The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  FALL 2003











In this issue

Front Page


Labrador Tragedy

Robert Service

Fall Packet


From the Editor


Back page





Recognition and responsibility

The 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 we wanted.

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.

We 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 behind, forever.

 — Michael Peake

 Fall 2003         Outfit 114 

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