A big day for Kooch history. Day 72 of a trip. Never has this happened. Unfortunately, we did not achieve anything as epic as would seem fit for such a momentous occasion. We slept in and decided by majority rule to take a layover in Fort Smith. Paul and Quinn walked an hour across town to Tim Horton’s. The rest of us lazed around until after lunch at Leif and Natalie’s. We then all met up at the museum of the North for some lessons in history. Dinner was fiesta night with ground beef taco meat for an extra umph. After dinner we shuttled our gear and bodies to the boat launch so that we could get on the water bright and early in the AM.
Shooting the rapids between Fitzgerald and Fort Smith always seemed like a pipe dream, but Leif, an American kayaker, Fort Smith local, and our guide, helped make it a reality. We shuttled to Fitzgerald in the early afternoon, linked up with Justine, Ben and Kira, some canoe enthusiasts, and began the day (we also bumped into Mike Konta again).
Cassette is the first rapids set and we shot far right. From the beginning the water was pretty big. We carefully followed Leif who navigated us through the winding, rocky, sneaky and spicy channels. I could not believe I was shooting some of the stuff we went through. Under any other circumstances I would have portaged half of the stuff we shot. Not normal circumstances. I was with the boys and Leif had me fired up about everything. The river is so wide at some points and there are actually rapids gushing through every inch of it. At one point we ferried into a set of islands in the middle of Pelican Rapids, the biggest set of rapids I’ve ever laid my eyes on and I was just in awe of the power of the river. It felt like being in the belly of a beast. There were waves the size of barns. We paddled down the eddy line right beside them and I had the sense that we were edging our way alongside a deathly train you didn’t want to get in front of. Paul and I had a fun swim after swamping 3/4 of the way through roller coaster rapids. We punched through the hole at the top, but submerged through a monster wave train. By the end, after slicing through the last section of rapids, I had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. What the hell did we just do?
We finished the night off at Leif and Natalie’s place, sharing stories with other paddlers and oozing with mirth.
We woke up at 3:30 AM and got immediately on the water. AT 4:15 AM, we had a floating breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. We thought today was going to be long. We started paddling around 5:45 AM after a quick stop to answer nature’s call. We did a couple stretches to nuts. After nut break, the current really started to pick up. We were moving at a similar pace to the Athabasca River. We made it past Hay Camp for lunch where we had salami and cheese and floated roughly 5K. We ended lunch around 1:30 PM and did 2 one-hour stretches all the way to Fitzgerald, where Leif picked us up and drove us to his house in Fort Smith. When loading up gear in his car, we found a butter explosion in the breakfast pack. Another disaster, but we will manage – we are used to these kinds of things. We are having spag. for dinner. Axel and Zach went out to the rapids with Natalie to have a few beers and watch the sunset. We paddled 58.5 miles today and are ready for the rapids in the morning.
Authors Note: Please see previous Authors Note (Day 63).
Day 69 was an absolute scorcher! It was quite possibly the hottest day on record for The Source Runs North boys.
We woke up late, around 4:45 AM, at the park by the beach in Fort Chip (Chipewyan). Oatmeal and coffee were for breakfast with clear skies and Lake Athabasca in the foreground. We paddled on the lake for a bit until getting on Rivière des Roches, the River of Rocks, aptly named for the beautiful formations that line the shore. It was pretty dirty, but a vast improvement from the Athabasca River. Tops were popped around 8:00 AM, a sure sign we were in for a long, hot day of paddling.
We stopped in the shade around 9:00 AM for nuts and pemmican. I have started donating my morning pemmican to the dinner pot. This allows me to fully enjoy my trail mix and beef up suppertime…James really needs the calories ;-). We paddled for another hour and a half in the sweltering heat then pulled off for lunch. Several people bathed and we enjoyed summer sausage with parm cheese in tortillas.
We continued on Rivière des Roches after lunch, quickly making our way to the Slave River. The Slave is a massive river with a strong current. The water is not moving nearly as fast as the flooded Athabasca but it is much less dirty and much prettier. Not to mention, it offers an abundance of potential campsites.
At this point, we had paddled over 30 miles in blistering heat; the boys were hot and thirsty. Although the Slave River is cleaner than the Athabasca, it is still dirty. It has the look of iced coffee with two creams: Mud Brown. The water tastes like dirt. Unfortunately we only have one water filter at this point. Six exhausted, thirsty boys and one water filter.
We made camp at someone’s cabin, unattended at the time. Kitchen on the rocks totally exposed. Mac and sausage for dinner. Bram snipped the water filter line in order to speed up the process and give us the ability to use the filter in the boats. I could not write this entry last night because I was too hot. Upon entering the tent, I laid down in my boxers, sweating, envisioning icebergs and waterfalls. It took 20 minutes to thermo-regulate and meditate into a state of comfort-ability. When I promptly fell asleep.
We woke up at 3:30 AM, opted to do breakfast on the water, and floated over three miles with the sunrise. The current on the Athabasca was still ripping and its murky, tree-infested water still horrifying. After yesterday, learning that we were hours behind Mike Korta, we spent the morning scouring the shoreline for him and his companion, the judge. We navigated the confusing delta, not seeing Mike, and paddled into the large Lake Athabasca which was somehow moderately shallow (we missed the correct channel by a significant margin). Some wind kicked up during our short crossing, creating small choppy waves that highlighted the shallowness of the part of the lake we were paddling. We decided to eat lunch at a small island about 5 minutes past Fort Chip (Chipewyan). After a quick discussion, we decided to paddle back to town to flesh out the narrative of our cross-country pre-Arctic trip. We fount Mike Korta and had a few beers with him then camped by the town beach.
