Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 3

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I’m just not a morning person. It’s only under unusual circumstances such as this, that I can pull myself together and get to the right place on time. The alarm sounded at 5:30 am and I hit the shower, which I must say had incredible pressure for a building constructed in 1912 for the Grand Truck Railway. The city’s train station used to be right across the road…but I digress.

The throng is congregating in the Lobby but the details of frenzied air travel are put aside. There is no great attention to weight restrictions, no surcharges, no arriving early. We will be on a charter from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. I wave goodbye to my luggage in the hotel and miraculously, with no lugging required, it will appear in my cabin in the Orlova. I am left with rain gear, another layer and a ton of camera equipment.

After watching Senator Bill Rompkey from Labrador, sling my bag under the bus….all Adventure Canada staff have multiple roles and while not being a resource person, the good senator attends to other tasks…I climb aboard the coach.  I must admit, it was a bit weird to see him, while on holiday, taking on this role. “Senators” either play hockey in this country or they sit as part of a chamber of sober second thought that, despite its notoriety on occasion, supports our democratic system.

The short drive to the airport is uneventful and we pull onto the runway and disembark the bus for our 2.5 hour flight on First Air. I hunker down with my complimentary Globe and Mail and enjoy the fact the flight is not full. A mechanic, wearing a tool belt that suggests he means business, enters and in short order retreats. I’m not sure what that was about but at least the delay was minimal and we were soon airborne from Avatar, the private terminal, at the MacDonald-Cartier Airport.

I browse the paper that is filled with reports of the hideous murders at a high school in Finland, the possibility that Lucy Maude Montgomery committed suicide and criticisms of the US bail out of the NY Stock Exchange. It is not hard to leave this stuff behind as I turn my mind to issues I can deal with….like… “Where is breakfast?”

It arrives as kind of a brunch. My own personal buffet includes steak and eggs, fried potatoes and sausage, fruit, yogurt, lox, rye bread and cream cheese. Air Canada, eat your heart out. First Air wins!

The flight passes quickly at 31,000 feet. We are told we can anticipate a temperature of zero degrees centigrade, a light breeze and snow on the ground upon arrival.  Shortly after 11 am we start our descent into Iqaluit. The distinctive yellow airport calls us home.

With no luggage to manhandle, there is time for a short buzz around town before we  board the ship. A yellow school bus halls us to the top of a hill where we get a good view of the town of 7000. We pass a street signed “The road to no where”. Interesting!

Labo19-6137untitledThe air is fresh. It’s sunny, cool and clear, a great day to meet the north. The terrain, even around town, is rugged and unforgiving. The surrounding hills are lightly snow covered, a forewarning of the month’s ahead. It is only September!

Labo17-6167untitledThere is time to visit the Legislature before lunch.  The assembly is decorated with gifts from the provinces given in celebration of the birth of Nunavut in 1999.Labo16-6177untitled It is Canada’s third Territory. The seats, as in Newfoundland’s Assembly in St John’s, are sealskin. This  acknowledges the cultural importance of this animal to the people of the north.

Lunch has been prepared for us in at the church.  Delicacies include caribou stew and beluga. Following a welcome by local dignitaries, I head for the grocery store that has an impressive collection of northern books and flour that costs $29.95 for a ten pound bag.

Labo19-6149untitledWith a half hour to spend before the zodiacs will be ready to take us to the Orlova, I walk the beach past an old Hudson’s Bay Company shed that is plastered with political Labo18-6164untitledposters for the local Liberal candidate. It strikes me as an interesting juxtaposition of the old as the context for the new way of life of the north.

I roll into a zodiac in the prescribed fashion as it is bow to the beach.  Swinging my legs over the side I get my balance and make my way back towards the stern. The bay is calm and the wind feels good as we head across the bay. I spot my friend Janis on the top deck of the ship waving like fury. We are to be cabin mates for the trip down the coast.

Photo Credit: Janis Parker

Photo Credit: Janis Parker

There is just time to stow my gear and do a once around of the ship before the anchor is hauled and we are underway out of Frobisher Bay. The dusted hills and cool breeze speaks to more layers tomorrow!Labo15-6202untitled

After a glass of wine, and with a fiddle tune running in my head thanks to Daniel Payne, I listen to an overview by the staff about how the journey may unfold, follow the crowd into dinner and shortly thereafter head for bed.

Wow – I am in the Canadian North again!

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 2

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Parliament Hill , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Parliament Hill , Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

As expected, it’s a bit of a struggle to disembark the train upon arrival in Ottawa. On the platform I reorganize and make a note to myself that next time I will bring less and I will find wheels for my camera equipment. I really have to stop poking people’s eyes out with my tripod!

