The Adventure Continues...
The weather turned against us before we got on the water and had to wait four days for it to clear. Sound familiar? Once on the water, and only one day out, it happened again — and we sat through a three-day rain storm.
We eventually went back to Lab City and picked our food. We headed for the Moisie. But it wasn't a surprise when we got caught in another storm just down Wabush Lake from Lab City.
Everyone was excited when we finally reached THE river. It was breathtaking. Waterfall after waterfall after waterfall after gorge. A huge, fast current. Cliffs rising 200 feet above us. Often we were traveling 7 to 8 kilometers an hour, without paddling! There were rugged portages every day. One portage consisted of rock hopping along the river's edge. The rocks were actually boulders about 15 feet in diameter. As we jumped from one boulder to the next, we could see the river beneath us, 15 feet below.
One day Jack Hamill got stung by a bee. He had never been stung before. His arm had started to swell when we camped that night. By morning his forearm looked like Popeye's. Jack had asthma. Joe and Steve got nervous and turned on the small red EPRB (pronounced e-purb) that sent out an emergency signal. And we waited at our campsite on a waterfall for help to arrive.
That day was also the birthday of Peter and Steve. We had run out of toilet paper and Peter's birthday wish was for that. Steve's was for help for Jack.
Photo: Dylan Schoelzel
At 10 p.m., just as darkness was coming, a large, Canadian Forces' plane buzzed us. After a low pass something came parachuting out of the sky. We ran down to the river to rescue it, fearing it would get swept downstream. It was a large,
military-type, handheld radio. Steve got on and talked to the crew in the gloom.
After explaining the situation, I heard him say, "I don't think you need to
parachute anyone down, if you can get a float plane on the ground
The next thing the plane buzzes over again, and rolls of unraveling toilet paper fall out of the sky. At first, we couldn't figure out how they knew about Peter's birthday wish. Then on the next pass, two parachutists jumped out of the plane, soaring into the narrow gorge toward us. (The toilet paper had been used to test wind direction.)
They landed, walked into the campsite, and one of them said, "Anybody call for a paramedic here?"
After examining Jack, they said they feared he could be dead by morning, so they called for a helicopter evacuation.
While we waited in the dark, and the plane continued circling, a pot of coffee was put on. A little later, one of the paramedics walked out of the campfire light to take a coffee whizz. You could hear this unnatural tinkling sound. Unfortunately for Joe, the paramedic had found his cup.
Eventually, this huge, dual-rotor, Labrador helicopter appears high overhead. The planes throws off a million-candle-power flare, lighting up the entire gorge as if it were daylight. And the helicopter drops down near the campsite. The roar is amplified by the walls of the gorge. The downwash from the huge blades flattens entire trees. Hovering 20-feet above the rocks, Jack, Joe and the paramedics are hoisted up. The helicopter rises above the cliffs and leaves. The plane leaves. The flare goes out. Total silence and darkness.
We didn't go anywhere the next day. We didn't know how Jack was doing, or when, or if, Joe would make it back to us on the river. But we had an extra canoe and didn't want to abandon it.
Three days later, a single-engine Cessena on floats buzzed overhead and landed in the current above the falls. We were shocked the aircraft had made it, landing between the cliffs onto the short, narrow stretch of strong current. Joe had returned from Lab City, where Jack had been hospitalized and was recovering nicely. (Eventually, Jack returned to base camp and met us at Boatline Bay for the paddle in at the end of the season.) The plane took off with a canoe and Jack's gear.
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