorge Kaaitushekast with caution, marked SIV/V on map. Noticing many rapids marked on our maps are non-existent, could be the water level, or freeze thaw action changing the riverbed where it is cobbled, or headward erosion over the years. Near Kaaitushekast, bedrock creates a huge hole that would be world-class in a play kayak. We skirted it carefully on RR. Then we watched a giant bear scale some bouldery cliffs and amble off. Made our way past his position, and continued running down RR through good rapids. Bobbed down to Bob May’s place, knocked but nobody home so we swung on the swings, ogled the caribou racks, and headed on home to the wilderness. Crossed the slowly moving river to the R side to hit a little sneak on RR, where more bear tracks appeared and Jaime caught a nice trout. Hugged the R shore, looking for “The Best Campsite Ever”. It actually resides well into the long set of rapids, where a huge eddy feeds a large pool below a plateau with some sand dunes and grassy knolls on RR. We renamed this campsite Pebble Beach, because it resembles the ninth hole of the famed golf course of the same name, and because of the giant pebbles along the beach. The pool hosted a dozen enormous trout, four of which became supper, then we dipped repeatedly to assuage the dogged heat. River bags were emptied, articles washed and dried instantly in the hot sun. The warm grass eased my back as I took in the astounding view of surrounding peaks, suddenly inspired for a climb. Jared, Sam and I left the gang to their sunbathing and charged up into the saddle above us to 1550’, then broke L to traverse the ridge and gain the top of the mighty granite cliffs which hover above camp. With binoculars, we could see trout pizza being expertly prepared by Jon and his Sioux chefs. Let out some more hollers and took in the impressive view of Pyramid Mountain, Bob May’s camp, the scalloped curve of the river winking sunlight back at us, and bold patches of tamarack and Christmas trees which rim the river as if scattered by the wind, quickly giving way to endless miles of barren tundra stretching out in every direction. Continued NW along the edge of the cliffs, found Stonehenge, and were able to make a grand loop by descending the drainage on the N of the cliffs, which leads directly back to camp via a screaming fun time bounding down talus, bouncing from tundra to taiga and back in as many steps, and avoided much of the bushwhacking we had to do on the ascent. Allow 2-3 hours for this steep hike, depending on how long you choose to enjoy the summit and how ready your legs are. Back at camp, delicious pizza trout and bannock restored our energies enough to take part in the Wilderness Olympics; beginning with pole-vaulting off dunes, and then a long jump into a sand pit. Luis came in hot, no regard for pain, hucking his carcass incredible distances, watch out for the quiet ones, here comes Sam with incredible agility, Lolo has it all sorted with bent knees, Charlotte with the determined face, then split up by laughter before a single limb could leave the ground, Mel with so much grace, floating for a nanosecond like a baby caribou just discovering how to leap, and Jaime with the spring of a frog, pushing his crater farther and farther into no-man’s land. Off to bed in our wonderland, but woke at the behest of the bladder around midnight, and Lo!, the northern lights had jumped their borders, filling each part of the sky with radiant ripples of red, gyrating globs of green, and flashes of yellow like belly-dancing flames, emeralds in the belly-button of the sky. Awoke everyone hastily, but the grandeur quickly subsided into dull twinges of color, curling and glistening like neon moonbeams rolling along the mountains, then shrinking and twisting away like a black bat into the bat black night.

Thursday, August 7 Day 21 Rest Day at Pebble Beach a.k.a Best Campsite Ever! Zero K

Slept in then pancakes and underwater swimming challenge in the Olympic sized swimming pool. Steve and Luis tied. More trout coerced from the same pool, became trout salad for lunch with cheese bannock. Yoga on the plateau as afternoon storms roll in, hunkering beneath the tarp as hail pellets pelt Jared who braves the ice sheets to frolic amongst decorous nimbuses that burble sadistic laughter and polish the cliffs to a shiny varnish above us as sideways rays break through the gloom, beginning a wild tango between light and dark like a lovers quarrel set in a grand scene filled with Bierstadtian peaks for a backdrop. Drawing and fishing and frying and baking and looking for 101 ways to prepare trout. Call in to camp informs us of crazy flooding, route 53 washed our and Charlie’s staircase a waterfall. Sunny afternoon is our fortune. Temps broach 100 degrees as Lolo and I trade haircuts, do more laundry, and Charlotte shares her “sensibility dance”, which is… not great. Wondrous sunset with wisps of stratus and low puffy cumulus aglow in a chartreuse splendor. Could stay here forever.

