July 16 – day 8 – down the oasis

Somehow yesterday, I strained my back – took an anti inflammatory pill last night and didn’t wake up until 9am this morning! Those things are strong. Ron was up at 7am, wandering around back in the sand blowouts and came across chert chips, a broken arrow head and some other unknown artifacts. These relics lie everywhere alongside this river. Overcast morning with some scattered rain showers: it’s almost noon before we are on the river,  the latest start ever and everyone no one cares. Wonderful!

The character of the river has changed. Thick forest has taken over from low lying shrubs, sand and rocky rubble. The current has picked up speed, running 5 – 6 kph. The river is broad and straightens for 10 or 12 kms. Happily, a brisk tail wind sweeps the bugs away and I mostly rudder, keeping close to the north shore. There is lots of bird life along the shores: yellow legs, Canada geese, bald eagles, even a yellow billed arctic loon. A moose antler lays tips pointing skyward, on the rocky shoreline. This is the Thelon oasis.

The river narrows suddenly passing between exposed gravel bars. Swifts and some boils unexpectedly catch the canoe. We drop binoculars, grab at paddles, attempt to brace, but its over before we know it. Ron is upstream still, and the water level is noticeably higher before this squeeze. Passing through without incident, he informs us the current is now a swift 10 kph.

Two km downstream, a red gravel point narrows the river into a ribbon of smooth darkness. We stop for lunch on shore. Large boulders are piled high, I pick my way between them to get to the trees. A white wolf sudden emerges, leaps, twisting to snap at flies that cicle his head. Excited, we toss lunch into canoes and  paddle close to the shore, hoping for another glimpse. There he is, a flash of white fur, darting between the spruce and undergrowth. For 30 minutes, we watch and drift along, keeping pace with him. He climbs a ridge, suddenly taking an interest at us, peering intensely through the trees. We stare at him, he stares at us. Finally, he wheels and disappears for good. We are thrilled to see such a magnificent animal, unafraid and curious.

Stopping to stretch (and finish lunch), we inspect Pelly’s ‘waterfall glade’ (Hall’s ‘garnet glade’?). Protected from desiccating winds, this short steep crumbling canyon sports narrow leaved yellow dandelions, chickweed, fireweed, river beauty, large flowered winter green in the damp microclimate,. Alfred finds several golden eagle feathers as well as a merganser duck carcass. Interesting rocks with large white quartz type crystals lie shattered on the floor. No water drips from the rear gash now the result of a dry summer or low snow winter.

Just 500m downstream of the waterfall glade, a rock cairn built on a gravel esker invites stopping. However, after a cursory investigation, we push on, as it holds little to interest us.

The afternoon gets long in the tooth, and the dense forest has little appeal for camping. As the wind calms, the bugs pester us out on the river. I hate wearing a bug jacket on the water! A slight bulge on the map hints at tenting potential. Beaching the canoe, I scramble a few meters up through dense willows. A large and well used campsite is immediately apparent, having been ‘bench marked’ by the Geological Survey of Canada.  Pounded into the ground is iron post #20 – 54 beside a well used firepit. Home for the night!

Hauling canoe barrels and assorted packs up the slope, no time is wasted setting up the tundra tunnel. The division of chores is well rehearsed and executed in record time. The black flies are relentless: hot and frazzled, I am getting as snappy as the wolf! The sun sets behind the ridge, the sky a firestorm of colours and complex cloud layers. Another excellent day on the Thelon.