Inukjuak River Part 3: Inland and Upstream

After heading through the Gullet, we spent one day windbound and then pushed a big day to our first portage bringing us up-river and away from the coast. We landed in the cold, pouring rain, and realized that the water was too high to camp right on the shore. Instead, we had to hump all our gear up a short but STEEP hill, where we crashed out a respectable tent site.

This is where this portage started to go wrong. See, we have these goretex wading pants with attached goretex feet, which are beautiful things for keeping our feet dry in the icy Hudson Bay water. However, the feet on mine are huge so there is all sorts of extra material flapping around. I know (from painful experience) that I can’t walk any distance in these pants and my main tripping shoes without getting terrible blisters.

But we had to carry multiple loads up this hill. And my feet were freezing cold and totally numb. So I did not feel the onset of these blisters until partway through the portage the next day.

The 4km portage that took us 1.5 days.

And involved walking through an ice-water swamp. 3 times, because with 7+ weeks of food we were carrying 3 heavy loads on every portage.

So anyways, I don’t have any pictures from this icy, blistered, multi-day portage. But eventually we finished it, and I spent every evening for the next 2 weeks re-bandaging a loonie-sized blister on my heel. Yay!

A few portages in we had to find a portage heading to a different waterbody, not simply going around a rapid. We had a heckuva finding the landing – alders can be a terrible thing.

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Eventually we got through the alders, through the woods, up the hill, and arrived on quite a scenic ridge.

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The next section of the trip involved a lot of portages, some easier than others. The best ones followed nice open ridges the whole way, like this one:

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But, we also ate lots of good food along the way, which had the dual bonus of being delicious and slowly lightening our packs.

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Quiche baking in the reflector oven.
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Using fire irons to cook on the fire

Some people are skeptical about powered eggs. Some people are wrong!

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Supplemented now and again with some fish.

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We saw quite a bit of wildlife inland as well, including freshwater seals (they really are a thing), otters (my faaaaavourite), bears (we were so over bears), a couple of wolves (neat to see, but one was a little too curious so we encouraged him to leave with a flare), and 1 caribou (cool!).

This bear was an interesting one. We paddled around a corner, and caught a distinct aroma of stinky fish. And then saw this bear having a snooze on the rock offshore! When he saw us, he immediately hopped into the water and swam to the main island. However, he kept his eye on us, walking behind the shoreline bushes and poking his head up now and then. We had our paddles down, casually taking pictures, when he suddenly crashed out through the bushes and started swimming! Towards us! We wasted no time getting our paddles back in the water, but as we sprinted away we realized he was not swimming towards us – rather, I guess upon further assessment he decided that we weren’t a threat after all, and was heading back to his rock where he had abandoned a big fish.

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Although we saw only 1 caribou, we saw lots of caribou sign, mostly discarded antlers, plus a couple of skulls.

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No pictures of the wolves, but we did come across this wolf den on a portage (not in use at that time of year). It was neat to see all the different exit and entrance tunnels.

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There was also the odd bug.

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But, more importantly, there were so, so many beautiful spots to stop for lunch or to pitch a tent.

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Entering relaxation mode at lunch.

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This trip can really be divided into pretty distinct parts. We had the coastal section, this inland section, and then the final section. This section was good going. We had a mixed bag of weather, moved steadily every day for about 3 weeks, getting ourselves into a really good rhythm.

This changed dramatically in the final stretch, when we were faced with winds like we had never seen before – which will be described in the (eventually) upcoming part 4, the final installment!

Inukjuak River Part 2: Hudson Bay cont.

Day 3 at the Mega Wind site we woke to ideal paddling conditions and were on the water very early – it’s mentally hard to be stuck 2 days in a row so early in a trip! We carried on up the sound for a while, before popping out through the boat opening onto the open coast.

There was some cool geography along the way, with interesting layers. And if you want to know more about those layers you had best ask someone else!

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We had a destination in mind for this day, knowing that about 40km away there was a refuge cabin on the coast. It was a nice, calm day and we got there easily. As we discovered daily black bears LOVE the intertidal zone and they seemed to be roaming around on just about every beach, making us especially grateful for each cabin that we found.

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Although we had a cabin to sleep in we figured we should set up our recently flattened tent and assess its condition.

It is supposed to be symmetrical.

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Fortunately the door frame proved to be an excellent tool for re-straightening tent poles, and we were able to get it back pretty close to its original shape.

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Being windbound was a common theme at both the start and end of the trip. We were stuck at this spot for a day and a half. It was mostly nice weather, just too windy too paddle, so we were able to wander around outside a bit. Right outside the cabin we found this tent ring.

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We took shelter in the afternoon when a thunderstorm came rolling in.

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After a day and morning at this cabin we were back on the move. A bit of a swell so not quite ideal conditions, but not too bad. However, the wind did start to pick up again and, as we started to think about getting off the water, we saw another roofline! I believe we had counted about 10 bears at this point, so we were quite pleased to be stopping somewhere with walls and a roof.