Friday, August 8 , Day 22 Pebble Beach to Point of Interest, 20K

Peeled out under cloudy skies at 7:30. Ran ripples around the corner feeling fine, with 5-6K of gentle rapids allowing joyous passage RR. Down a long straightaway beneath the cliffs, encountering RI, RII, RIII towards the end of the runway ferried to RL to avoid spits of bedrock jutting out RR. Several fun drops on RL got us to a ledge drop with several shootable chutes, including the one we shot. Took bets on when the pregnant skies would give birth. Around the corner into Rivage Qavviasianiavik, a wide canyon containing a solid section of rapids. Pulled off RR before the rivage was fully cliffed out in order to scamper along the scenic cliffs and scout the rapids. Big lateral waves had to be squared up to and punched hard, then we snuck through creases of big features, staying out of the main flow, hugging RR hard. As we entered the canyon proper, we came to the 3 main drops. The first and most significant was a large rock RR that created a whirlpool beneath it and sent laterals pushing an unsuspecting craft towards the dangers of the main current. We squeezed safely around the whirlpool, drawing hard as we passed it to reach the eddy and avoid being persuaded into the meat. Each boat performed sublimely, with the incentive that this would be a terrible place to dump. The sun came out and conquered every last clod, egging us on and lending it’s glimmer to the emerald green water. The second drop came quickly after, featuring a massive green tongue, with frothy shoulders up high looking ready to swamp us, so we dipped hard R, where a slab of rock made a neat pour over that we were able to do a sideways move over, floating on busy water and arriving in the next eddy happily but with hearts thumping. Mel and Jared managed to shoot the big tongue and stay dry. 3rd and final episode forced us to peel out around a spit of granite to find a nice tongue, punch it high and R though its shoulder, and get low to brace while we snapped sharply into the eddy. Onward along the blissful moving sidewalk of the George, through stunning scenery, hot sun blazing. Around the corner onto Map 18, gumdrop hill on R, Coude Mistinishuk rising on both sides of the river. Reached Point of Interest early afternoon, but decided we had to camp there in order to explore the Rivierre Nutillilik and it’s amazing blue waterfalls which pour out of a sylvan valley choked with gneiss boulders. Carefully, we managed to leap off a 25-foot waterfall into the deep, clear pool below. Then Jon made a misguided attempt to find an alternate route out of the gorge, was coached to safety by his trusty leaders, and retreated to camp to whip up a stir-fry, which caused much rejoicing. We chased rabbits, then set snares, and I climbed up the dramatic NW ridge, which leads to the summit of Colline Misurtuq. Was upset to find Hydro-Quebec surveyors poles on top. Perfect place for a dam here, with 1,000-foot tall cliffs towering over the “coude”. You’ll be happy to hear that the poles are no longer there. Bounded down the ridge, taking in the moon rise and the sunset in the glorious valley the Rivierre Nutillilik has carved on it’s way to join forces with the George. Glued my shoes, sewed the crotch of my pants, and splinted my paddle in the tent. Ready for action tomorrow.

