July 28 – day 20 – to Hoare Point
Alfred was nervous before we pushed off and took our first strokes into the current. The short stretch of swifts at the base of the Thelon Bluffs was causing him anxiety. Doing up his life jacket, the sweat popped out on his forehead. Staying river right, it was a gentle ride through a few swells. The Bluffs themselves were narrow shouldered sandstone riles that broadened when they reached the river. Within 5 km, we had passed through several more sets of unmarked swifts where the river was squeezed between high banks. After than, the river mellowed, and the land flattened out.
It feels like paddling in a bowling alley - steep banks block all views. Getting to land was sometimes a challenge for a solo paddler – there were enough rocks under water to prevent the canoe from coming closer – Ron stretches to keep his feet dry. Up on the banks, more tent rings. A suffering caribou, head down, butt to the wind, walks dejectedly along a ridge, trying in vain to catch a breeze.
We examine a piece of bent wood. It looked like a spruce root that had been joined at one time to form a circle with two tiny holes drilled in one end. Maybe a drum? Or a snowshoe? Or a small skin stretcher?
Willow ptarmigan trying to disappear in the long grasses. Related to the chicken, not very clever birds. Easy to get close to if you were patient. Ron was to get this photo. Good eating but small in size for three hungry canoeists. We scare up two hens. They cluck loudly to their chicks, which scatter in all directions, taking cover where they can.
The last bend before Hoare Point. We beach the canoes and scramble up another steep bank, which will be our last Thelon River campsite as the plane will pick us up here. More tent rings, stones deeply imbedded in crowberry vegetation. The surrounding terrace filled with rocks, clear only where someone made space for a skin tent. We gingerly set up our house, careful not to disturb long slumbering stones.
Kayak rests dot the terrace adjacent to river side. Inuit paddled upstream from Beverly Lake to trade with Dene Indians. There are numerous tent rings, some oval, some round, some large enough for 8 people and some only for one. In the background, the long green grasses and thick willow shrubs grow where a bit of soil has collected. Here on this rocky river rim, its only rubble that grows in profusion.
The winds are building….sand patches are attacked by an angry wind, picked up and hurled into dust devils. Bits of tundra go sailing by, airborne. It’s the fiercest storm we’ve seen yet – our tents are perched precariously on river’s rim. Scattered rain drops turn into a torrent, beating the nylon walls. Thunder booms directly overheat, heat and sheet lightening flash. I’m flat inside the tent, eyes squeezed shut, hoping the lightening doesn’t find us. Do aluminum tent poles attract lightening? 15 intense minutes and the storm passes, leaving behind another magnificent sunset.