Day 13 (July 18)
Today is canyon day! Everyone is a bit tight this morning – a mix of anticipation and wariness hangs in the air, not knowing exactly what to expect. The ease of travel now depends on water conditions (high-medium-low) and will dictate run-line-or portage. With no spray skirts, a relatively inexperienced paddler, and loaded boats, we will take no chances. Dark walls accented by the suns strong shadowing, adds to the tension. Cliff walls appear to tower but in fact we estimate about 100m only. I stop and scout the first blind corner, not being able to see over top the sloping gravel banks even when standing up in the canoe. It’s nothing, not even swifts! We laugh as the clear blue-green waters dance underneath.
Eventually rapids are encountered. We sneak either river left or river right past the worst of the standing waves – so far the sets are straightforward. Basic white water skills are adequate. Stopping for lunch between sets, I find a throw bag high on shore. The knotted end is wedged between the river rocks, the bag played out in the direction of the current. Did someone lose it? Was it used? Or carelessly left behind after a demonstration? I coil the rope and secure it into my boat.
Our first line after lunch – a huge diagonal wave, no one wants to get soaked. Wet feet are more palatable than wet clothing in the brisk winds. In fact the wind has become a factor, blowing the tops off the standing waves, being funneled between canyon walls. It reverses direction in a 6 km section of open valley with swifts and shallows. At km 300, the river narrows, I pick river right channel as we round an inside bend, stopping to look at a broken lawn chair. There among the rock layers we find a mug lid, sock, zip lock bag of left over lunch – hmmm, someone has obviously forgotten a few things! Among the rock ledges are fossils: we search for the most complete specimens.
Having had an exciting day, we decide to camp at the next available site. A sandy beach just around the corner from the fossils shows footprints of earlier paddlers. With no rain, it’s hard to say how far this group is ahead of us but we hope not to see them. We hump our gear past a late snow patch up to the tundra – another old fire pit, half buried tent rings, river views. Perfect!
A sudden low dark bank of clouds appears from the north-west. Weather front approaching: sure enough, winds increase and temperature noticeably drops. 10pm light rain drizzle and 6C.