Saturday, August 9 Day 23 Riviere Nutillilik to just shy of Helen Falls 45k

Arose early at 4:30, forced down some apple walnut cake, a.k.a. baby barf, and put on the river in a dark fog, because the sun doesn’t reach the depths of Coude Mistintshuk until later. Braved some significant rapids on RR in military fashion, remembering the fate of Tripper 57, which was lost here in ’04, creating an epic saga for it’s marooned passengers. As the river snakes out of the canyon, the bedrock shifts over to the RR bank, so we took advantage of a lull in the rapids to ferry away from this bedrock, and over to the easier drops on the RL side. Then rounded the bend and passed Mont Qairajutait and Terrase Salliarusiq as the sun finally filled the canyon with light and took the chill out of the air, replacing it with severe heat. We ferried back to RR with great intuition after seeing some granite on RL, and skirted the RI, RII, SIV combo easily. Then it was another monster ferry back L to avoid more bedrock ledge drops. In our quiet, orderly fashion, we banged out 10k before 8am, and decided to keep going at it hard. Stunning mountains, steep ravines, and big cliffs line the river here. At the beginning of the straightaway, a long, slender waterfall spirals down a crevasse, boofs off a shear cliff, and rides a massive slab another several hundred feet. Arrived at old camp Snowball by 11:30, with the possibility of snow sounding ludicrous in the intense heat. Lunch was devoured with esurient appetites and dips were universally enjoyed. Two drops after lunch were dispensed on RL, and hammered the flat-water past confluence of Rivierre Qinngulip in Coude Sanningajualuk, feeling dominated by the cirques and towers of the Bridgman Hills. Pop-tarted at Ile Qijualuit, and got ready for action. Made a long, arduous ferry (now taking 30-45 minutes to cross the river), to RR, and picked our way down an extremely fun series of technical but low-consequence rock drops. Clutch draws, graceful chutes, and continuous moves honed our skills and kept us sharp. 3k flat and then bars at 3:30. Approached the class V cautiously RR, and stopped when the waves got big enough to take in water. Scouted a full K of dangerous waters and memorized each make or break move, building cairns as reminders at certain spots. Chose to line twice to avoid being drawn into the fold and perishing in the gigantic set awaiting downriver. Deftly eddied out with tense strokes above the mayhem, and were able to bob-sled out boats down through cheat chutes around the Rupert River-esque cataract, complete with 8-foot high waves of chundering chaos. A swim here could easily be fatal. Arcade-style chutes and boulder-filled rapids below the runout of the class V were fun and mellow, then on into a surreal evening of running gentle rapids with the setting sun blinding us, our tired arms beginning to fail us, and bears chasing us. Paddled up to the GA on RR just in time to see a big bear rolling around on his back in our tent site, gloating. So we switched gears, headed over to RL, and camped on a beach below a nice flat bluff. Too tired to portage our gear up. The beach sufficed. Lasagna corn soup was prepared in a flash. Just as we finished walloping in the dark, the most impressive site ever witnessed by humans descended upon us. Aurora Borealis ambushed the campsite, literally touching down on top of us. They weren’t in the distance or even just above us, we were in the lights. Origami folds of every color, spasmodic with fluorescent after-burners. Our preconceptions of beauty were shattered. Visceral screams welled up in our throats and erupted. Ineffable colors and patterns dancing with indescribable rhythm, crescendoing in what can only be described as a religious experience mixed with a rock concert, but not Christian Rock, more like you’d see at a Pink Floyd concert in heaven, anyway...

Sunday, August 10 Day 24, Helen Falls 8k paddling, 3.5portaging

Slept in till 6:30. Leisurely breakfast and broke camp at 8. In anticipation of heavy-duty portaging, we finished off the last of the Spam and canned fruit. Noticed no sign of John Shi’s camp. Enjoyed a nice float through cliff-adorned hills, seeping with snowmelt and complete with patches of actual snow. Just shy of the beginning of the whitewater, we hopped out and did a ten-yard spread search for the start to the trail. The original start has become neglected, and a new beginning has been cut to allow for easier take-out. A wide swath like a highway takes you 100 yards straight into the bush, then deposits you on bare bedrock with much evidence of previous passage. Break hard L to regain the original trail, which is sort of a choose-your-own-adventure for about a half K. Finally, various tributary trails converge into one obvious path, complete with rough-sewn board bridges that sound like xylophones if you whack them with your paddle as you hike merrily along. We did the first load together, the boys portaging like Prussian Generals, the girls like traveling florists, stopping every few steps to select blossoms for imaginary customers, spreading color and smiles, even like flowers themselves, big nodding sunflowers, top-heavy on slender stems, swaying and bouncing along, lending such poise to an otherwise brutish act. Munched lunch and laid on the Caribbean style beach in the sweltering heat, dipped, then returned together for load number two. On the second trip, Jon, being fiercely individualistic, once again chose his own way, and once again climbed the wrong mountain. By the time I found him, he was deep in a swamp with his boat on his head, sunk up to his waist and surly as a stepped-on snake. We returned to the trail together, and made camp with all campers and gear by early afternoon. Plenty of time for swimming and sunning and scoping the falls, which is a 500-foot wide ledge drop.