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We were still a bit shaken by the tent-flattening-canoe-flying incident, so even though the wind was reasonable and we were quite sheltered we tied the canoe to the building.

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We were NOT stuck here at all, and portaged over the rocks to the water the next morning and were on our way once more.

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I’m finding that I really didn’t capture this stretch of the trip very well. When we were paddling we were paddling hard and/or dealing with adverse conditions, and I didn’t get many pictures. One of the concerns was that the water had been completely covered by sea ice just a week prior, and we could still see a long line of ice looming on the horizon. Fortunately we only saw bergy bits up close, but we were motivated to move quickly in case the wind switched around and blew the ice back in.

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On this day we also had my favourite wildlife sighting of the entire trip, unfortunately not captured in any pictures. But still worth mentioning! We were paddling past the mouth of the Little Whale River, and the conditions were a bit dicey with the current flowing out and hitting the swells. As we bounced along I saw the back of something grey and mottled – I thought it was a seal, but then it blew out of its blowhole! And then a few more popped up, and they were belugas!! We paddled through a pod of 6-10ish (they were spread out, so it was hard to tell, but some came quite close to us). I was a bit confused as to why some were grey and others were white, but conveniently a book we both read later on the trip talked about belugas and explained that younger ones are grey, and they get whiter as they become adults. So there is your beluga fact of the day.

The wind was picking up as we passed the river mouth and we decided we should get off the water and wait it out. The shoreline was friendly with lots of beaches so theoretically we had lots of take-out options….except that there were bears wandering around on every single beach! The wind died again before we found a bear-less beach, so we carried on.

Interestingly, we seemed to hit a wildlife boundary later that afternoon – all of a sudden there weren’t any more bears, but the beaches were covered in musk ox.

The next crux on this stretch was paddling through the Gullet, a narrow neck a few kilometres long connecting the open coast to Richmond Gulf, a triangular-shaped inland bay. The Gullet is tricky because there are major tidal rips as the tide flows in and out. We did our best to time it with slack tide, and all looked good as we entered.

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We were cruising along calmly, but things quickly sped up and we hit a small rapid. We pulled into a large eddy and watched…waiting…expecting the flow to stop as it hit slack. However, we floated there for about an hour and nothing appeared to be changing (except the bear that came and went – back in bear country). We crept along the shoreline, and pulled off again – I held the canoe while Conor scrambled over a hill to take a look at the next stretch. It looked okay so we carried on. The tide was with us, so we were flying. Lots of whirlpools and funny water and we had to be on our toes, but okay.

The funny water lasted a lot longer than we expected, and we found a tiny pocket beach where we thought we could camp. However…as we carried our stuff on shore… a large bear started meandering along the shore, totally ignoring our shouts and whistles. He didn’t seem especially interested in us, it was more like we had happened to land right in his buffet zone and he was going to stay.

So we left.

We were now pushing a 50km day and feeling pretty tired. We cruised back and forth along the shore trying to figure out what spot looked the least “beary,” and also had key features like access to fresh water. We decided on an open grassy area, at the base of a huge rock formation called The Castle.

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We were windbound there the following day (surprise, surprise), and had one bear come to visit – fortunately this one reacted appropriately to our whistle, and scurried back into the woods.

We were able to leave the following morning, but had to start with a crossing to the far shore through some wavy tidal waters.  Needless to say we didn’t linger during this stretch! It was reasonable weather until just after lunch, when the cold deluge started. We kept pushing to the start of our first portage heading inland, arriving there cold and wet. Even in my waterproof pants with attached waterproof socks my feet felt like blocks of wood. The water was too high to camp right on the shore, so we humped the gear up a steep hill and crashed out a tent site on the portage. Dinner and hot drinks helped warm us up, and then we dove into the tent for a good night’s sleep before tackling the 4km portage!

Scuba Diving in Tobermory

We’re taking a quick interlude from canoe trip reporting for a recap of this past weekend diving in Tobermory, a world class diving area in Lake Huron, in Ontario.

I headed down on Friday afternoon, catching the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory. It was my first time on that ferry, and it was an unusually (apparently) bouncy ride! While there were no sea sickness issues, my plan to get some work done was quickly replaced by a plan to stare out the window at the horizon.

My friend Katie drove up from Toronto. Our friendship goes back to our Newfoundland high school days. We counted the years…and then felt old.

We car camped at a nearby private campground, and woke up to light rain on Saturday morning. Having spent nearly 8 weeks fully immersed in the elements this summer, I was quick to suggest the nearby coffee shop for breakfast, which was a stellar choice indeed.

After breakfast we headed over to Divers Den to get our gear sorted for our afternoon dive trip. Wandered around a bit more once our gear was prepped, and then back to the shop for 1 pm.

There were quite a few divers out that afternoon – 11 on our boat, plus 2 more boats. It was quite rough, so sites were limited to a few very sheltered ones, meaning that all the boats went to the same places. I assume that with more amenable weather conditions the boats would have spread out more, but it certainly wasn’t an issue.

