The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  WINTER 2004

PAGE 3

OUTFIT 115
 

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In this issue

Front Page

Expeditions

Essay

Winter Packet

Canoesworthy

From the Editor

Canoelit

 

 

 

   Expeditions

The Pull of The Lure

Part  1  2  3

                 

             Jim Niedbalski, Brad Bassi and Troy Gipps at Hubbard Cairn on Susan Brook.       

abuse we put our boats through and without the ability to resupply their outfit would have been incredibly heavy. Take away also maps, plastic raingear, mosquito netting, bug-proof nylon tents, and timesaving camping stoves and their 14-day ascent of the Susan becomes a true testament to their will and determination. These modern “conveniences” helped our team complete the ascent in 8 1/2-days.

July 1, 2003 – Today was the type of day I will look back on when I am an old man and wonder, “How in the world did I do it?” Eight hours of backbreaking labor brought us just 2.5 kilometers closer to the junction of Goose Creek. Clouds thickened in the morning then released a soaking mist at noon that persisted throughout the remainder of the day. We each hit the wall at different times. I was so fatigued this afternoon that I found myself stumbling behind the boat, doing all I could to hold on to the stern while dragging my legs upstream against the swift current. Our hourly efforts are measured in feet not miles and Jim and I did our best today to synchronize pushing and pulling to get the boat as far upstream as possible with each step. The bulldogs that tormented the b’ys in 1903 are still very much alive and well (and biting)!

There are certainly no shortages of opinions surrounding the 1903 expedition. Commonly called into question are Hubbard’s decision-making skills, his personal preparedness and the very make up of his expedition outfit. These topics spawn lively discussion among paddlers even 100 years after his untimely death. But there was one piece of information in particular that sparked a brook-side discussion within our group. During the 1903 ascent of the Susan, Wallace had remarked that Gilbert Blake told him they could paddle up the (Naskapi) river eighteen or twenty miles. In fact, Blake said he had “sailed his boat that far.” The ascent of the Susan couldn’t be farther from sailing and within just a mile or so of her mouth the water had become so shallow that we had to begin pulling the boats upstream. Hubbard responded to Wallace’s remarks by saying that Blake was “sorely mistaken about the distance” and he thought the error “was not surprising.” In my opinion, this information clearly could have prevented the troubles that lied ahead for Hubbard and his team. I can understand how the mind of an adventurer would stubbornly refuse the notion of admitting a possible mistake so early on in an expedition, but eighteen or twenty miles? That’s a stretch! Regardless of your opinion on this issue, it is interesting to note that if the b’ys had turned back at that point or had done a more thorough reconnaissance of Grand Lake before ascending into the interior you might not be reading this article because one could certainly argue that the primary reason why the Hubbard story endures is because he died in the bush. Would the names Leonidas Hubbard Jr., Dillon Wallace and George Elson have made it through history if they had made it to Ungava safely in 1903?

Seagull Swamp

July 6, 2003 – Today we learned that seagulls don’t taste as bad as you might think, especially when marinated in mandarin orange sauce. We were also reminded that humans don’t like to be wet. Sheets of soaking mist and rain blow past as we struggled to cook dinner near the edge of an expansive swamp that is the headwaters of Goose Creek. The creek was fairly deep earlier today as it meandered through lowlands but it quickly narrowed. We reached a fork in the creek and followed the southern arm just as Hubbard had done. The trouble came when it entered this swamp. The channel was scarcely wider than our canoes and full of rocks. Then it split again into three or four even smaller channels that disappeared into the bushes. Dragging the boats became impossible so with our last remaining strength today we portaged to this pathetic section of soaking wet moss and crowded our tents as close to the tree line as possible to try to stay out of the wind. There was, however, a glimmer of hope that came in the form of a small bird that perched itself on a tree limb not far from camp and chirped cheerfully as sheets of rain soaked everything in site as we scrambled to keep something, anything dry. I paused and looked at the tiny cheerful bird and realized that things weren’t all that bad. It was just a little rain, well, six days of it - but who was counting.

Map Check?

Did you ever run around your house looking for your car keys, turning over everything in sight while cursing the clutter, only to finally look in your hand and see that you were carrying the keys the whole time? Finding Elson Lake was sort of like that.

July 7, 2003 – Most notable this evening was the realization that we were camping on the shores of Elson Lake and had passed through Mountaineer Lake this morning! The strange thing about this turn of events was that we were not lost today. We knew exactly where we were. So how can this be? We had been navigating with the 1:50,000-scale maps, as is our standard practice, and we made it to our present campsite on the shores of a lake the map showed as nameless. We noticed that we were only 2 kilometers from the Beaver River by portage so we began to question whether or not it was worth it to follow the 2-3 day route we had highlighted through what the map showed as Mountaineer and Elson Lakes. We wanted to stay on Hubbard’s route but after what we had been through the last 2 weeks we had grown very leery of thin single lines on maps. The route we highlighted had several of these lines connecting swamps, ponds and the two lakes. But something didn’t add up so we pulled out the 1:250,000-scale map, which we carried as a back up and had used for our initial route planning. With both maps lying side-by-side on the ground the three of us crouched down and studied the lakes closely. Both maps had the lakes named, but something wasn’t right. It was the shape of the lakes! The cartographers who had designed the 1:50,000-scale maps had accidentally shifted the names “Mountaineer” and “Elson” to two nameless lakes, which left the actual lakes unnamed. We had planned a bogus route to these incorrectly named lakes and were just hours from creating a lot of extra work for ourselves. Quite a close call! Tomorrow we head overland two kilometers to the Beaver River.

Beaver River

Portaging to the Beaver River was easier than we had expected. There were a few stands of dense evergreens and a swamp along the 2-kilometer route but more than half of the portage had been cleared by a somewhat recent forest fire. The river was quite a sight to see after the tiny waterways we had been navigating. Wallace wrote that the fishing had improved once reaching the Beaver so our hopes were high and within a few days we had landed a bully mess of brook trout (also called speckled or mud trout), the largest of which was 15 inches in length. The trout on the Susan and on Goose Creek were often plentiful, but were scarcely larger than 6 inches so these larger fish were a huge moral boost. Also, for the first time since Grand Lake, we were actually able to paddle more than a few boat lengths - still upstream but at least we were paddling. There was still some dragging to be done but nothing like we had experienced previously. One of the most enjoyable parts of the entire upstream phase of the trip was a 15-mile “S-turn” section on the Beaver that ended just south of Ptarmigan Lake. We followed the river from there to its extreme headwaters then began the difficult portage to Hope Lake. 

Cont'd

 

 

 

   
 

Caroline

Jim

 

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