Monday, August 11, Day 25 Helen Falls to Bushwhack Beach, 25k

Trotted down the sand-hill to our massive beach and shoved off by 7:30. As we ferried across the runout from Helen’s, we saw a fisherman reeling in a monster. The beautiful salmon fought as we ferried, and just as we arrived in the eddy, the beast was landed. We cheered and clapped as the man held it up triumphantly. Stopped and chatted there awhile, and the man, Frank Hathaway, was inspired to give us the fish, saying we must have brought him luck. It was a good seven-pound salmon. The fishermen were part of Ungava Adventures, and they filled us in on the best salmon fishing spots from here on down, encouraging us to stop at their lodge just a few K downriver for a feast. We obliged. Hugging RR in brutal headwinds for a few slow K’s, we made our way to the lodge above Sarvakalak Rapids, where a kind Inuuit woman named Maggie was there to greet us. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and glancing the royal spread already laid out for us, we didn’t press it. Wave after wave of precious morsels arrived in front of us and were promptly devoured. Cookies, lemon meringue, apple pie, macaroni salad, juices, smoked meats, muffins, strawberry rhubarb, jams, none could match our voracious hunger. Maggie and her cooks seemed worried that we were literally starving, and we let them go on believing if it encouraged them to keep on feeding. I looked up from stuffing myself for a moment and saw a pack of wolves, eating through heavy grins.
Maggie told us of her community, just killed a huge grey whale with a bomb-tipped harpoon. Of her sister, just paddled around and down to Nain. Of some crazy people, who paddled up the Koroc, over the Torngat Range, and down into Nain. We met several characters, most all a blend of Scottish, Inuit, and Innu blood. Heard some of the rich human history of this rugged land, then bade the jolly group of outfitters farewell. Sliding behind the group, I insisted on paying for the store-full of food we had consumed, but Maggie sternly forbade me to do so.
Stuffed and delighted, we looked at Sarvakalak Rapids with confidence. Mel and I instructed everyone to square up to the huge laterals, and punch super hard through, paddling with full force all the way into the eddy. Our new friends gathered on the porch above us to watch with concerned expressions. Canice and I hit it first, charging the intended line, blazing down the tongue then snapping around smartly into the big bouncy eddy, getting jostled by the powerful fence of cold water but managing to not take in water. Signaled for the rest to hit it. Sam and Luis came charging. They exited the tongue at the correct spot, paddling pretty good, but their boat came into the shoulder of the tongue with just the slightest cant instead of squared up to the laterals. They tilted gently downstream, overcompensated and then… Sarvakalak! They were over. I quickly hit Luis with my throwbag and dragged him to shore, but Sam and boat were sucked downstream at breakneck speed, bobbing to and fro in fast waves as big as ski jumps. Canice and I scrambled fast to unload our boat, and by then Mel was there. Her and I set off to rescue Sam, who was already passing the island 500 meters down. We powered through the runout in hot pursuit, and were nearly to him when the freighter canoe from Ungava Adventures zoomed up behind us, making the extraction a cinch. We plucked Sam from the icy drink, put him in the freighter, changed tack and went after the upturned canoe, which had smacked the bare granite island and swirled into an eddy no smaller than the Delaware Water Gap. Working together with Sam and the guide from U.A., we wrestled the sinking wannigans and river bags into the keep, T-rescued the boat, and put that in the freighter as well. Mel jumped in with Sam and the kind fisherman. We moored my canoe to a cleat on the freighter, and I rode it like a water ski, steering and bracing to keep from getting wrecked in the wake as I was towed happily back upriver to the crew. We got Sam and Luis in dry clothes, settled everyone down, thanked our friends profusely for their help, then painstakingly lined the rest of the boats down through the tongue. Suffered arctic headwinds for five long hours before making an ad-hoc campsite on RR at a sub-par beach. Everybody tired from a string of hard days but excited to eat fresh salmon steaks and lots of smoked whitefish. Good thing for hot weather, or else Sam would have been hypothermic after that long swim, and Luis wouldn’t be able to ever get his sleeping bag or clothes dry, since his river bag did a poor job of keeping out the river. Drying stuff by the fire as I write. Still plenty of wood and fresh water.

