The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  AUTUMN 2002

PAGE 3

OUTFIT 110
 

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In this issue

Front Page

Expeditions

Fall Packet

Canoesworthy

From the Editor

Canoelit

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   Expeditions

Part  1  2  3

                         Heidi and Ilya run Quoich set.

We spent our first night in the little public campsite, halfway between the airport and the settlement. Here, after being taxied all about town by Boris to purchase last minute items such as stove fuel and fishing licenses, we then carried out the final sorting and organization of our gear. Because Boris is new at the canoe outfitting business, we were still informationally challenged about the Quoich River. We had yet to decide which branch of the river we would paddle, and didnít even know if there would be a suitable landing site for the Twin Otter. After lunch, our Otter arrived, and Boris taxied us and our pile of gear out to meet with the pilots. A Twin Otter aircraft is the most cost effective way to transport 6 paddlers 3 canoes, and all the gear. The problem is that, these days it is very difficult to find a Twin Otter on floats. They all have the fat, low pressure rubber tires and require suitable ground for landing. After examining the maps and discussing with the pilots the general area where hoped to start, we loaded up the plane and took off. It was about a one hour flight to the headwaters of the Quoich River. This flight over the tundra made us begin to appreciate the unbelievable expanse of these spectacular barren lands. We arrived over the upper reaches of the river and started flying upstream, following an esker alongside the river. These eskers are the ancient sandy beds of streams that once ran under the great continental glaciers of the last ice age. The eskers provide ridges of hard packed sand, and provide excellent landing sites for a Twin Otter. That is, if the esker is wide enough, flat enough, and straight enough. This one wasnít. We continued to fly upstream, with all of us following the maps, searching the esker for somewhere to put down. The weather, of course, had now deteriorated to driving, cold, rain. At least we called it rain, because we didnít want to believe that it might actually be sleet. I was trying to formulate a new plan, since I hadnít seen anywhere the looked remotely suitable for landing. I turned around to grab my other maps, leaned over to look out the window again, and all at once we were down. The pilot had managed to land on a piece of esker that I never would have believed possible. Thatís the joy of flying in a Twin Otter, especially with a very experienced pilot. After a quick unloading, we signaled to the pilot that he was clear to take off. In an even more incredible demonstration, the plane rolled, bounced a couple of times, and leaped into the air in what seemed to be no distance at all.

It was a rather humbling feeling as we stood on the wind swept tundra, cold rain dripping off our hats, and watched the plane disappear into the low grey clouds. Hundreds of miles from the nearest human, in the centre of one of the most savage environments on the planet, our mountain of gear looked pitiably small, and the three red canoes insignificant and inadequate. However, camp was soon established and we eagerly looked forward to finally getting on the river in the morning.

This far north of course, there is very little darkness. There was plenty of light to read by until about 11 p.m., followed by a few hours of twilight. We arose early on the first morning to cold, cloudy weather, but also with that wonderful paddling phenomenon, a tail wind. It is always a chancy prospect trying to paddle the headwaters of Arctic rivers. If your timing isnít quite right, you can find yourself walking, wading, and dragging for days. We were lucky to have relatively high water on the Quoich River this season. We had no trouble paddling right from the start. Here, the Quoich is a small stream, flowing between the endless, boulder covered ridges. We now began to learn the nature and characteristics of the Quoich. The initial two rapids we encountered that morning were small ledges. The first required a short carry around. The second one was a lift over followed by a tricky maneuver through a little chute. This is where we had our first adventure. My wife Donna and I, followed Ilya and Heidi, negotiated successfully through. However, Mike and Shelley zigged when they should have zagged, and the excitement began. The canoe broached on a rock and swung around. Shelley made a quick exit out of the bow, getting only half wet. The current then pushed the hull down and as the canoe began to capsize, Mike made his exit out of the rear. The last I saw of him was two boots disappearing into the river. With a good deal of its load disgorged, the canoe righted itself and came through unscathed. It always amazes me how well canoes manage once you take the people out. A quick change of clothes for the paddlers, and we were on our way once again. Most of the rapids on the Quoich consisted of rock gardens and waves, with few ledges and steep drops. This was wonderful for canoeing, as with the high water level, almost all of the rapids were runnable.

At our first camp that evening, we were all eager to head out and experience the tundra. This became our daily ritual, before or after dinner, an exploratory hike across the tundra. After pitching our tents, Donna, myself and Ilya and Heidi, left Mike and Shelley to start supper and hiked up onto a small ridge behind our campsite. I looked along the shore and saw a large, brown form ambling into view. Grabbing my binoculars, I called out, ďLook, a grizzly!Ē. Except that it wasnít a bear at all, it turned out to be a mother muskox and her calf. The shaggy brown animals made their way along the river bank, grazing contentedly until they saw Mike and Shelley in our camp. We had a wonderful view of them, until they finally decided to gallop off, clattering away across the tundra. We were surprised to see muskoxen here as we were just on the very eastern border of their range in this area of Nunavut.

We continued down the river with this wonderful tailwind and cool wet weather that we categorized as ďdriving drizzleĒ. However, it never rained all day, and we soon learned to appreciate that the cold wind was protecting us from the most serious wildlife menace of the tundra, mosquitoes and blackflies! The moment the sun came out, or the wind dropped, the bugs would rise in an incredible mass, driving us to shelter behind our head nets.

One morning we were rounding a bend, looking for a lunch spot which would be a little bit sheltered from the wet wind. Just downstream we were delighted to see a beautiful white wolf making his way along the shore. As we approached, he headed off across the tundra and we watched him disappear into the distance. We were lucky to travel the Quoich this year at the perfect time for wildflowers. While the tundra may appear as a bleak and desolate landscape when viewed from an airplane, the ground itself was absolutely ablaze with a thick carpet of a great variety of brilliant wildflowers. Flowers were everywhere. Blossoming on every centimeter of the shallow soil, among fields of boulders, and clinging to the smallest cracks in the rock, the flowers showed tremendous adaptability in surviving in this incredibly harsh environment. The bright white clusters of Labrador Tea, with the sunny yellow arctic poppies, and the gaudy fuchsia of the river beauty, were just a few of the multitude of flowers carpeting the tundra.  While enjoying the waving cotton grass, and the beautiful pinks of the lousewort and bog rosemary, we were very surprised to come across large mushroom fungi nestled in the grasses. I just never expected to find these types of toadstools in this cold and dry climate.

Cont'd

 

 

 

Hiking the eskers

along the Quoich

 

 Autumn 2002         Outfit 110 

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