Day 19 (July 24)

Helicopter wakes us up, flying low along the river. Geologists? Grey overcast still – it’s been 6 days now with no sun – discouraging. We push off by 10am, no one in a hurry. The river has broadened, the banks now gentle sandy bands of colour: white, yellow, black – coal seams? Eroded and settled in an ‘angle of repose’  tiny sand slides cause fan shaped mounds at waters edge.

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Just before lunch, I pick the wrong channel around a large midriver island. Large class 1 waves slop over the sides of the gunnel, soaking me from the hip down. Brrrrr, we stop, I peel off the outer layer of nylon MEC pants, then wring the long johns, sock and empty my shoe. An icy wind quickly dries my skin but I’m darn cold. The sun tries hard to come out, we are hopeful…

15 km goes fast helped by swifts…this area is characterized by a widening of the river valley and many gravel bars. I stand, scouting from the canoe, looking for the darkest water. Hurray ! the sunshine continues to built - we can really see our shadows – the camera start to come out and we laugh, enjoying life again.

 Animals are a highlight today – after a few days of no wildlife, its great to see them again. Skittish caribou groups of one, two and three browse the willows or parade along the shore, running for cover once they spot us.

Large (1 km) islands split the river into channels. The map gives little clue which way to go, so far no backtracking. At 5pm, about km 233 it’s time to camp. The tents are set high up on a plateau for the views, level camping, good pegging. Siksik scold us as we invade their territory. The tundra tunnel is set amongst the willows, closer to waters edge and heavy food barrels don’t have to be carried so far. It’s a 10/10 campsite. We are enthralled with the change of weather, views, everything. The air in our lungs feels sweet, the eye sparkles, the spirit light. It’s a ‘rocky mountain high’…with dry feet (first time in days we dare put on the spare dry shoes as it looks like good weather is here for at least a few hours), we roll out over the tundra. A large stream joins the Horton just north of camp, ruins of a cabin are evident along the river banks. More caribou float over the land. A black fox with white tipped tail runs flat out away from us. A bald eagle circles far overhead. Life shakes the last few drops of water and spreads its wings soaring lifting ready to resume again.

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