Day 10, Camp #6
We cast our lot upon the river today, and for once the river was kind. Down we floated, past hundreds of caribou for a while and then into a land strangely devoid of wildlife. Hot sun encouraged us to pack our waterproof clothing, a decision that encouraged Travis to find the biggest, sloppiest waves in order to drench his passengers. Later the quiet rhythm of the oars, the placid river and the warm breeze silenced our voices and laughter.
When we crossed the Arctic Circle the guides spun the rafts around twice. There was also supposed to be a loud explosion, but I guess the bear banger fizzled. A leisurely lunch by some tent rings and kayak holders reminded us how recently we have come untutored to this land.
We drifted in the fast current for much of the afternoon. Ice chunks still line the shores, but the Burnside, now swollen from its confluence with the Mara, will no longer be denied in its rush to the sea.
The River. I am in awe of its power and beauty and of its haughty disdain for our wishes. What does it care about our prior commitments, our lives elsewhere, our need to be on time? Time is irrelevant here, yet we humans try to impose a schedule. We should not be surprised that for much of this trip we have been at odds with the invincible rhythm of the River. We have no choice but to appreciate the beauty and wait patiently for the secrets that lie downstream.
After dinner I took the little container of Mike’s ashes and a mini bottle of Baileys to a knoll overlooking the Burnside. It’s a quiet place with flowers, bird song and a peaceful view. A far different setting than our Baffin trip, but north of the Arctic Circle nonetheless. I am happy to leave a trace of us both here. The future still seems dark without Mike, but in the timeless beauty of the North I am beginning to let go.
Day 11, Camp #7
We spent little time in the rafts today, as the fast current of the river hastened our journey. We did, however, have a close view of some muskox.
This is our final campsite and our tents sit on a windy bench overlooking the Burnside.
Once unloaded, the rafts had to be carried uphill to a cairn.
The day after tomorrow Inuit outfitters from Bathurst Inlet Village will come to take our gear to a ridge we see in the distance.
It’s not a landing strip, but unbelievably, a plane is supposed to land there.
Tomorrow we have a long hike to the falls where the Burnside empties into Bathurst Inlet.
Day 12, Camp #7
Today was halcion, a fitting cap to a wondrous trip. We hiked over hummocks and washes, through willows, up and down sand and over rock to see the falls of the Burnside.
It is sobering to think that those who travel by canoe have to portage this long, rugged route in order to reach Bathurst Inlet Village across the inlet.
We, however, being footloose and fancy free, had ample time to savour the beauty of the river and the pounding cascade of the falls.
There’s time to swim in a high lake with goose poop for footing.
Time to photograph flowers which have sprung up in profusion overnight.
Time to lure one last caribou with our silly “pretend caribou” poses. Time to listen to bird songs, to stretch our legs and lungs, to breathe clean air, to see a world scarcely impacted by humans. I leave here with deep sadness, but I know that I will come again.
Day 13, Yellowknife
The plane came for us at 0930, having already ferried several loads of gear to Bathurst Inlet Village.
The hot shower was nice, chairs with backs and soft seats are welcome, but my heart is lost somewhere out on the tundra. There will be one last meal as a group tonight. We were a very congenial bunch, considerate, generous, well travelled and interesting. I will miss them and the wonderful Nahanni River Adventures guides.
I end this post with a few photos that somehow did not fit into earlier narratives. I must also repeat my thanks to Don Taves, whose skill with a camera greatly enriched this blog.