I make my way to the curb outside the terminal and flag a taxi. The cabbie wasn’t exactly thrilled when he saw my luggage but he was diplomatic and helped me stow the un-breakables in the trunk. It was thirteen something to get me from the Ottawa train station to the Chateau Laurier but clearly the driver was expecting at least fifteen as he had a five-dollar bill ready as change for an imagined twenty. While I fruitlessly explored my pockets for at least a tooney, the bellman at the Chateau effortlessly unloaded my luggage and offered to extricate my camera bag from the back seat of the cab. My mind and my hand waved goodbye to the cabbie’s five dollar bill.

I go through the motions of checking in. It always seems kind of dream like that I am checking into the Chateau. I feel like I have been beamed down or something?(Probably or something!) Anyway, before the feeling goes to my head, I dump the luggage in my palatial room, grab my camera and take to the streets.

I cannot come to Ottawa without being overcome with patriotism. I live in a good country with a great Capital. It is a safe place with good values. Don’t get me wrong, we have issues and bad things happen but Canadians are collectively, peace loving, caring people and this place relays that message loud and clear.

Lobby of the Chateau Laurier

Lobby of the Chateau Laurier

I head out the revolving doors of the Chateau, cross the Rideau Canal and walk to Parliament Hill. It’s sunny and getting increasingly warmer. I think I have prepared for the north too soon. I shed layers.

Step locks on the Rideau Canal leading down to the Ottawa River

Step locks on the Rideau Canal leading down to the Ottawa River

The architecture in Canada’s capital is breathtaking. The setting on the Ottawa River remarkable. The stench and logs of the Eddy Match Company used to dominate the river but now

The Museum of Civilizatioin, Hull, Quebec

The Museum of Civilizatioin, Hull, Quebec

the view from behind the Parliamentary Library is towards the Museum of Civilization in Hull. As I look out over the river,  in my mind’s eye, I can see coureur de bois in their large canoes plying west on the mighty Ottawa, in search of furs!

Sir John A MacDonald, Canada's First Prime MInister

Sir John A MacDonald, Canada’s First Prime MInister

I wander past Sir John A MacDonald and wish him a good day as pigeons fly from his head. Nellie McClung and her bronze tea party of fellow feminists, who fought for the recognition of women as persons, is bathed in sunshine. Lab7o-6093untitled I stop at the Police Memorial and ponder the loss of so many good men. And then, from the vantage point of the Centennial Flame at the foot of the sidewalk leading up to the Peace Tower, I marvel at the continuity of the flame itself with its variability and many facets. It so reflects this country.

Lab5o-6100untitled I take a few more shots of the architecture of the Houses of Parliament including the “A mari usque ad mare”, Canada’s national motto, sculpted above the main entrance to the centre block.

From Sea to Sea

From Sea to Sea

My feet take me to the parks that lead to the bridge to Hull, Quebec and the Gatineau and after a quick dodging of the afternoon rush hour traffic, I climb to the amphitheatre that is beside the statue of Champlain.  As Captain Cook is to the world, Champlain is to Canada…he seems to have been everywhere! At one point in time, this height of land with its grand view of the river must have been a look out. Now it seems to be a place for texting teens and dog walkers.

Samuel Champlain, Explorer

Samuel Champlain, Explorer

It’s time to circle back towards the hotel so I head towards the National Gallery. A 30 foot bronze called “Maman”, the work of world renowned artist Louise Bourgeois sits in the plaza in front of this modern building. Interesting, but really, I can only think this permanent structure was probably approved by the same committee that purchased “The Stripe” back in the late 80′s early ‘90s.

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Maman

Maman

At that time, a lot of taxpayers were not impressed by its price tag! Today, I am not sure what the cost is for a national spider!

As the Prime Minister did not invite me to dinner, I head past the entrance to his official residence on Sussex Drive and go back to the Laurier. Salad at Zoey’s, is my choice for supper. Zoey was Wilfred Laurier’s wife. Wilfred Laurier was Canada’s 7th Prime Minister.

It’s not that late but I think it’s time for bed. At $195 a night, including taxes, I can only hope that I will sleep well.

Canada Off Road: The Ghost Coast of Labrador – Chapter 1

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Chapter 1 : On the Road Again.

The train is pulling out of the station as I man handle my luggage onto the main rack. It looks like a post office sorting room at Christmas in there! Bags are all helter-skelter but mine, for the moment, is in the prized position… on top! The train wobbles over the Division St. trestle headed west out of Cobourg, Ontario as I arrive at an empty seat. Unfortunately, it is facing where I have been and not where I am going.

I’m headed for Ottawa and the Chateau Laurier… not cheap, but a great hotel in the heart of the city. It really is the place to start a Canadian adventure. Huddled on the bank of the Rideau Canal, a stone throw from the mighty Ottawa River and Parliament Hill, it is iconic. The room next to the lobby of this castle like structure is decorated with Karsh portraits of Stephen Leacock, Winston Churchill and others. Off this reading room, a gallery displays Inuit art, mostly soapstone carvings. Well, what can I say, the place is just very Canadian!

