terribly sad news of the disappearance of two paddlers was
felt very strongly throughout the HACC. Daniel Pauzé and Susan
Barnes visited me to buy a canoe for their journey that was
partly inspired by our Labrador Odyssey 2001 online trip.
It began with an e-mail to me last
February from Dan who mentioned he was planning a trip to
climb Mt. Caubvick/Mt. D’Iverville which lies on the ragged
and remote Labrador-Quebec border south of Nachvak Fjord. It
is the highest point in each province, hence the two names.
He wrote that he had seen our Web
site and was very interested in our trip and decided, based on
LO 2001, to add an element of our trip into theirs. That
being, the ascent of the Palmer River from Nachvak and a trip
down the Korok. After the terrible events of August, I
returned to my e-mail reply to him, just to see if I had
responded in the proper way. Thankfully I had. I wrote,
“I want to make sure you
understand one thing. This trip is VERY strenuous and
difficult and I hope you realize that. We have been doing
upstream trips since 1985 and are quite experienced at it. The
Palmer/Korok route is for a very experienced tripper and one
canoe is not the best logistical number to work with. Six is a
more efficient group for a trip of this type. I am not sure
how many people you are going with.
“So please bear this in mind, it
is important and I felt I had to make that clear. Having said
that, please contact me for any questions you have.”
Dan responded that he was aware of
the challenges and mindful of them. And until, if ever, we
find out what happened to them — we will never know if that
statement is true or not.
The facts that have appeared leave
many questions unanswered.
The fact is the trip was
originally planned with two men. Dan’s friend dropped out and
Susan took his place. It was a factor that certainly played on
my mind. And I recall thinking, if only in passing, while
taking their photo with their new canoe in front of my house;
would these two be up to the task of a very hard trip?
We have found the most efficient
and economical group is six. It allows for the most productive
use of people and power. It was no accident that we went with
that number and we would not have done the trip with a single
canoe but probably would with two, though three boats is what
My concerns were not
life-threatening ones; merely the huge amount of physical
labour required to get up the Palmer River and the ability to
get down the Korok’s rocky course. I mentioned this to Daniel
and he replied that the trip was planned to minimize weight —
no generators or computers for them, and wisely so.
We traded e-mails on and off
through the spring and right up until they left. Most of the
concerns were logistical and about the route. In fact, he
kindly offered to help get our three Labrador Odyssey canoes
back south. The last I heard from Dan was a surprise phone
call from Nain in early August. They had elected to get a
charter boat up from this last outpost of life on the northern
Labrador coast. Dan called to ask for some help after their
charter boat left before they arrived at the beginning of
August. We looked at their options; they could fly to Saglek
as we had, but they had no ocean maps or charts and a lone
canoe on that part of the coast was not a good idea.
He was in a pickle — one we had
been in before and I gave him some ideas to try and get help.
That included making your problem known; to newspapers, radio,
outfitters etc. The dynamics of such a thing are remarkably
strong in small northern towns. And when I did not hear back
from him, I assumed something had worked.
They obviously got plugged into
the scene and finally flew into the Korok, bypassing the
difficult Palmer section altogether. They flew into the upper
Korok since it is closest to the mountain but it was hard to
get exact info.
I thought about how the pair was
doing while I was on vacation in Georgian Bay. It was the day
before the end of our stay there when my office phoned (for
the first time!) to tell me the mother of Susan was looking
for a Michael Peake who had sold them a canoe. I called right
away and found out what had happened and where they had
landed. At this point they were a few days overdue and a
search was about to begin. I assured the parents they would
most likely be found safe since they were travelling the river
and it should be easy to spot them. I assumed they had been
delayed and not realized they were heading for the mountain.
It is a bit, but not too,
surprising would they not be carrying their satphone in such a
remote and dangerous area. In fact, they had never used it,
which conjures up a number of possibilities. One theory is
offered up by HACC Chief Guide Geoffrey Peake, who has 20
years of mountain experience and has hiked in the Torngats. He
thinks the pair may have been ascending one of the many large
scree (loose rock) slopes that are dotted with snow and have
streams underneath. These should be climbed at the edge of the
field, not in the middle, where the possibility of a type of
loose rock avalanche is real. These mountains are over three
billion years old, they have a lot of rocks that have chipped
off over the millennia. If that happened, and they were buried
under a pile of rocks they may never be found although the
search will resume next June.
are conscious of the image we display in our online trips and
other. Also, we are all disdainful of the “X” factor inherent
in media portrayal of extreme outdoor sports adventures. We
never try to portray what we do as glamorous, dangerous, or
foolhardy. And I was left thinking, did we portray the trip as
we should have?
Our Hide-Away Canoe Club group is
a team of experts, though we hesitate to use the term. But in
fact we are a seasoned group of experienced travelers who have
done a good amount of remote tripping over many years. Did we
make the Labrador trip we did seem too easy? It is hard to get
an accurate reading on how you are perceived when you are so
involved in something as big as that project was for us.
It is a question I will not take lightly again, in light of
the Pauzé and Barnes tragedy. It is a sobering reminder of the
harsh price such a wild land can claim. The raw power or a
true wilderness is what draws us there-and what leaves some
— Michael Peake