Day 8 - Friday July 14
Light rain showers overnight don’t dampen my mood. I feel like I’m getting in sync with the rhythm of a canoe trip...breakfast of oatmeal seems natural. We break camp and paddle the 500 meters from the docks to the portage take out, 30m before the sluice box starts...water is calm and the take out is well marked.
The portage, the only ‘must’ do on the river is a real grunt. Total length is 1.2 km...its not the length but the last 1/3 is a steep decent down to the river itself - lots of muddy switch backs, we bring up rocks to provide some footing. The first 2/3 is fairly level and is along a boardwalk (somewhat slippery). The views looking up at the falls are great, and Mason’s Rock is shrouded in mist. We lunch on the cobble beach at the foot of the falls.
As I crawl into my wet suit, my stomach is churning...the river seems much faster, almost sinister compared to upstream. The roaring falls adds to my trepidation, all senses are on overload. We tow the boat 200 m upstream to give ourselves lots of time for a front ferry before the first corner....sitting in the bow, I tighten the spray skirts for the first time, the boat rocking from the current...Ron shoves off and we start to paddle...I think that I scream “are we going to die?” as the current grabs the boat, yanking us into motion...seconds drag...suddenly we are across and pointing downstream, eddying out behind the first curve, waiting for our companions. Welcome to 4th Canyon.
As my heart beat returns to normal, I start to notice the scene before me. Wonderful colours of red, orange, beiges, mochas striped together mixed with sandy hoodoo formations. The cliff walls soar up and up and up....the deep canyon, towering high were more impressive than any book description could convey. Grey sky above and grey water below with this rocky strip of colour and texture...as I gazed at the water again, the huge standing waves reminded me of what lay ahead. Taking a great gulp of air, I draw the bow into the current again.
Everything seems under control until we near the end of 4th Canyon....I’m turning around in the boat, trying to grab a few photos with the waterproof camera, when suddenly we go broadside in a set of huge standing waves. I thought for sure we would swim but some how, we brace, backpaddle, managing to straighten the boat and ride through the worst of these monsters. The spray skirts are sagging, full of water, the deck has pools of water, it feels like paddling a submerged barge. We make shore and bail. I see the strain on everyones face: is this typical?
Before we know it, we are at Figure 8 Rapids...it was only 2.5 hours since we put in below the falls but already it feels like a full day. We stop river right on the cobble beach, and debate our options. I feel slightly nauseated ( adrenaline? Beaver fever?), happy when we decide to stop for the night and quickly hit the tent, sacking out for 2 hours. Later, we watch as 2 boats successfully run Figure 8, bobbing madly before disappearing around the corner...
The sun comes out, windless day, temperatures between 17 and 20C. Alex makes one of his awesome dinners (canned ham, carrot flakes, scalloped potatoes in creamy cheese sauce) with desert crepes (stewed fruit, raspberry sauce, tinned thick cream) and the last of the wine. Followed by Hong’s espresso, its a complete kick back end of the day...from the corner of my eye, a movement 200m upstream catches my attention...turning my head, a wolverine lopes to river’s edge....as I edge closer, binoculars in hand, he pauses giving me a critical stare...as Desi and Wayne edge up for a closer view, he shakes his head once and unhurriedly lopes back to the trees...back at the fire box, we kid and joke about the past and next few days before turning in at 11pm.