I am terribly dehydrated right now, as I drank less than 3 liters of water all day. I succeeded in not drinking any unfiltered water from the voluminous, silty river we have paddled on the past two days. So at least that is a small victory. The river water is muddy brown, and it is impossible to fill an even somewhat clear nalgene. If it was only the sediment, that would not be a problem. It is the stories and advice from our magnanimous hosts last night that swayed my decision to avoid any unfiltered water.
James and I fell asleep in the “Man Cave” – a sparsely furnished cabin with two beds, a desk, and a furnace. I fell asleep quickly but James woke me up at 8:30 PM to inform me that some people had just arrived at the cabin by boat. We heard Zach talking to them, so we didn’t get too worried. At around 11:00 PM James and I awoke to mosquitos feasting upon us, as there must have been some broken seals in the woodwork. We fled to the tents and slept soundly the rest of the night. We woke at 4:45 AM and were greeted by Norm, the owner of the land, before we finished eating. We got some info about the rest of the Athabasca and the Slave River. It is apparently supposed to run faster than the Athabasca, which I can hardly believe. Dora, Norm’s wife, told us the river was 6 to 10 feet higher than normal! The hosts gave us 6 water bottles and let us fill our nalgenes from their clean drinking water.
The swollen waters of the Athabasca carried us over 54 miles today, camping before 4:00 PM. The morning started out with a light drizzle that developed into a full rain powered by a cold north wind. The rain ebbed and flowed until after lunch and a tobacco offering to the great Athabasca. The rest of the afternoon the sun graced us and warmed our cold hands.
Just past 3:00 PM a clearing on a hill blessed us on river right – only the second camp-able site we had seen all day and way better than last night’s. It turns out that the clearing is part of Athabasca Chipewyan Reserve. From what we can tell, this area, outfitted with a couple cabins an awning and a tastefully decorated outhouse, welcomes all travelers of the river. Although the hosts were not home, we felt that the posted signage permitted us to stay the night.
P.S. We broke out the water filter for the first time today.
We slept until 7:45 AM – Axel woke me up to yet another hot meal for breakfast -eggs, hash browns, and sausage. We paddled from Clearwater to the Athabasca River. The current was RIPPING – soooo fast it feels illegal. There are lots of sticks and logs floating on top of the water, which is brown and murky, similar to the Saskatchewan River. There’s decent elevation on either side of the river and I saw a moose around 2:00 PM. It was a big boy. He was right up along the shore, frozen in place, starring at me. I come in peace, big boy.
Paul and I had our first date in the boat. He’s very quiet at first, but I can tell that after a few more dates, we’ll be chatting up a storm. Just like old times.
We had a dramatic late afternoon as we approached and passed a Suncor Mining/Refining factory. The sky was dark black and thunder echoed out along the river. Occasionally, streaks of lightning would strike across the sky – truly ominous conditions. Meanwhile, loud explosions were ringing out from the mine every 15 seconds or so and huge metal poles at that refinery were shooting out fire. Dark webs of pipelines, rebar and containers were dotted with a red luminescence. Rain poured from the sky suddenly and I felt like I was passing through hell.
Not many campsites on this river so far, were camping underneath a bridge and were not listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Woke up at 7:00 AM to a wonderful breakfast (2 eggs, sausage, hash browns, fruit and yogurt.) We had a lot of things to do, so we divided and conquered the tasks so we could have a chill afternoon. We finished all the gear repairs and headed to a sandwich shop called Mitchel’s around 2:00 PM. After that, we all did various errands. We went back to the room, where I thought we would nap and lay low for the night since we would be leaving in the morning. The opposite happened. After a few beers, we were all shirtless flexing our muscles and sending pics/videos to the Kooch family. We then went to a bar to play some pool until about 12:30 AM. Quinn, Bram and I went to a 7-11 for food that was amazing. We all then went back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours.
Author’s note – These events all took place yesterday. Please do not hold this against me. Thank you for your cooperation.
Today we arose at 7:00 AM…simply this fact alone I knew it was going to be a splendid 24 hours. We all congregated at a table in the dining room of Chez Dube (our Bed & Breakfast) where Karchara (the proprietor) cooked us bacon, eggs and strawberry banana yogurt pancakes accompanied by coffee, apple and orange juice. The meal was absolutely sensational. Sitting at a table all together with Steve Heinle and enjoying a home cooked breakfast was therapeutic in a way; it felt like a vacation or something one might have feelings of guilt about since it is just so darn wonderful.
For the remainder of the morning we unloaded Zach’s car and handled all things resupply in Karchara’s garage. We packed food, made cuts on food and gear, replenished spices, oils, lotion, sanitizers, repaired packs and boats, put together boxes of gear and clothing for Steve to take back, but most importantly, we healed.
We went to A&W with Steve for lunch. The boys smashed many a burger and countless liters of root beer. Also, the poutine was on point; definitely should be more of a thing in the states.
After cultivating, Steve drove us back where we said our goodbyes. Very quick turnaround but we were able to spend some quality time with a high quality human being. Truly outstanding what he did for us and we are forever indebted to him.
Lazy afternoon of naps, laundry, calling loved ones and heavy amounts of candy consumption. We sat back down at the table for a fried rice, chow mein, sesame chicken and dumpling – SMASH. It was epic. I am running out of words to describe food/eating. After dinner, one room watched Inception while the other Dances with Wolves. Two very different but remarkable films.