BURNSIDE RIVER: Part Three (Northern Rivers Series)

Day 6: Camp #3

Still here – and likely to be here tomorrow too. As we wait for the river to writhe its way into summer we spend the day hiking.  For seven hours we traverse tundra, ascend eskers, ford streams and revel in the environment.  The tundra terrain is quite varied.  Some of it is vegetated and fairly wet.

Tundra turf (Photo by Don Taves)

Some more wet than dry.

You definitely need boots here. (Photo by Don Taves)

In places the ground heaves into polygon shapes.

Stu explaining the terrain (Photo by Don Taves)

But the tundra can also be a desert.

Study of Sand and Gravel (Photo by Don Taves)

During our hike we have a close encounter with some curious caribou and attempt to lure them closer.

We meet some caribou. (Photo by Don Taves)

Pretend caribou.  You wouldn’t expect caribou to be fooled by this, but they were! (Photo by Don Taves)

On our return we find the shower tent up – an unexpected luxury!

Camp with dining tent, kitchen and shower (Photo by Don Taves)

Our junior guide (and sometime gofer) Rob has spent the day baking a cake.  After dinner Stu and Travis tell him that they have unfortunately dropped the cake and they send him to the rafts to find something else for dessert.  He returns, crestfallen, with a bag of cookies.  In his absence Stu and Travis have decorated the cake with “Happy Birthday Rob,” and we all serenade him.

Rob gets his birthday cake. (Photo by Don Taves)

I’m sitting now on a rock above the river.  Overhead the sky is blue, and a gentle breeze barely rustles the sedges.  The Lapland longspurs seem to be holding a singing and diving competition.  Lacking trees, males must find another way to draw attention to themselves, so they fly high, then spiral downward, warbling their beautiful song on the descent.  It’s warmer than it has been all trip, and a few insects are flitting about.  Peace and tranquility surround us as we rest here in nature’s hands. The river will decide our fate tomorrow, but tonight it will sing me to sleep.

Evening on the river. (Photo by Don Taves)

Day 7: Camp #4

By 0500 the tent is so hot that I fling off my sleeping bag.  I crawl out to a crystal blue sky, but see that the ice has not moved.  The guides bake cinnamon buns for breakfast, and Stu announces that we will spend the morning in camp to see what the river will do. Some of the others wander off, especially Don, our resident birder.  Don is usually seen charging away, binoculars around his neck, Pelican case in hand, in search of his “target list”.  I sit by the river, lost in thought, listening, seeing and feeling.

A few chunks of ice break off and float downstream. One by one, other bergs, some huge, some small, surrender to the current.  At first there is a narrow lead of water through which the icebergs parade like some ghostly flotilla.  Then the whole river opens. By noon there is scant evidence of the ice jam.

We lunch on smokies, break camp and launch.  On the ridges and flats along one bank of the river we begin to see hundreds of caribou; the migration has reached us.

We begin to see large numbers of caribou. (Photo by Don Taves)

We soon go ashore so that the guides can scout some rapids ahead.  After a safety lecture we launch again into an all too short, wet, exciting passage.

Bellanca Rapids (Photo by Don Taves)

A few more kilometres and … more ice!.  “We’ll take a short hike” says Stu.

On our return we dine on hamburgers and rice salad.  We’ll be moving on, but there is time for a glass or two of wine. Once more on the river we encounter fewer random icebergs.  Stu catches sight of a white wolf on a ridge above us.  He’s curious about us, pausing every few steps to turn and stare.  Is he sizing us up as prey, or simply intrigued by this weird intrusion into his world?

White wolf watching us. (Photo by Don Taves)

We gain a few kilometres before pulling to shore for the final time.  It took some doing, but for the first time this trip we have reached the destination the guides had been aiming for.  We will spend a full day here, as the next stretch of the river is treacherous, and Stu wants to give the ice time to recede.  Meanwhile we have the caribou to keep us company.

Caribou across the river (Photo by Don Taves)

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