The first dive was at a wreck called the Charles P. Minch, at a depth of about 35 feet. Curtis, the divemaster on our boat, was very helpful in making sure our gear was set up correctly and in lending a hand as needed.

I didn’t bring my camera on this dive. It was somewhat of a milestone for both Katie and me. My 12 dives thus far had all been either as a student or 1-on-1 with a divemaster, so this was my first quasi-independent dive. Katie had done a few warm, shallow dives with her husband, but this felt like another step for her as well.

So we focused on not dying instead of on pictures.

With some minor snafus (difficulty sinking initially and an errant flipper) the first dive went well, and we were able to calm our nerves as we got comfortable. I was also very pleased to not experience the vertigo-on-ascent that can give me issues when I’m wearing a hood.

We were remarkably cozy during the dive, but the weather was pretty chilly during the surface interval. Fortunately we had the foresight to bring the hideous mustard yellow fleeces we got at a running race a few years ago. Pretty sure everyone else was jealous….except the guy who brought hot chocolate.

The second dive was at a wreck called the Sweepstakes, which was a really nice spot. It was also quite shallow, eliminating any stress – bumping into a kayak above me was a greater hazard than anything happening at depth. So this time I brought my fake go pro along and snapped some pics.

Katie took some time equalizing her ears, so I took some pics
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Got a couple of shots of our divemaster cruising around

And lots of pics of Katie and the boat.

We were mildly ravenous after skipping lunch and hanging out in cold water, so we headed to the local brewery for supper.

Katie was pretty excited for raspberry beer.

On Sunday morning we explored the terrestrial side of things.

Post hike Katie headed back to Toronto, and I wandered around looking at sailboats and getting really jealous of their owners, while waiting for the ferry.

All in all a great-if-quick little vacation, and I’m looking forward to going back for more next summer!

Inukjuak River – Part 1

This summer we embarked on our longest canoe trip to date – a 53 day journey through northern Quebec, culminating with a run from source to sea on the Inukjuak River. We covered just over 1000km with 115 portages.

This year we switched up our starting point by flying into the community of Kuujjuarapik and beginning with 100km on Hudson Bay before heading inland. A friend was also heading up the coast, so we figured we’d stick together for as long as it worked out (foreshadowing: not very long).

We caught the plane in Chisasibi, at the end of the James Bay Hwy. Although very isolated, this highway has nice, free campsites en route.

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Once we and all our gear arrived in Kuujjuarapik, we headed to a put-in a few km north of town.

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It was our latest starting time ever – almost 9pm! However, days were long and we had only a few km to go, as we were meeting a group at a cabin just up the coast. So we weren’t exactly roughing it on our first night!

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The next day there was a bit of a headwind, but nothing that would keep us on shore. We landed on a point in the early evening, on which there were cabins a few hundred metres back. We opted to just set up our tents – it was a nice spot, getting to the cabins required walking through snowbanks (!), and there didn’t seem to be a need to crash someone else’s place.

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The wind really picked up overnight, and it was clear we were not travelling anywhere in the morning. We lounged in the tents, watching the walls move in the wind, but not overly concerned because we had made it through a very windy night. Not long after lunch things seemed to shift, and all of a sudden the wind felt a lot more intense… as we decided that we should pivot our tent to face more into the wind (we were getting hit side on), our friend called out from his tent that his tent pole had just snapped.

We scurried out of our tent – Conor headed over to help while I unpegged the guy lines to rotate ours. Big mistake, we had waited too long – the second I untied the lines the tent flattened completely in the wind. Instead of rotating the tent, we ended up gathering all our stuff in our arms and beating a hasty retreat to the cabins.

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It was so windy that the cabin itself was blowing in the breeze – it felt like being on a sailboat! Much as I love boats, it’s not as comforting a feeling when it’s a building that is swaying back and forth.

After tossing our stuff in the cabin we rushed back to move our canoe. It was a two person job – there was no way that it could be lifted and properly portaged in wind like that. As we were getting it settled behind a small cliff that offered some protection we heard a couple of loud THUNKS.

I climbed onto the rocks where I could see better…and there was our buddy, standing next to his canoe, which lay half in and half out of the water. The wind had scooped it up and somersaulted it through the air for a couple of hundred metres, bouncing a couple of times and finally come to rest at the water’s edge. Although bruised and battered, it was lucky it hadn’t blown any farther or it would have landed in the water and been long gone!

We got that canoe with ours, took shelter in the cabin, and spent the following day (also too windy to paddle) repairing the canoe.

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It was hideously windy, but it was also beautiful.

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And there were some interesting fossils to check out.

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On day 3 at this site we woke to perfect paddling conditions. Conor and I were up very early, antsy to move, and headed north, leaving our friend undecided as to what he was going to do (ended up heading back to town and restarting a little while later).

That’s all for now! Stay tuned!