Day 23 (July 28)
A quiet night with no terns, swallows, bugs. In the distance, a deep ‘boom’ sounds – it’s the fracturing of permafrost before chunks fall into the water. Interestingly, the river water seems to be clearer in the morning – less melting overnight just like glaciers
More and more tundra appears…trees start to fade away, more balding hills appear, large broad valleys invite strolling, exploring. The change in river clarity takes some getting used to – beside the murk, foam bubbles, its stinks. No wonder birds are scarce! Fish eating birds can’t see fish and likely there are limited fish in this stretch anyhow. The paddle tip is barely visible in the water. Occasionally we strike bottom with our blades. It becomes more important to pay attention to route finding – channels running along side of the many shallow gravel islands sometimes run dry, stranding the paddler and meaning wet feet.
In the far distance, a faint swirl of while smoke drifts across the brown hills. The first smoking vent! Dumping our gear on shore, we walk about 1 km downstream to check it out. (hopefully any wandering bear which investigates our stuff cause less fatal damage on tightly packed gear vs erected tents). Dried pans of mud float on top of more solid river stone on shore – it’s slippery walking, delicate balance similar to ice floes which move underfoot.
More wolf, bear and caribou tracks deeply imbedded on shore. We climb up the dry rills, crossing multi coloured pink, yellow patches which vary between fine talc like powder to rivers of wet clay. The smell of sulpher is distinct: Ron and Alfred climb further into the vents source, I elect to scope out the surrounding rills with mauve, blues, yellows.
It’s a moody night back at camp…the atmosphere feels oppressive due to leaden skies and gray looking water. The site is muddy and surrounded by willows. Gumbo like soil. A heavy blanket of silence cloaks the land.