Tuesday, August 12, Day 26 Bushwack Beach to Ford Island, 35K

Arose at 5:30, ate and sipped strong brew as the fog burned off under command of the tyrannical sun. Picked our way through shallow boulder boneyards awhile, found some moving water, and shed every layer except the necessary ones as the temperature demanded. Like many of the rapids on both the De Pas and the George, we found the next RI, RII, RIII combo had subsided to headward erosion, and slumped downriver from its marks on the map. Found ourselves lining and dragging through several ledge drops here, having little water to work with, and lots of rocks to work against. Stayed RR for these quick lines, pros by now at this. Headwinds cooled down our bodies and our pace as we navigated the wide, boulder-filled river. The landscape is suddenly devoid of all life, moonlike with nary a tree to be seen except in remote patches along incoming creeks. Several cabinas dot the shoreline through here, hinting at the civilization we’re returning to, but still seeming like tiny specks of fiction in the reality of raw, immense and utter wildness. Feeling worn, ragged, and jolly, we rolled along in the rhythm of the tides. Before we knew it, we were above the infamous tidal rapids. Mel and I had a poke around while cheese bread and lox appeared magically from the wannigans. Filled up our Reliance jugs and all our Nalgenes before the water got brackish. We noticed the water was rapidly receding, so we bombed down a narrow, shallow chute amongst a graveyard of granite headstones where a mighty rapid might once have been. Snuck along a big sieve for a ways, then doubled back to find a long chute, angled to the RR side. Bounced down doing little corrective strokes and thinking light thoughts to avoid scraping bottom, recalling skills learned on the Rivierre Du Poste trips of previous summers. Cheers of “Vale, vale!!” as Ford Island became visible in the pink distance. Resisting momentum towards bee lining the open water, we opted to hug the left shore, as the river opened into a miles-wide ocean. Braved huge swells. Arctic gusts of wind iced over us. A singing hot sun made chop spray splashes welcome on the sun-baked shoulders of our sun-doped soldiers. Feeling too excited to slow down, we plugged through the huge expanse of water, aiming for a cleft on the SE side of the grand island, rising like a mirage made real as we approached. Our boats were tiny in the grand scale of the 3K wide river, and seemed impossibly slow with no direct reference. We were developing agoraphobia by the time our trippers bellied-up on the huge granite slab of Ford Island, interrupting an albatross during his feast of two red snappers and a salmon. He batted his massive wings and was gone. We gleefully scampered the slopes, setting camp in the cleft well above the high water marks, in the blueberries, boulders, akpiq berries, and exactly three tiny trees, watching the river rise significantly between each trip back to the boats for a new load. Since the tide is 38 feet, and cycles every twelve hours, it must change more than three feet each hour, or a full foot every twenty minutes! Went cliff diving and Juame caught another Salmon then explored the island to find good bouldering and an abandoned camp of some sort—pretty large place with big generator house sans generator, power lines to several structures, and a tower which had twisted and collapsed in the wind. Made chicken dumps, traded massages, had berry fights, burned driftwood as the moon rose over the peaks that stand sentinel at the mighty river mouth, and hit the fart sacks feeling as happy as worms in apples.

Wednesday, August 13 Day 27 Ford Island to Kangiqsualujjuaq, 8K

Studying the tides last night, we figured it was high at 8pm, so in order to reach K-town with enough water to have safe passage into the bay, we woke up at 4 and broke camp hastily. Glided along a glass sea off the West coast, awed by a dense fog that lifted to produce a serene scene. The last shreds of cloud draped in the clefts of jagged peaks. Feeling limitless in this limitless world, all our cares empty into the vast oblivion. We’d practically done it. By 7:30, we’d made it to where the river/sea bends to the W and crossed over the bay towards town just as the slack tide started going out. Bellied up on the new boat launch at 8:30. Mel and I trotted towards town, looking for Jimmy Stewart or anyone to help us get situated. Luckily, Guy St. Alban got wind of our arrival, and drove his pickup to the boat ramp. Young Ned took all the wannigans, duffels, and campers to the airport to make camp while I went with Lolo and Guy to bring the boats to his place where he would store them until they could be shipped. Paid him and suffered through some of his politics with tight lips. Then he drove us to the airport, where Mel and the crew had already made camp. Next we checked in at the tiny hangar, and were offered a ride into town for showers at the rec center and shopping at the cooperative. The statistic that 45% of the population here is under age 15 became apparent as a cadre of youngsters surrounded us, fawning on us like American teenagers on movie stars. Wherever we went, our fan club came awkwardly along, milking us for corn chips and sips of coke. Back to the airport for a surprise birthday bash for Jaume with ice cream and balloons even. Northern lights again tonight and a chill rolling in that makes us shiver even in our warm bags.

