Trip Journal

July 28th
This was one of the most amazing days of the trip! It didnít begin especially well, with the cold wind still blowing at us. We decided to finally deploy the spray skirts, which we had been hauling around in the packs for the last 40 days. I was still not in the best mood as we paddled into the teeth of the wind, but I kept it to myself. The expansion was tough, but we were warmer with the skirts on and we made it to the turn in the river where the wind was cross-tail and not as strong. We saw four caribou on river left before the two unnamed rapids. After the second we saw about 35 caribou on the left. As we were approaching Sand Hill Rapids we could see more on the hill on river left, and as we got closer we realized there was a great number. When we came around the last bend before the rapids there were hundreds lined up waiting for their turn to swim across on their way south to their winter range. We shot Sand Hill on the left, and we encountered hundreds more caribou at the bottom of the rapids. By this time the clouds were breaking up and the landscape was spectacular. The current was really moving in this section and the water was an intense blue. We could see Mt. Meadowbank shining in the distance. We continued to see caribou as we approached Wolf Rapids, and the light was spectacular on the rock hill on the left. As we were shooting on the right, I had a hard time concentrating on my line because it was so utterly beautiful. Though it was too early for lunch we couldnít pass up such a beautiful spot, so we came to shore on the left just after the rapids. As we were getting out of the boats we saw two caribou swimming across right in front of us. I went for a long walk before lunch and spooked a caribou at the top of a hill, but I was not ready with my camera. My landscape shots just couldnít capture the luminous quality of the day. After lunch we headed down the ribbon of blue. The current was moving, the clouds cleared further, and the landscape remained stunning. We traveled about nine miles in the next hour with the help of the current. We camped on river left just before the expansion where the Meadowbank River joins the Back. We kept seeing caribou all afternoon. Several practically walked through the kitchen. After dinner we all sat at the top of the small rock hill behind the campsite to smoke a pipe and chat. We noticed caribou gathering on the next ridge about a mile down stream. Their numbers increased as they were apparently coming up from the far side. Then, all of a sudden, one of the larger animals started down the hill toward us with the entire herd following behind. We hid in the rocks as they marched down the hill in the glow of the evening sun. Closer and closer they came. Several came right up the hill where I was hiding and I snapped a picture of two from a distance of ten feet. They turned around and joined the rest of the herd, which was circling the hill. I doubled back and found a hiding place on the other side of the rock. The caribou streamed past us for at least an hour. The amazing day felt especially good coming as it did on the heals of the cold, frustrating ones.

July 29th
I woke to the sound of caribou grunts. With my sleeping bag around my ankles, I slithered halfway out of the tent to take a picture of the five caribou in our kitchen. During breakfast we observed several hundred more caribou marching along the riverbank. The day was clear with very little wind. We got to Mt Meadowbank around 11:00, and we decided to climb it. We enjoyed the view and found a natural rock-sofa upon which we sat and had a pipe. Returning to the canoes we rounded the bend to interrupt a caribou swimming across. We forgot all about inspecting the little cabin as we pursued the caribou for a picture. We had a floating lunch but didnít get very far as the current slowed down here. We did two long stretches bringing us to the four bar rapids, all of which we shot on the right. On the first Alex and I noticed a young caribou running along the bank following us. Perhaps he believed we would lead him back to the herd. At the bottom of the first rapids we encountered the swirling eddy Michael Peake mentioned. It tried to drive us to shore, and took some work to get around. We camped after the last rapid. Brenda called and has arranged to have us flown by Boris to Gjoa Haven where we can get our charter a few days early. Alex and Robert will fly out with us and then fly home from Yellowknife instead of going out from Baker Lake. We were all happy about this plan though it will cost a lot more than having Charlie boat us out.

July 30th
Sledzikís birthday. We rounded the corner where there is a cabin. We kept going against a stiff headwind, and didnít take a break till we were done with the first wide stretch. We saw a white wolf on the left while resting. We shot the rapids between expansions on the right without any problem. The wind died in the second big stretch, and the sun was bright. We had lunch at the esker on the right and I swam and washed my hair. We camped a bit further on across from the confluence with the Hermann River on a big island on the left. We set up camp and celebrated Sledsikís birthday. We threw the frizbee, which has been otherwise pressed into service as a cutting board. We fished and enjoyed the afternoon. We made blueberry muffin cakes for desert, and had a pipe outside on a beautiful evening.

July 31st
We started a bit later than usual as today we begin to add a second pot of matť to the morning routine. The wind was coming out of the south so we departed with a light tailwind. We paddled seven miles on the first stretch, then three more to get into the next wide section. We rigged the sail and went seven more miles at a good clip. We shot the next rapids on the right. The middle was huge and the top right was rocky, but we found some holes and made it through. We cut hard right in front of a huge recirculating wave, which Chase salivated over, wishing he could spend a week here with a kayak. We lunched on a huge Quetico-like rock on the left. After lunch we sailed to the arctic circle. We backwatered across in a tradition we think was started by Eric Morse, but we have now idea what it means, if anything. We camped there on the right. The wind was picking up.