Tomorrow an early start will see me boarding a bus for the airport and a charter flight to Iqaluit on Baffin Island. From there, a short Zodiac trip to the Orlova and I will be headed to the Ghost Coast of Labrador and the fabled Torngat Mountains.

As I settle in, I note my failure to condense the amount of camera equipment that I need for this trip into my smaller backpack. It is all I can do to sling my larger waterproof bag over my shoulder. I hope I don’t have to walk far.  Really, I have to consider getting a lighter hobby. Even if I were not a camera fanatic, northern travel does not equate to light travel even without a tripod, a computer and a multiplicity of lens. There are essentials like wellies, long underwear, hats, mitts, and rain gear in various amounts depending on the time of the year. Be warm, be comfortable and don’t worry about being fashionable. That’s my mantra for northern travel.

Trees and telephone poles stream by backwards as we head towards Belleville. This is a double train. At Brockville, half continues on to Montreal while the other section heads to the Nation’s capital.  I hope I am on the right half.

People begin to nod off as the motion of the train mimics a cradle. Periodically, the clickety-click of metal against metal is interrupted by the ring of a cell phone.  I find this not too hard to ignore and nod off myself. Train travel is very civilized and the convenience of a 10:43 am start cannot be underestimated. My tolerance for, or interest in, early morning jack rabbit starts to make it to an airport in time to sit for three hours, is getting smaller and smaller.

As the countryside whishes by, the blur is tinged with gold and greens with a splash of orange here and there. The leaves are just beginning to turn and fields are still full of corn and soybeans, waiting to be harvested.

It strikes me as we pass through Brighton, Trenton and Belleville that I am receding from my present and journeying towards my past that has many links to these small Ontario towns. I guess I should turn around and face the future square on. Maybe someone will move or leave at the next stop and an opportunity will present itself.

As we pull into Belleville, the nice lady from Ireland who chatted with me before boarding in Cobourg, prepares to disembark. I smile nicely and wish her well and then make a dive for her forward facing seat. Truthfully, it is still warm.

We pull out, passing graffiti stained tanker cars and the clackety – clack once again becomes a low rumble.

A white haired lady has ensconced herself in the seat across from me. She wears a pin from Newfoundland and I wonder whether she is coming or going. She seems confused and is looking back and forth searching for a steward. Turns out she is in the wrong section of the car, and is obliged to collect her assorted belongings and her self esteem, disembark at Cornwall and go to another section of the train…There but for the love of God, go I!

We continue east through golden fields. This has to be the breadbasket for this half of the country. Long white plastic “worms” slither through the fields where once stoops and bales reigned. I can’t help but think that this harvest method is missing the esthetics of the past.

Ten minutes out of Kingston, we move through the swampland and pass over the Rideau River/Canal before feeling the train veer slowly towards the north. Jones Falls comes into view and it’s a blast from the past, as I remember my husband Doug, Winston the wonder dog, and the good ship Haida making their way towards Ottawa at the beginning of a year long adventure down the inter-coastal waterway.

The landscape changes. The great Canadian shield punctuates the scene with its rocky outcroppings. As the countryside pans by, a forest of miniature cedars, fields with violet hue, rocky ponds and sky blue reflections are turned to ribbons of maroon and gold.

We slow as we pass through small towns, whose names escape me.  It’s clear that , Monday morning is still laundry day despite what Ontario Hydro tells us about high rate periods versus low ones. Clotheslines tell the tale of how energy conservation is being carried out in this part of the province.

There is a flash of silver as a westbound spins by revealing grassy laneways twisted and grooved, leading to old homesteads. Meandering paths of new mown hay stretch to the distant fence lines. Fields sport buzz cuts. A second westbound train passes with such speed that it leaves my eyes trying to refocus. It’s a world of silver, yellow, black, red, and brown all superimposed with trees and shrubs.

It’s 12:44 when everything goes still. There are no sounds from the air conditioner or the wheels connecting with the tracks. We are stopped west of Brockville. Then the staccato clangs and bangs of decoupling fill the air. The front engine and cars are headed for Ottawa. The second is bound for Montreal.

I sip my coffee as yardmen walk the track ears to phones. Bright orange safety vests with fluorescent X’s on the back make them hard to miss. The tracks paralleling ours are rusted. The spikes are long worn. But a ribbon of silver marks where the wheels of countless trains have travelled this route wearing the track itself. Gord Lightfoot’s “Railroad Trilogy” runs non-stop in my head.

Graffiti marked car 405181 sits on a siding. I wonder what it would say if it could talk. Why is it over there in its own space? Why isn’t it beside the cars marked ”caustic acid”? Has a train ever been stopped by the turned up rails that mark the end of the line? Who cares? I will my head to stop asking these things.

We pull into Brockville. The Kiss and Drive folks take to the parking lot. A person standing on the station platform, digs for her car keys. An airedale-come-boxer, several small children and a bicycle cart come aboard the train. We move out leaving the station looking like an abandoned farmhouse.  Graffiti on a billboard says goodbye.

