Trip Journal

August 1st
We woke to wet and cold weather, but the wind was still coming out of the south. Perhaps unwisely, we rigged for sailing again. The temperature continued to drop as the wind picked up. We sailed about seven miles to Whirlpool Rapids. We were very cold, but warmed up paddling a small stretch among the islands above the rapids. The rapids were nothing, and we re-rigged our sail. The rain was coming down in sheets by this time, and we became cold once more. We stopped for lunch early at the esker at the beginning of Franklin Lake. We rigged our tarp and tried to dry out and warm up as best we could. The wind died after lunch, but not the cold rain. We paddled one long stretch in Franklin as the weather continued to worsen and the wind picked up and shifted . The paddling didn’t even keep me warm, and we pulled off into a cove on the right where for the first time in a long while there were signs of other people; trash and a fuel barrel. We shooed a musk oxen out of the campsites then struggled to get the tents up without getting them too wet. Before climbing into the tents to warm up we noticed the wind had now shifted 180 degrees and was blowing hard. Even inside two sleeping bags with a dry pair of wool sox on it took a long time to warm up, perhaps because we had lost every bit of body fat and our metabolisms were on overdrive. Chase was an absolute saint and cooked dinner alone in the rain under a low tarp, and even delivered the meals to our tents!

August 2nd
After our second pot of mate´- gourd style, we set off into the wind. After we made the bend to the right, however, the side wind was easier to handle. As Franklin Lake narrowed back into a river the wind became more of a tail wind and then we found ourselves back in some current. We shot our last rapids of the trip all on the right. Some were rocky and technical where we each had to find our own line. The last set was at the abandoned fishing camp, Chantry Inlet Lodge. We took some last rapids shots there and camped below the lodge in a sub-par site. But we wanted to fish, which we did on river left just below the rapids. We caught char in the 10 – 20 pound range all afternoon. We piped in the Wind 4 before bed.

August 3rd
While sipping tea a group of caribou trotted into camp. They fled when they saw us. The paddling conditions were good for this last section of the Back River, which is wide open. It was overcast and cool, but without much wind. Rounding the corner we saw 12 musk oxen swimming across from the mainland to the big island. Some turned around and went back, but the rest continued to swim across. We were too far away to catch up to them, but we saw them again as we went around the north side of the island. We paddled easy, and though there wasn’t much current (and only 3 meters above sea level), we felt like we were paddling down hill. The day became quite beautiful with big clouds and rain falling in the distance in several directions but with sun shining on us much of the time. We were hit by rain a few times, but only for short periods. We went to the point where the river turns north and came to shore. We rigged a tarp and had lunch. The sun came out between showers. There was no reason to leave the beautiful spot, so we decided to lay over here the next day.

August 4th
It was cold during the night and it was rainy, cloudy, and windy in the morning – a good morning to sleep in. I woke – read – fell asleep – woke – read. We had rigged a low tarp over the kitchen and ate double helpings of cream of wheat. Some of us hung out in the kitchen till lunch to which we added a helping of applesauce. I retired to the tent after lunch, too cold to hike. It wasn’t long, however, before I notice a caribou grazing only a few hundred yards from the campsite. I grabbed my camera and while in plane view I slowly walked toward it. In the howling wind it was a while before it noticed me, but I did not get a great shot. After it ran off I spent five minutes debating with myself whether or not to stalk it. In the end I went after it. When I got over the first rise the caribou was at the crest of the next rise. It was with another caribou, which saw me from that great distance. I didn’t think there was much chance of getting close, but I was up for the challenge, and the activity and excitement were keeping me warm. I ducked back behind the rise and headed for the river to take cover in the low ground. I took my time gaining ground on them, but each time I had them in view one of them saw me. Finally, they settled down and began to graze in a low flat area. As I came over the rise I realized that approaching from one angle I could keep both animals behind rocks. I crawled on the ground toward the rocks. I was down wind and the nearest animal was just beyond the biggest rock. As I slithered toward it I kept out of site for at least a half hour. My heart was beating when I made it to the rock because I knew one of the caribou was just on the other side. I prepared my camera, eased out and began to snap pictures. In the first shot I caught him lying down, his eyes wide in alarm. He stood, took a couple of steps away and then turned toward me again. He stood his ground for a while as I continued to shoot. He made several poses for me, but he was backlit, and the first shot turned out the best. When I looked at my watch it was already after 6:00, so I hurried back to camp for dinner.

August 5th
Cold, overcast and windy, we set out after tea. A lone caribou followed us on river left for a while. It hadn’t sunk in yet that this was our last day on the water. When we were about halfway to the pick up point near the Hayes River confluence, I called Boris who said he couldn’t pick us up till the 7th. We rounded a corner into a strong headwind, which sand bars forced us out into. A big sleek caribou with a small companion ran up stream on the beach on river right. A mile or two later, we made our way through the shallow sandy water to our final campsite. Once on shore we exchanged hugs with mixed feelings. We felt good about our accomplishment, but sad that it was coming to an end. We fired a bear banger in celebration when our campsite was set up. We were finished with paddling and portaging. We had come a great distance over ice, water, many portages, and rapids. We had had moments of elation and others of frustration. We had been cold and wet, but we had also had a great number of perfect days. We had come together as a team accomplishing things automatically. We were elated to have succeeded so flawlessly, and we felt a group pride in what we had done. But we were also aware that this huge chapter in our lives that we had experienced together was over. Still, we knew that the beauty, the feelings of connection with the wilderness, the sense of camaraderie would always stay with us.