Thursday, August 14, Day 1 of Escape from the North, Kangiqsualujjuak to Kujjuak

Awoke to strong winds at 2:30am and felt a strong front arriving. Drizzles began soon after, and then more winds and low lying fog. Our flight to Kujjuak was delayed for an hour, then two, then indefinitely and our connection in Kujjuak couldn’t wait any longer and abandoned us. Hours on the phone with Air Inuit, First Air, and camp trying to wrangle flights out in order to get home before the winter set in. Trips to the Northern to resupply on $10 bags of Doritos, rapid-fire questions from campers with no answers, Lolo mothering everyone, Jon banging things together, Luis repeating “Don’t worry be happy” like Jack in the film The Shining, Jaume worrying himself sick and muttering in Catalan, and everyone staring out the window of the hangar into an empty, unsympathetic fog. Finally, a plane came to our rescue in the late evening. A twin Otter turbo prop. The friendly pilots got us to pose for a quick photo on the runway and dilly-dallied just long enough by peppering us with questions until it became not-too-obvious but obvious enough that we were more than ready to load up and get the hell outta Dodge. So we did. Thrust into the sky, we flew beneath lingering stratus, getting good views of the mouths of the False, Mutilinik, and finally, The Koksoak or Kujjuak River, then touched down only 35minutes later in the bustling metropolis of Kujjuak. We set up tents next to the landing strip and some of us passed out while others ventured into town to witness a Guns n Roses cover band at the Akpiq Jam Music Festival. Happy to have upgraded our living situation some fraction of a degree at least. One flight closer to home.

Friday, August 15, Day 2 of Escape, Kuujjuak to Nowhere

Trinket shopping, ambling around the town, being beeped at and whistled at, certainly giving the appearance of being lost. Banquet dinner at the Old Chimo Coffee Stop, in the absence of Seth and Abby. Definitely couldn’t get poutine like that at Fire and Ice. Then we hit the Akpiq Music Festival, the biggest, and possibly only event in Kujjuak all year. What luck! Cute old Inuit men prattled through Merle Haggard songs, Jon jammed with newfound friends, and balloons fell from the sky with $20 bills in them. It could have been much worse. Back to the cozy/creepy campsite at the airport and in bed by 10. Life in this town is stripped just as bare as the land. Simple would be an understatement. Absent almost of everything except the stoicism of passing time.

Saturday, August 16, Day 3 of Escape, Kujjuak to Keewaydin!

Packed up our hovel of a campsite in the gutter of this forsaken village, in the hollow patch of shrubs between the water tanks and the gravel pits where kids go to ride their motorbikes. Hours of reading and playing cards and trying to convince security to let us keep our stoves, then auctioning them off to a hunter for a measly $20. Loading the plane with joyous steps, smelling up our section, and our last portage through the Montreal airport to meet a jubilant Seth. Another successful George River Expedition returns to a vacant camp, as all have gone home except the workweek crew. Rushed goodbyes at least make for easier goodbyes and we’re off to our respective corners of the earth…

Total Bear Sightings: 11
Total Caribou: 17
Total Hot, Sunny Days: 21
Total fish caught (Mostly by Jaume): Too many to count
Total kilometers paddled: Too many to count (over 550?)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Costa Rica Adventures

Greetings and thanx for checking out my long-neglected blog!

