Their canoe was
found back in the rapids, caught by a loose bowline and being smashed
periodically against the bottom by a vertical current. By riding an eddy
upriver behind a rock, Kit and I got into the rapids and then eased over to the
canoe and cut the bowline. Fortunately the damage was minor; the right gunwale
had been ripped off from the stern seat back.
Things went well
again for a week. The rapids became too long to investigate, but we developed a
system of hugging the shore and hopping out and wading in our skin-diving dry
suits around anything that looked too difficult or even marginal. There was no
head wind for the 30-mile paddle down Beechey Lake, and the one-mile portage
around the cascades at the foot of the lake was made efficiently in two trips
for each man. Wildlife abounded. Fifteen musk-ox herding by the river bank, a
black wolf sneaking along the shore and three caribou prowling through the
campsite made the diversion our lost dog might have provided seem pallid. And
we were hardly starving. Kit, with little or no effort, kept us supplied with
fish, and when bloating was called for, we fried doughnuts and stuffed
ourselves until we lay on the rocks and moaned.
JULY 24. Today
the orange canoe broke in half. Its bad luck this time came when it struck a
small rock at the edge of a minor rapids and jackknifed at the center thwart.
Tracy gave it one kick and, surprisingly, it bounced back into shape. We lashed
spare paddles to the split gunwales for support, had an undeserved but
ego-building vat of macaroni, and once again set off for the polar sea.
JULY 25. If the
rocks and gently rolling pastel-green tundra were looking more bleak and
monotonous, our lives were not. Every day brought the excitement of an
unforeseen challenge. For example, this evening Tracy and John were
photographing a musk-ox browsing by the shore of our campsite. Kit was inland
collecting scrub willow twigs for the fire while I soaked the dried vegetables.
Suddenly the musk-ox turned and charged Kit. I saw the two silhouetted on the
ridge, the beast's head lowered as he bounded over the rocks and hummocks, and
Kit waving his arms and bellowing like a drunken matador but holding his
ground. For a few seconds it looked as if my sternman would be impaled on a
long, curling horn and tossed across the barrens, but the musk-ox veered just
in time and snorted on over the moss at about 30 mph.
JULY 26. No one
budged this morning at our camp before Hawk Rapids. During the night the strong
winds of a cold front had swept down from the arctic. You soon learn to tell
whether headway is possible that day or whether it is worth crawling out of
your sleeping bag at all from the way the tent shakes. John out-slept us all by
sacking in until 4 p.m. He did, however, stick a gloved hand under the tent
flap for his bowl of Grape Nuts at noon.
For a week we
fought the winds and cold rain. Where the weather stopped us, we camped, often
portaging inland over half-frozen muskeg to have a cup of dried beef peanut
butter and raisins (our own brand of pemmican) in the tents.
AUGUST 1. Today
it snowed. The rain, begun in the morning, turned to sleet and finally to a
blizzard. We inched along blindly, judging from the waves that were hitting us
broadside that we had turned east down Pelly Lake. Ahead lay the 70 miles of
Pelly and Garry lakes, in places 20 miles wide, which made open water
unavoidable. To wait for the gale to let up might mean a delay of weeks. The
best we could do was hope to travel under the protection of the windward shore,
but this meant crossing Pelly Lake. We decided to chance it.
petrified. From his stern seat he could see the water splash across the packs
and the waves surge within an inch of the gunwales. I had no worry until I saw
the orange canoe crash over the white crests and disappear into the troughs. I
realized we were pushing the canoes to their limit but also appreciated how
stable the Chestnut Ogilvy canoe is under the worst conditions.
AUGUST 3. The
wind died this morning, and we plunged over the broad rollers of Garry Lake to
a small island with an abandoned mission perched high on bluffs overlooking the
sandy beach of a peaceful cove. Strewn about the cabin were Bibles and
religious comic books in English and Eskimo, caribou bones, some household
medicines and letters from Paris and arctic posts addressed to a Father Trinel.
There was also a disheveled freight canoe, somewhat less seaworthy after Tracy
axed out the ribs and planking to get the potbelly stove roaring. That night we
washed down Spanish rice and 30 doughnuts with brandy. After the brandy, tales
of the river and musk-ox charges and raging blizzards grew to heroic
AUGUST 4. A day
of rest. We stewed an arctic hare that John had shot, brewcd a chowder using
greyling and cooked a large vat of beans. The brief respite allowed us to patch
dry suits, mend pants, reorganize the packs and stow away firewood.