We move past neat back yards, free standing garages, swimming pools behind small white houses and more clothes drying on lines in the noonday sun. Youth at the local high school fill the football field. Up the aisle of the train totters a two year old who spots the luggage compartment and just knows it is really a big playpen with a personal entrance through the netting right at his level. No one seems to be watching him. I’m watching him. (Once a Children’s Aid worker, always a Children’s Aid worker.)

The woods fly by and my mind goes back in time to my first trip to Ottawa to participate in an Adventure Canada trip to the Canadian north. It was my first journey on my own. My body was still unstable from a serious car accident and my soul even more wobbly. Now, I am more confident, more resigned, more hopeful, sad, happy, a mixture.

A heron glides over the marsh parallel to my window and then gracefully rests. It knows when to stop. Will I?

It’s after one o’clock when I feel the train slowing to pass over the Rideau at Smith Falls. The river is all oranges and golds as its waters reflect the overhanging trees. My eye catches the façade of the “Derailed”, a pub across the street from the track.

We advance slowly, with the effect of a jaunty swagger. The Via train from Ottawa is on the siding. We pass and head out of town past dilapidated row housing that heard the shouts and laughter of children at some point but that is now nothing but boarded up warehousing. As the train accelerates, we enter the land of the old- fashioned square hay bale; sheep stand in fields; and rail fences are interspersed by stunted cedars.

The train picks up speed for the run into Ottawa. Coffee cups slip–slide away on a left hand curve. “Junior” has returned to the luggage compartment. There is little traffic on the country roads that are punctuated by level crossings, safety bars and flashing red lights as we pass. Fields of pumpkins stretch out to the far fence-lines.

The first signs of the city are monster homes in rural subdivisions. Fallowfield,  a recent subdivision, rates its own new station and commuter parking lot. I’m lost in my own province. I feel the need for a map.

From somewhere, the essence of an orange fills the coach. We slow and pass scrap yards and township sheds. The train slides into the Ottawa station right on time.

Life Is: Dare to be Different

untitledO-9531Back when I was small, I was taught that things should match. It was one of many lessons learned during my well-nurtured childhood.

It was years before I realized that buying into this philosophy is very limiting. It says that life needs rules and common practices and that one needs to be able to predict and expect certain behaviours from family and friends. Of course this makes life comfortable and provides a feeling of safety when it happens, but I came to realize that it was also like having blinders on. These blinders prevented me from seeing and seizing opportunities that were outside the predictable. I had gained a lot through consistency, but I was also missing a lot.

One day, I sort of gave up on perfection and became quite happy just knowing there were other options. But of course that wasn’t enough and before long I began to experiment with the concept. I began to stray from straight and ordinary. I wanted to be different than I was and the best that I could be. I wanted to be an “original” but I thought I looked pretty ordinary.

Different— what did that mean? How different? A little, a lot? Did anyone care if I became intentionally different than I had been all along simply by making non-mainstream choices?  Would I be a happier, healthier person than I had been by taking hold of my life and not going so much with the flow, and the expectations ingrained by my family? Why was being “outside the box”, looking so inviting, anyway?

As life unraveled, options I never dreamed of began to appear before me. I found that I only had to allow myself to grab hold and enjoy the ride.  “Say yes, not no”, became my motto.

It wasn’t that my life up until that point had been unfulfilling. I could not have been supported or loved in any greater way. In fact the sense of security my parents had given me allowed me to grow wings.  And I needed wings because there was that “something” restless in me. My curiosity was all wrapped up in  a very conservative being who was willing to risk in order to experience new things and new ways of being. Where others got stuck on why, I problem solved and like RFK I began to ask “why not?” and then I got on with it!

This attitude has taken me to the ends of the earth and around the globe. I found myself obtaining a doctoral degree from a prestigious university. I ran a 10 km race.  I learned to live again following a horrific accident. I walked into Stromness in Shackleton’s footsteps and paddled my kayak into Vernasky Research Station in Antarctica. I was welcomed by a real penguin who stood under a sign that told me I had arrived at my destination.untitledO-untitled-15

O2I could have fallen off the mountain in South Georgia. I could have been attacked by a leopard seal untitledO-7030untitledwhile kayaking. I could have just stayed on the boat and not had either of these amazing adventures. Many folks chose not to explore the land that we were visiting in my ways. Many chose the familiar and less risky, and appeared to be quite content with their decisions.

But my choices make me, me; and your choices make you, you! Those decisions that I actively make now, drive my life, just as having been brought up in a military family and as a middle kid, did when I was younger. I like my life, I continually dare to be me and usually that is at least slightly “different”.

But if you are finding that life is dull and boring, regimented and repetitive, how can you get out of the mould that makes you feel like you are being held prisoner and that prevents you from living as fully as you can?