I just had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica, where I paddled a river with a story very similar to the Rupert. A marvelous ribbon of jade named Rio Pacuare drains the steep flanks of volcanoes, then falls over boulder choaked canyons with walls of dense tropical rainforest which gives way to banana plantations and crocodile-filled mangroves before finally exhaling a full load of mountain water into the emerald waves of the Carribbean Sea. The Pacuare hosts several remote Indegenous Communities, relentless rapids, astounding amounts of wildlife, and the most stunning scenery imaginable. Unfortunately, the Pacuare has been threatened by a hydro-electric project which could flood one of the most pristine sections, drown primary rainforests, kill an insanely perfect stretch of world-class rapids, and end the possibility for native Cabecan Indian families to continue living their traditional ways. Sound familiar? A nearly parallel story to our own beloved Rupert River, with one major plot difference-- the Pacuare may still have a chance. A reputation as the best river in the world to go rafting on has lured hordes of tourists in, bringing income to the region and providing a viable reason to leave the river alone.
Spent New Year's in Dominical hanging loose with the Watermans. Thanks very mucho you guys! Then said goodbye to Al and struck out on my own in order to explore the river and search for those who had helped to save it. From San Jose, I bought a bus ticket for 1,000 Colones (2 US Dollars) to Turrialba, a coffee town in the shadow of smoking volcanoes, also famous for amazing whitewater delights. Settling into my seat as the big diesel engine choked to life, I took note that the senorita next to me was frantically crossing herself and muttering Hail Mary. "?Es Neccesario?" I asked.
"Si," she responded, with what I hoped was a disproportionate amount of brevity. All too soon, the symptom of her faith became contagious. We zoomed around the tenth blind hairpin turn in a row on two wheels, a mack truck blasting past on the left and a fiersome cliffside on the right, which half the road had already caved into. I crossed myslef and said my Hail Marys for the first time since I could remember. My neighbor approved, her face turning green with carsickness.
Arriving safe and sound in Turrialba four hours later, I ponied up another 3,000 Colones (6 US Dollars) to check into the Hotel Turrialba for the night. A word of advice: never check into a hotel based on it's positive review in a five year old copy of Lonely Planet. In five years, since that rag gave this place a glowing review, the walls have turned to mold, several colonies of ants have taken up residence, and no less than thirty people have pissed on the mattress I was assigned. I would need to get drunk in order to sleep here, so I strolled down to look for some boaters to befriend, knowing that boaters and beer are symbiotic. As I left Hotel Turrialba, I noticed a 24 hour funeral parlor, complete with a casket lined with pink feather boas. Why would Costa Rica's whitewater Mecca need an all night mortuary? Disconcerting.
In search of some friends to get a beer and ultimately paddle the river with, I fortuitously stumbled into Rainforest World Outfitters. Several hours and Imperials later, I had me some friends, a boat and gear to borrow, and a job safety boating for the most famous stretch of whitewater in Central America, leaving at 7:30 the next day. After bravely drowning enough Tequila, I passed out in the piss-stench craphole of a room.
The next morning our trip turned into an overnight as clients decided to have their honeymoon and sleep on the river, so I scored a free ride down, with gourmet meals and all. The Lower section of the Pacuare is probably the most beatiful peice of river I will ever run. Amazing. After every big drop, an 80 foot waterfall plunges down on your head, and then another class four sucks you in. We scrambled up side creeks to jump off waterfalls and explore Cebecan communities, saw monkeys, sloths, boas, parrots, iguanas, scorpions, and canyon walls covered with hanging virgin stands of rainforest, clogged with butterflies, brightly colored birds, and zillions of insects. From my new best friends, the spanish speaking guides, I learned that one Denielle Perry was doing her Masters thesis on the Pacuare, and was on a quest to run the entire Pacuare in the space of seven days, documenting the remote native villages along her way. What she is doing is similar to our mission on the Rupert in uncanny ways.
When we returned to Turrialba, Denielle was getting prepped to start her quest with the Headwaters section the next day. I was invited! We packed nine people into a tiny Land Cruiser, dragging rafts and boats along behind, and headed into the mountains for a few hours, then we transfered the gear onto horses, and crossed a mountain pass into the rarely run Headwaters section of the Pacuare. Finally it was time to paddle. I boofed, bounced and bobbed through amazing class IV drop pools all afternoon, pausing only to mark way points on Denielle's GPS whenever we found huts that the natives were living in or using. The next day we charged the creatively named Upper Upper and Upper sections, which consisted of huge boulders crammed into tight canyons, creating challenging class V+ drops. After that we hit the Top section, where yet more burly rapids tested our mettle. Then we switched into Canoing mode in order to finish off the last section of the Pacuare, where it meanders peacefully through Del Monte banana plaintations on it's way to the mangrove forests at it's mouth in the Carribbean Sea. So I saw the Carribbean for the first time from the stern of a Canoe, after 8 straight days on the river! The most memorable moments of this last section came after dark when we were in the canal from the Pacuare to the Reventezon River, and had to navigate through croc infested waters for a few hours. I think we saw at least 40 crocs all around us, even hit a couple with my paddle. Could see hundreds of eyes in the flashlight beam. Kinda creepy. We ended up in Parismina, one of the most remote towns in Costa Rica. Viva el Pacuare!!!
I relaxed with good reggae vibes and awesome waves for a few days in Puerto Viejo before returning to the States to paste solar panels akimbo on the urban landscape of the Front Range of Colorado.
Denielle and Nate, you guys rock! Please send me some pix to post here. As far as the Rupert film goes, I'm feeling fired up to finish it and plan to work on it a lot now that I'm refreshed. Here's another youtube post of random clips to curb your appetite until the full feature is finished. Super Tuanis, Mae! Desfrute, and please scroll down to learn more about our project from older blogs if you're one of the many awesome folks I met abroad, perhaps checking this blog for the first time.
In the spirit of wild rivers, Steve.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

