Day 28 (Aug. 2)
Cold clear night with frost. Nip of fall in the air with some willows hinting of red. The grub barrels are getting really empty with no more bulky bread to make. On the last rations of the sugar, coffee, milk powder. The nutrient dense salami, dried fruit and nuts haven’t been popular as the sweets. We’ve been eating well.
Another gorgeous day with clear blue skies and no wind. It’s our last paddling day on the river and everyone is quiet. A tiny smoking vent close to the water arouses little interest – Alfred’s cigarettes have more smoke. We stop to look at an old Grumman canoe decorated with graffiti. Nearby, four aviation fuel drums have also been abandoned.
The river gradually straightens for the final run to the river. We stop for lunch about 15 km from the mouth, wanting to delay postpone the inevitable ending of our journey. More gulls and jaegers sit on the gravel beaches and alternatively harass or watch us drift/paddle by. An overheated caribou with his belly resting in the water reluctantly gets up as we drift by.
More canoes are passed, either deliberately abandoned or stashed for later pickup. We debate the ethics of abandonment to save on fuel-charter costs. More red and orange fuel drums poke out of the steeply rilled slopes.
We pass between two low lying gravel islands and 5 km away, with the low vantage point in the canoes, the waters of the Horton seem to meld with the sky. A breech in the steep slopes appears, where the Horton has eagerly pushed its way out to the sea, centuries ago. Although no headwind is noticeable, an ocean wind strokes my cheeks, noticeably cooler than inland air masses. While we linger, Ron goes by and paddles to the last possible terrace on river left – there, we scramble up a steep bank and make final camp. This is it, after 4 weeks of paddling and 600 km later, ground zero.
A few scattered stones show that others have stayed here before. We tuck close into the hillside, hoping for some protection if the wind starts to really blow. Immediately after the tents are up, we set out to explore our surroundings.
The flat polygon tundra holds our interest for about 3 minutes – instinctively, we head for higher ground to get an overview of the area. Old Horton creek has just enough water to cause rock hopping…a popular drinking area judging by the number of paw prints and tracks. Green algae’s live in the slow moving creek which is lined by long lush grasses in contrast to the drier slopes above. We scramble up, along the knife edge ridge and are rewarded with magnificent views of the river delta.
Brilliant light comes out in the late afternoon sun’s rays. The camera shutters and video tape rolls. It’s exhilarating, I feel like I’m at the top of the world. Except for Ron and Alfred, we’ve seen no one for 30 days. Back at camp, we are exhausted physically and mentally by the day. Can’t resist a last few photos about midnight of this memorable trip ending.