Change is not easy, but everyone who chooses to change has to start somewhere. Somewhere easy. Somewhere where a disclosure of intent can kind of creep out and into a person’s normal world reinventing it almost silently and in a most magical way. Well, over this last year while reflecting on many things, I have decided that socks are the answer. Yep, socks!

As a very young person, my mother taught me to knit. Such was my productivity that I warned my husband that I could fill whole rooms with my hand made items. He thought I was kidding. I was not.

But that is not the point. The point is that I discovered that my knitting skill and my creativity, collectively offer a way out of “ boring” and into “ unique” and “exciting”. But wait, I am not suggesting that you take up knitting! I’m suggesting you look at your feet or your hands on a cold winters day!

Each mitten or sock develops on my needles in its own unique way. Sometimes, right hands and feet would not readily recognize their counterparts nor could one predict what the other might turn into. If one heel is red, the other is blue. sockphotoOIf one hand is striped the other is plaid. But not to worry, one can always tell these two have the same underlying personality and that they belong together even though they are apparently hearing different drummers. The right and the left have the same colour scheme, more or less, but they are singing a slightly or greatly different tune. As I build each one, I am responding to the options I have before me in a totally spontaneous manner.  I am using my best creative self and I am innovating as my needles click away.

I have come to the conclusion that whoever thought that socks should match has done people in the western world a disservice. Now that I know that life has endless possibilities, I also know that each of us has to design our lives on the go as we reach out and realize our goals.

If a life is to be exceptional, one cannot be timid. If you have not done so, try to imagine what you would see while swimming upstream instead of floating with the current.

So, if you seem to be going nowhere, look down. Your socks will tell you the story of your way of dealing with life. It ís never too late to thrown your old socks out and dare to be different!photoO2-2

(Note that “ Dare to be Different” Socks and Mitts can be purchased by emailing the author via http://www.brendanutter.com .  I really do make these! All socks are hand knit from handspun fibre. Most are 100% wool. Each is unique. No patterns are repeated exactly. Profits are contributed to Children’s charities.)

Canada Off Road: Exploring in the NWT – The Cirque of the Unclimbables – Day 8

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NCo16-untitled-4-ps-psOur last day in the Nahanni National Park Reserve started early and unfolded in ways I could not have imagined. It was supposed to be a day of paddling and photographing Glacier Lake and its towering mountains. NCo15-3535untitled-Edit

Our new friends from San Diego came for morning coffee and anything else we had to offer as their supplies were getting low and they had the climb to the Cirque in front of them. In mountaineering fashion, I took a picture of Craig and promised to forward it to his wife. (In the end, I called her to update her on Craig’s journey and to insure her that he seemed fine as he dissolved into a dot on the scree.)

NCo11-3495untitledBefore breakfast, I loaded myself into the bow of the canoe that is available on the lake for visitors to use. Mike paddles me towards the reeds and the water falls. This is after Bonnie tries to make a “Tim Horton delivery” on the end of a paddle and I end up spilling it into my lap. I watch hot coffee run in a fine stream to the bottom of the canoe and endeavour to mop up as much as possible with my pant leg, before it runs to the stern and plays havoc with Mike’s camera equipment.

By the time we return from our early morning photo shoot, Bonnie, has created superlative whole grain pancakes with sunflower seeds and chopped fruit on the side. Yum!

The American party heads out to make their climb up the scree slopes to the Fairy Meadow. A helicopter from Inconnu Lodge arrives to start taking the Swiss party and their equipment up to the same place, but the easy way. I guess they are saving themselves for the Unclimbables.

When the transfers from the Beaver that has landed on the shore of Lake Harrison Smith are complete, Mike wades through the icy mountain stream that separates us from the helicopter and talks with Warren, the pilot.NCo1-3668untitled

The question becomes can we make a Visa Deal in the wilderness. Warren will take us in shifts to the Fairy Meadow! Who knew…here in the wilderness, Visa would or could come to the rescue. I suggest we film an ad!  Clearly, Visa will take you anywhere!NCo9-3595untitled

Our little yellow bug takes us a hair’s distance from the sheer cliff faces that tower over Lake Harrison Smith. Then it sets us down amidst mountain streams, scooting marmots and wild flowers. Warren eats his lunch and I wander through a Lilliputian world of erratics and sheer, monumental, vertical cliffs.  OMG!NCo10-3564untitled

On the descent I am up front with Warren. Via my headphones, I check that I have latched my door correctly. Seems important. We dive like a mosquito to the valley and set down on the creek side gravel.

As the next group, including the pilot of the Beaver rise into the sky, I pitch in to work on the dismantling of our camp. The helicopter seems to circle several times and then drops down to the San Diego group who, from my vantage point, look like ants on the mountain side. Apparently, someone was slightly injured and Warren air lifted the group to the Fairy Meadow.NCo8-3641untitled

Ros and I paddle the canoes back to the campsite and when others return we help each other to take our gear to the loading site.

