Sun July 27 – day 19 – Thelon Bluffs layover day

At 2am, mom duck and her loud group of squalling children waddle by our tent. Peeking under the fly, they are so close I can see the webbing on their feet. The racket has shattered the still of the night and my sound sleep. I rudely open the zipper and they scatter. Back to sleep, for at least a few more hours.

In the morning, the sky has cleared, blasted by a warm southern wind. Perfect for hiking as the bugs are blown away! After a head dunk in the river, we stroll upstream along the high south bank, stopping to look at tent rings and anything else that catches our eye.

Set back from river terrace, massive compared to other rocks, this smooth boulder rests alone. Weathered into different layers, its hump a stopover for birds, whitewashed and enriching the ground at its base. Curved to look at but rough to touch, its texture that of coarse sandstone. I wondered who has stopped and lingered, perhaps making a small fire at its base.

A mangy caribou with matted fur, jutting pelvic bones, and wild look in its eye is browsing the willows. Poor thing, I can count every rib bone! A sickly creature and likely wolf food.  It spots us - bolts 100m – then frantically starts eating again, head jerking up and down as it tears greens from ground.

This pile of stones must have been a meat cache, the huge stones necessary to discourage or at least slow down an inquisitive grizzly. A sign of good hunting in the area or perhaps past hungers? Empty now, not even a vertebra remains.

It’s easy level firm footing, great walking with no tangle of spruce or willow brush to push through. The first ripe blueberries are found and eaten.

Reversing direction, we head towards the Thelon Bluffs for our first look for possible rapids. Tomorrow, we plan to paddle river right – there are no standing waves but a series of long low rollers that run down the centre, enough to warrant avoidance (especially without spray skirts). Ah well, tomorrow’s challenge. The rocky rubble along the shore annoyed me – I had become a lazy walker, and preferred the lawn like turf of the tundra. Turning on my heel, I climbed back to the flats.

Mosquitos and blackflies peak at sundown. We take refuge in the tent, as the sky deepens from yellow to pinks to mauves to soft grey and eventually dove grey.