NPR Coverage of Rupert

The story of the Rupert found it's way into the spotlight via a radio show by Brian Mann of NPR. Check it out at About to present at the Gunnison River Symposium tonight, treating this as a test run for future presentation opportunities. Stay Positive. "Great Problems call for many small solutions."-- Wendell Berry

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

First Annual Gunnison Rivers Symposium

Rupert River Film Expedition member Mike Wight and I will be presenting at the Gunny Rivers Symposium on Saturday the 10th of November. If you're in the area and can attend please do. Here's the Press Release Kevin Heiner (an organizer of the event) put together:

River friends and friends of the river: on Saturday, November 10, Western State College will host the First Annual Gunnison Rivers Symposium in the Kebler Ballroom from 4-9PM. Admission will be FREE! Highlights of the event include: a kayaking film premier fresh from LVM productions, an outdoor gear and apparel raffle to benefit the Gunnison Whitewater Park and local and international speakers presenting about Colorado kayaking first descents, international water access issues, and the ecological and social affects of hydroelectric projects. (That's us!)
The schedule is as follows: At 4:00PM Doors Open, 4:20 Welcome and Introduction of Sponsors, Purpose, Philosophy, and Approach. 4:30 First Keynote Speaker: Daniel Gonzalez of Futa Friends ( -Daniel will discuss the state of the rivers in southern Chile and the conservation efforts this organization are undertaking to secure permanent protection status for the Futaluefu river and other wild rivers of Chile and Argentina from hydroelectric and mining interests. 5:00 Second Keynote Speaker: Dan Piano of Steamboat Springs-Dan and crew (Routt County River Enforcement-for all you Mountainbuzzers ( have done four first descents on Colorado creeks in Routt County in the last two years. Dan will have some video footage, slides, and will explain how these descents were accomplished. 5:30 Third Keynote Speaker: Mike Wight and Steve King from Nederland and Boulder, CO-Last July, Mike, Steve, and 3 others embarked on an ambitious expedition to Northern Quebec to run the obscure and gigantic Rupert River. The Rupert peaks at 180,000 c.f.s.! Their plan was to run it in canoes, portage the unrunnable, high-flow class VI rapids while documenting the state of the river in its free-flowing state with video and still photography before it will be dammed! The politics of the proposed damming are not entirely transparent and these adventurers plan to expose the political, social, and ecological dynamics involved by producing a film documentary. They will have a trailer for the movie and an involved slideshow and discussion for this event. 6:00 Dinner Break, 7:00 Film Premier-Lunch Video Magazine’s #24 Begins, 8:30 Raffle Drawing, 9:00 Doors Close. Afterwards: After party at the Gunnison Brewery. Ten percent of food sales proceeds will benefit the Gunnison Whitewater Park.
Event sponsors include: Western State College, The Alpineer, Black Tie Ski Rentals of Crested Butte, Gene Taylor’s Sporting Goods, Colorado Kayak Supply, Lunch Video Magazine, Vewda Productions, and Futa Friends. Please call Kevin @ 970.846.2300 for more details or to donate to or sponsor this event.

Monday, September 17, 2007

First Bits of Footage

Many folks have been hoping for a glimpse so I had to post this little teaser. We converted it to an mpeg to make it smaller, so don't expect the quality to be as good as the final product will be. Thanx Alexandra Waterman for help with the editing. Also in Rupert news-- there was a big protest in Montreal last friday in front of the Hydro-Quebec Headquarters. Alex Lee and his Project Laundry Listers raised a laundry line with some awesome T-shirts and poignant messages for Hydro. The Three chiefs of the communities most effected by the project launched a new website for you to check out,