We lift off to the areas a helicopter cannot access. NCo3-3693untitledThe Ragged Range spreads out below us and the ice fields are visible in the distance. From here, I feel like one could really put out a hand and touch the face of God.NCo4-3682untitled

We land on the MacKenzie River and load a vehicle to get our kit back to the community campground in Fort Simpson. Our time in the Nahanni is over but the memories will remain. The long trip home starts at 6:30 tomorrow morning. It is a process unto itself to disengage from such a stunning journey.

Note: Special thanks to Mike Beedell and Bonnie Kumer from O Canada Expeditions and to my fellow travellers.(http://www.mikebeedellphoto.ca/o-canada-expeditions/)

Recommended Reading:

1. Diary of a Lake edited by John Harris and Vivien Lougheed

2. Dangerous River, R.M. Patterson

Canada Off Road: Exploring in the NWT – Rabbit Kettle and Glacier Lakes -Day 7

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NGo11-3390untitled-ps-psRabbit Kettle Lake is one of several lakes designated for camping within the Nahanni Reserve. Having not accommodated to the long hours of light I am awake around 6:30 ready to enjoy its amazing beauty.

The plan is to walk the trail with the warden to the Tufa Mounds.

NGo10-3394untitledUsing the overturned canoe as a table we eat standing to avoid sitting in glacial flour…aka a very very fine dust that is carried by the wind and sticks to everything!

Walking stick in hand, I head towards the panabode log cabin that serves as the warden’s office. To ward off the hungry mosquitoes I am decked out in my bug shirt . It looks a little too clean!

NGo4-3455untitledThe rules in the park include training the people. Black bears and grizzlies are the predominant animals in this part of the park and if there are signs on the trail that the bears are in the immediate area then the people are required to turn back. Fresh scat, limbs freshly broken, decaying logs that display new wood, hair on the rubbing poles are all signs that bears are near by. NGo8-3395untitledAs we walk the trail, the warden chats on about the soap berry count and the other research projects, both private and public that are currently underway in the park.

New growth of jack pine, black spruce, aspen and bush willow fill in the landscape where fire has razed the forest.NGo7-3422untitled

The presence of the bears means that we cannot take the four hour hike to the mounds. Instead as we walk to the river we are regaled with stories of lost paddlers, upturned canoes and the tale of a jet boat load of wardens that ended up in the drink.NGo5-3449untitled

Back at our cliff-side campsite there is time for a swim before lunch with the bugs. I sing as I walk to the loo. I want to believe that that will deter any bears in the vicinity.

A twin otter circles the lake and lands supplies for a Black Feather trip. As the ceiling is high Mike says we are off to the Cirque of the Unclimables at Glacier Lake at 5:30.

We broke camp with record speed.

NGo3-3476untitledPaddlers and more gear tumble out of the twin otter on its return trip. Once loaded with our kit, it is a short eleven minute flight to Glacier Lake . NGo1-3583untitledWe come in low with an unbelievable and powerful image at the end of the lake as the mountains of the Cirque rise ten thousand feet above the water. It is amazing and very humbling to be here.

We are getting faster at setting up camp. We share the tenting area with a family group from Switzerland who have come to climb the Cirque.

NGo2-3485untitledAs we enjoy another great meal on the rocks at the water’s edge we see a group of five guys heading towards us. They are a group of friends from San Francisco who have travelled the South Nahanni on small rafts and have come into Glacier Lake to climb the Cirque. They have travelled together before and travel very light. Bonnie on the other hand has brought enough food for a small army and generously shares it! I have never seen such great smiles. Stories are being shared as Mike paddles into camp with a Canadian flag attached to an extra paddle. A chorus of national anthems ensues.

What a day!

Canada Off Road: Exploring in the NWT – Rabbit Kettle Lake – Day 6

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Reveille comes at 6 am via Mike on his harmonica. The plane is to arrive around  9:00  to take us to Glacier Lake. We eat breakfast, break camp, and carry our kit down to the dock, all in a light rain. Then we wait.

A fourteen year old with braces, along with a band of like-aged campers from Ontario are on the dock too. The young man is articulate and mature and speaks of climbing to the alpine meadows. I try to imagine his future when at fourteen he has seen this place!

Our twin otter, the workhorse of the north, arrives around eleven. I get a single seat on the port side right behind the bulkhead in full view of a very complicated looking instrument panel.NoDay6-8-3319untitled

We head up river, leaving the falls and its rhythmic roar behind. Marsh, trees, ponds and more trees spread out below. Three trumpeter swans sit on a lake.

