Trip Journal

July 24th
We got a bit of a late start – on the water slightly after 7:00. Sledzik, Sam and I took a little extra time putting on Kokatat gear in preparation for Rock Rapids. It was cold cloudy, windy, and rainy. I was somewhat nervous about Rock Rapids because I was aware of some groups who had not had good experiences there. After finishing lower McDougal, we went to shore and Chase gave us some reminders before the first shoot. We shot everything far right. There was some big water and moves we had to make, but we all did well. The Landscape was truly eerie with mist and low clouds mingling with the rock outcroppings. In some areas there were huge boulders on the ridge tops, as if some giant had placed them there as markers. After eddying out after one of the middle sets we saw four musk oxen on river right. I got a picture of one, and Robert bellowed to them. It was Alex’s day to stern, but he let me stern in one set. We saw a fifth musk ox at a lower set. At Sinclair Falls we found the channel on the right and shot it. It was less water than most sets we had done so far on the trip, but it was fun finding a line through there. We had to pick our way through rocks shoots and pour-overs. We shot over a couple of 3’ ledges as well, and we all felt pretty good about getting through. We didn’t notice the cold at all while we were shooting, but afterwards we did a drift-lunch and became pretty chilly. We spotted a sixth musk ox on river right, and camped a bit further down at an esker on the right. The mountain cranberries were plentiful and we all picked enough to make a topping for the cinnamon bread, and for breakfast in the morning. After dinner we piled into the Wind 4 for a pipe. The pipe had become a traditional part of our evening by this time. We talked about the day and Sigurd Olson’s “The Lonely Land,” and his descriptive way of describing rapids as “white horses.”

July 25th
It was cold and cloudy, but we were off at the usual time and it didn’t take us long to cover the 15 miles to Escape Rapids. We found the sneak route on the left, and we picked and bumped our way through without a portage, and only had to climb out and pull a couple of times. The water in the main channel was huge, and it did not surprise us that canoeists had died there. We decided to camp early at the bottom of the rapids. We ate lunch after setting up the campsite. We were feeling good about getting through Escape so easily. Sledzik, Sam and Alex went upstream to fish and I went down. They found the big ones at the bottom of the last ledge of the sneak route. They caught many fish and several in the 40 lb range. After dinner I hiked alone and patiently waited for the sun to illuminate the landscape, and I got a couple of pictures. I was hoping for a clear next day.

July 26th
The wind was blowing when we hit the water, but we had no idea how bad it really was until we rounded the corner after the fast water below Escape. There the river widens and the waves were huge. We wouldn’t have moved at all if not for the current. We became separated and the situation was dangerous. We all made it to the first island and bailed. The bows of the canoes were sometimes dipping under water in the troughs. We decided to quit and we went to shore and set up camp. Just as we were about to climb into the tents I spotted a wolf in the distance. I was not happy about being alone in the Mont-Bell today. I was already frustrated to be wind-bound, and I wasn’t looking forward to a cold day and night alone. Sledzik sensed my mood and visited me in the Mont-Bell. We talked about the possibility of putting a book together with some of my photographs. Sledzik could write and edit the text. I was grateful that he had taken the time to chat with me. I finished Cat’s Cradle, which I think everyone read, and in the afternoon I took a walk up the hill behind the campsite. The wind was still blowing, but the clouds had thinned allowing the sun to do its magic on the landscape. On my way up the hill I spotted a caribou. He saw me too and ran, but I hid myself and planned to track it. He stopped and stayed alert for ten full minutes before he relaxed. I made my way to an outcropping of rocks without him seeing me. Eventually he circled back and I got a few shots. He saw me again but I stayed still and he became curious and came even closer before he finally ran off. I went to the top of the hill where there were some amazing rock formations. After dinner there was still no change in the wind.

July 27th
Chase came over to my tent early to tell me it was still blowing and we decided to sleep in until 8:00. By the time breakfast was over it was clear that we weren’t going anywhere. It was colder than the day before and cloudier, but hey, it wasn’t raining. During breakfast we saw a caribou in the distance. An hour later I set out after the caribou, and believe it or not, I was able to find it. I spotted it from the top of the hill. I circled way around getting down wind and staying behind a small rise as long as I could. I was able to get pretty close that way before I had to crawl on the ground. The wind was loud and we were down by the water and the waves crashing onto shore also helped to cover any sounds I might have made. I got close before he spotted me and he trotted off, but sure enough when I froze, he stopped, looked back and returned toward me again. It was as if he needed to confirm what he had seen. Unfortunately he was backlit and silhouetted. After dinner we retired to the Wind 4 to play cards.