Day 26 (July 31)
Wind has completely died and fog covers the river. Is it possible the river dropped slightly over night? Or is it just the wind has stopped piling water up along shore? The stone where I stepped to get water last night is now dry – I have to reach further out to fill the pots.
We only just start down the river when another smoking vent appears close to shore, just down a short bay. Alfred scrambles up the slope, video in hand and gets seriously dive bombed by peregrines for his efforts. There are more orange sulfurous outcrops along the river, dripping their toxic brew into our drinking water, the Horton. Happily the volume of water takes care of bad taste with dilution.
The river bends get broader and slower moving with high mud banks on the outside corners and cobble beaches on the inside corners. Trees have disappeared completely from the slopes with a few scraggly willows in sheltered gulches but mostly hummocks of dried grass on the plains. The air is cool in our faces blowing inland from the cold waters of Franklin Bay.
Black radiator ribs appear like bones of the earth. Small gravel runways trail down the 200’ to the water. Pebbles course down in fits and starts, the irregular splash unnerving. At least the fog has burnt off or blown away and the sun is warm beside this wind sheltered slope.
At km 48, it’s a big lift to get the packs up to the level tundra for camp. With horsetail clouds smearing the blue sky, a light wind at our backs, we leave the tents and set off eastward to climb the hills for peek at Franklin Bay. After a 20 minute grunt uphill to the plateau which separate the Horton from Franklin Bay, we’re disappointed that sea fog has rolled in and only the tundra at our feet is visible!
Lots of bear diggings – like some one roto-tilled the tundra. No siksik greet us but a caribou wanders among the late purple lupins, yellow vetch and waving white tufts of cotton grass. We detour around a few ponds and return to camp by 8pm.
Just before bed, I spot a grizzly bear making his way down the slope towards our tents. Ron and Alfred come out for a look, cameras in hand. The bear stops, likely noticing the movement and then stands up for a look, a sniff. Just to discourage him further and plant a seed of doubt in his mind, I blast on the whistle. That prompts him to take off back up hill, a respectful distance from camp. We watch a while longer but he disappears on to the plateau where we walked earlier, looking for more suitable forage. Six ravens caw and croak, flying low over camp: yes, my heart still beats and blood pulses! A single caribou quietly swims across the river - three more cautiously appear and cross close by.