As we near Rabbit Kettle Lake I see the tufa mounds. They are the largest in Canada and have been formed over the last 10,000 years by activity deep in the earth that causes water to percolate up through the its crust dissolving calcium carbonate from the limestone on its way to the surface.  At the surface the calcium carbonate particles settle and form porous rims around pools.  It is a unique and protected landscape.NoDay6-6-3326untitled

As the weather is closing in, the pilot finds he cannot take us to Glacier Lake so he sets down on Rabbit Kettle that is at the southern end of the Park. It will be home for the next two days. The warden who is on his way back to Fort Simpson hitches a ride out on our plane.

We cart the supplies along the edge of the lake until we find an amazing campsite.NoDay6--7-3461untitled The view of the emerald water is superlative. The ragged mountains peek through the clouds and are partially obscured by light rain. Lunch isn’t until 3:30 but who cares!

A Grebe floats by. A Bald Eagle sits in a tree. I have learned to look for ”golf-balls” in trees!No-Day6-1-3382untitled

I feel patriotism in my heart. I see snow on the mountains.

Out the window in my tent, the evening light dances across the sky and a sea of greens. It is magic.

Tomorrow we will walk to the tufa mounds that I saw from the air.NoDay6-5-3343untitled

The last sound I hear today is the call of a Whiskey Jack.No-Day6-4-3348untitled

Canada Off Road: Exploring in the North West Territories: Nailicho/Virginia Falls – Day 5

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No37-1untitled-4-psI wake to the thunder of the river and the birds singing. My bear whistle is around my neck and the bell is by my sleeping bag. Both are intrusive.

More canoeists are on the move. They march by our campsiteNo34-3218untitled laiden down with packs as we sit munching on breakfast. We move out to the see the river and watch them carry drum after drum of supplies down the boardwalk towards the landing below Virginia Falls.

Eventually the boardwalk ends and we forge on.No22-3287untitled

The vistas and rainbows over the river feed our souls. Blueberries fill our bellies.

From our luncheon vantage point we can see the canoes ferry up and then turn with the current as they begin their run downstream through the canyons. What I can see of them just draws me in. I can’t help but want to go! I can’t help but wonder what is around the next bend.

Ros and I head back to our camp to get more water. Mike and Len search for Elizabeth who is temporarily missing.

The plan for swimming is squashed as thunder-clouds move in. Lighting strikes Blood Mountain. We huddle in the info booth and them dash for the tents. The thunder rolls through. Its time to huddle in our sleeping bags, drinking tea and reading as the forest around us responds to the storm.

By supper the storm has blown itself out.No32-3240untitled

As the most frequent way of entering the park is by air there is a scarcity of new people today. Flying and lightening over the Ram Plateau are probably not a good mix!

After filling ourselves on Salmon Tetrazzini we walk the path to the landing below Virginia Falls.No20-3294untitled It takes the agility of a billy goat to master the last downhill slope. No12-3189untitled-2And then I stand where the picture of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was taken back in 1972 when the Nahanni National Park Reserve was first established. No23-3281untitledThis place took his breath away too!

Canada Off Road: Exploring the North West Territories: Nahanni Ho! – Day 4

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No9-3113untitled-psIt is not far, as the crow flies, to get from Little Doctor Lake to the South Nahanni River. The time issue has to do with a sort of hurry up and wait mentality that applies to many forms of northern transportation. At any rate, after a night of swatting mosquitoes without really waking up, my leisurely start for the day is interrupted by a call from Mike telling us that the plane would be at the cabin on Little Doctor by 10:00 am.

I packed with lighting speed and told myself that if I couldn’t see anything on the floor or on my bunk, then it must be in my pack somewhere! As luck would have it, I then had time to spare. I surveyed the cabin’s bookshelf which housed a collection that could only have been built through time as travelers left what they had finished and borrowed something new. There was Shakespeare sitting next to “The Wealthy Barber”; and “Death of a Salesman” cuddled up with “The Diviners”. Interesting!

No73120untitled-2Everyone pitched in to clean up the cabin with the goal of leaving it better than we found it. As I moved a heavy food pack, I uncovered a deceased creature of the wild. Mortuary duties had to be assigned. No one volunteered.

With our gear piled high under a rather tattered Canadian flag, we sat down to wait. It was warm with a touch of cool in the breeze. The water was calm. Only the buzz of mosquitoes and the click of shutters broke the silence. Gradually we moved to reading and taking turns manning the hand operated water purification pump. If that doesn’t force one to swear off wasting water nothing will!

Lunch came and went but the plane from Fort Simpson did not. One moment of excitement brings us all to our feet as I think we see something headed at us through the pass. But as it did for the folks on Gilligan’s Island, the moment passes.

When our Cessna does arrive, the bush pilot brings it into the beach. Gas cans are taken out of the right pontoon to make room for cargo. No8-3116untitledMike, Len and most of the camera and camping gear go on the first flight. The girls wave from the beach and then take the opportunity to skinny dip. The water is a great temperature as the air is now checking in at 40 degrees celius. The breeze is soft and the hum of the generator has replaced the hum of the bugs!

By mid-afternoon, the Cessna lifts off for the second time. The landscape of the Ram River and canyon unfolds beneath our feet.No6-3136untitled Forest fires spawned by yesterday’s storm engulf the ridges and send billowing clouds of smoke into the atmosphere.No6-3168untitled This area was missed by the ice age and the landscape is therefore different. Many plateaus are visible. Many are covered with trees.

We bank as we pass by Virginia Falls and land on the river above the falls. I must admit this made me a bit nervous as the water runs fast and the thunder of a falls, twice the size of Niagara, is unmistakable.No2-untitled-2

The advantage of being on the second flight was that the campsite had been set up by the advance party. All I had to do was lug my big pack from the wharf to the site! I was glad it wasn’t a long hike!

The Nahanni National Park Reserve encompasses 11,602 square miles of Canadian wilderness. It is 91% in the Dehcho Region and now includes most of the South Nahanni watershed. Established in 1972 by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott TrudeauTrudeau-untitled-3*, it was made a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1978 and the South Nahanni was declared to be a Canadian Heritage River in 1987. The South Nahanni travels through meandering canyons and provides worldclass rapids. It includes the highest mountains and the largest ice fields in the NWT and can now lay claim to the Cirque to the Unclimables. Over 500 Grizzlies call it home and countless woodland caribou wander. (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahanni_national_Park_Reserve)

With our food safely cached we head towards the thunder of the river treading carefully on the million-dollar boardwalk which is very wet and very slippery. On the river, full trees were pressed together by the powerful currentNo4-3184untitled and are thrown through the air by the force of the fifty-foot standing waves. Within a kilometer of our camp the mist makes rainbows over Mason’s Rock. The sight and the thunder take my breath away.No12-3189untitled-2

We pass a healthy looking group of younger people portaging around Virginia Falls. They are friendly and smiling despite the long trek with heavy packs. No11-3219untitledA wheelbarrow type conveyance helps with the really heavy stuff and we hear it rumbling along the boardwalk as we make our way back to our campsite.

In camp, Bonnie is busy making spagetti dinner and fresh brownies !

After supper, the Park Ranger visits and reads us the rules. Then I scrounge around in my pack to find my bear bells and whistle. With this false sense of security it’s off to the outhouse and down to the wharf to just gaze in wonder as the river runs by.No3-3203untitled

Now its time to finish up my journal and try out my thermarest. What a day!

(* image is a reproduction of a postcard showing Prime MInister Trudeau at the base of Virginia Falls in approximately 1972, I do not know the name of the photographer.)

Canada Off Road: Exploring the North West Territories – Little Doctor Lake – Day 3

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LDLo-2836untitled-psI awoke to the snap of a mouse trap and a scream from Elizabeth when a Micky- type critter ran through her hair. Since I am awake anyway I step out into the dining room to check the light. It’s still too early so before I am entirely awake I make my way back to my bunk.

Around five, an orange blurry vision….Mike… sticks his head into my room and proclaims the light to be great. My feet hit the floor and I am dressed and ready before my eyes have focused. Laden with cameras and tripods, I walk to the beach and soak in the awakening day. It is cool and fresh and peaceful. And oh, so quiet.

LDLo-2997untitledOnce the first light has passed, it’s time for breakfast followed by a walk through the woods to the Kraus Memorial…a simple testament to a hardy man and a life style that is almost lost. The trail is soft and spongy and unpredictable under foot. Tiny yellow flowers brighten the shoreline. Busy bees seem to be rolling in seas of pollen. Ravens follow us home.LDLo-3012untitled

The wind last night must have brought the deep waters ashore as the lake, today, is more than refreshing! Once wet, the routine for hair washing included filling a bucket, going far ashore, soaping up and then having someone inspect that all the soap was thoroughly rinsed off before taking a second plunge. The process probably wouldn’t meet pollution free standards but it wasn’t bad!

Bonnie with a great show of patience, gives me my next banjo lesson. This is going to take awhile!LDLo-untitled

After lunch we take the boat to the far shore. The reflections and colours are mesmerizing. The striations in the four thousand foot cliffs are perfectly duplicated in the lake. This place is powerful and close to overwhelming.LDLo2-2868untitled

I hike the scree on the beach and pass an idyllic afternoon photographing and swimming. Then unexpectedly, the wind picks up and we rush to load everything and everyone into the boat and tie the canoes on behind. LDLo-1untitled-2Elizabeth hops in one of the canoes to give it some weight and we head for the far shore. Mid-lake the wind is forming sizable waves and one threatens to overturn the canoe. Fast action on Mike’s part brings Elizabeth on board, and he then empties the canoe across the stern. It was a tricky crossing that ended well.LDLo-3065untitled

Another scrumptious meal, a leisurely evening and then we are jolted into action by another mouse that moves with lightening speed under the table. It’s time to pack up. Tomorrow morning we fly to the fabled Nahanni.

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