At the heart of our travels these last two months are two words: adventure and expedition. To go
adventuring—to explore the unknown, to embrace uncertainty, to exercise curiosity, to take advantage of opportunity. Expedition—a means of which to seek out adventure, to travel self-sufficiently, to co-exist with the land, to accept, with grace, all that might arrive. Choosing adventure by expedition challenges our core beings and in the end we leave with wiser eyes.
Returning from expedition presents its own set of challenges. On the morning of day 46, August 19th, 2018 when we landed on the beach in Kangirsuk, Nunavik, Quebec, you could see it in our eyes. Smiles, tiredness, relief, excitement, hunger, bittersweet. We had sun and wind-burnt faces, bags under our eyes, unkept beards, mustaches growing past upper lips, and worn hands. Upon closer inspection one could see layers of dirt caked on once brightly colored dry suits, matted hair hidden under layers of hats, patches on boats, dead mosquitos and black flies caked in every nook and cranny, and fresh baked potato flake and flour biscuits in our bowls. We made it! Our feet finally planted on the low tide beach in the Inuit community of Kangirsuk!
In that moment, if you asked, "How was it?" your question likely would have been met with a blank stare, or wide eyes and a smile. "How was it?" is not an easily answered question at an expedition’s end. An expedition, especially an adventurous one is often everything. We were on expedition for 46 days; that's 1,104 hours. We slept around 315 hours. That leaves 789 hours of adventure to lakes, rivers, oceans, rocks, musk ox, black bears, mud, moss, fish, rain, rainbows, sun, wind, waves, sunsets, sunrises, full moons, rapids, tides, geese, eagles, ducks, caribou, willow, dwarf birch, and cranberries. To Inuit culture past and present and the kindness of the people of the north, we experienced a world class adventure, a true expedition in every sense of the word.
We arrived in Umiujaq on July 3rd. We spent the following two days organizing our gear at the Tursujuq National Park office. On the afternoon of the second day after a large thunderstorm, the ice on Hudson Bay cleared enough and the water was calm enough to begin our adventure and we set fourth, north on the bay. The following two days we spent weaving through icebergs. It was quite magical. They were white, blue, and beautiful. On the bay we saw lots of musk ox, black bear, and took a short excursion to Nastapoka Falls.
The Richard River lies 4km north of the falls and marked the end of our journey on the bay. The Richard greeted us with cold, misty wind. We woke up at 3am to big winds, rain, and lightning. Looking east we could see the Richard climbing the mountains, its flooded waters pouring over waterfalls sending spring ice melt into the bay. Our journey east began on foot, cold and wet. The following 5 days we spent mostly portaging with some lining and paddling. Each portage, each of us took three trips. We carried 4 food barrels, 1 food bag, 1 gear bag, 4 personal bags, and 2 boats. Our backs hurt, our legs tired, and we watched Hudson Bay disappear as we climbed higher. We collapsed atop ridges at the end of several days, too tired to keep portaging. Once we neared the top of the watershed, we were able to paddle more, sneaking through the winding river beneath the mountain peaks that continuously gave us the illusion that we were going to paddle off the edge of the world. The grassy, mossy landscape of the coast gave way to rock and snow patches. We finally portaged over the height of land up and over a mountain, into a series of lakes and ponds that led us to Lac Minto.
We arrived to Lac Minto on day 12. The prevailing westerlies stayed strong and we sailed our way eastward, stopping to inspect caribou antlers and sleep in tiny protected coves. One morning we woke up to misty rain and within a few hours the weather became warm and sunny and the water flat and glassy. It stayed that way for two weeks! On Lac Minto we caught our first fish, three lake trout weighing in at 8 lbs. Lac Minto soon gave way to the Leaf River. The warm weather brought bugs, black flies and mosquitoes. The Leaf was swollen with spring run-off and provided us with invigorating big water paddling. These big water class III/IV rapids tested our skills and gave us much excitement, and a ferry that would have earned us bragging rights—if anyone was around to see it.
We left the Leaf and began our second up river adventure on the Vizien on day 18. The Vizien marked the point where we stopped our eastward progress and headed up river north and northwest for about 58km. The Vizien was beautiful—amazing rapids and blue green crystal clear water. The hydraulics on the river were emerald green in the bright sun. The brook trout fishing was unmatched. Here were perfected our lunch fishing, filleting, and fish carrying techniques. We lined, lined, and lined, and portaged, and paddled up river.
After the Vizien we entered the land of lakes, rivers, rock gardens, and subarctic barren lands. At times it was questionable if we were on a lake or a river (hard to imagine), and we found ourselves paddling or lining through many shallow rock gardens. We crossed the height of land through a beautiful 2 km portage on day 29. We entered the water of Lac Bisson, marking our entrance into the Payne River watershed. We spent the next days linking together small lakes and streams (downriver) that brought us to Lac Tassialouc. We stopped mid-day on Lac Tassialouc to fillet some big beautiful arctic char, later realizing 18 lbs. of live fish meant fish for dinner and lunch. Lac Tassialouc gave way to the Tassialouc River. The river was perhaps some of the best and most exciting days of paddling. The whitewater was incredible, really fun, technical class III rapids. We had no prior knowledge of the river and every bend was a surprise. The flat and barren landscape began to transform into rolling hills as the river fed us into Lac Payne.
After many days traveling north we finally began heading west toward Ungava Bay. The westerlies and big fetch carried us quickly east. We did stop to explore ruins of past settlements—tent circles, pit houses, and food caches dotted the shore lines of Baie Aarialakallak, where the Payne River leaves the lake. The Riviere Payne began with fury, a long treacherous class V rapid. The portage was made easier by our well-developed caribou trail tracking skills, their trails always leading us through the path of least resistance, through thick willows, dwarf birch, around rock piles and marshes. This portage, our last portage, also highlighted our ability to navigate these trails half blind, with sunglasses on, bug shirt zippers closed over faces, sweaty sunscreen dripping in our eyes, a thick cloud of black flies swarming, and boats on our heads. That evening we camped in a beautiful place on a plateau above the rapids in the biggest clouds of black flies I could imagine. We're still pulling black flies out of corners from night 37.
As we continued down the Payne we found big rolling green mountains. Spring ice melt was long gone and the flow, normal. The rapids were easy to navigate and fun. The kilometers melted away. We soon entered a magical caribou land. Caribou lined the shores and swam across the river heading south. Here we stopped for a day, on day 42, our first break from expedition travel in over a month. The following days the caribou lessened, the rapids grew less frequent, and the river widened. Cabins appeared on the shore line. These hunting and fishing camps signaled that we were nearing the end of our journey. 61 km west of Kangirsuk, we paddled our last rapid and watched in awe as it changed with the rising tide. The tidal difference in the river was enormous; bigger than anything any of us had ever experienced. As we continued east the river's shores were lined with rocky cliffs and rocky shoals that extended far into the river at low tide. Big winds and following seas created big waves and sent us into the shoals with our tails between our legs, letting us know that Kangirsuk would not come so easily. We took refuge in an exquisite flat spot high above the high tide line nestled in the cliff. One more long day of paddling brought us in sight of Kangirsuk. On night 45 I fell asleep to town lights 13km east. In the morning as we paddled flat, glassy water and looked down toward Ungava Bay it was hard to imagine that our journey was coming to an end.
We traveled 931 km by foot and canoe linking together two big watersheds with a seldom traveled route where animals looked at us with curiosity instead of fear. So, how was it? Indescribable. It was everything. Incredible, at times horrible, fun, wonderful, hard, cold, warm, really cold, hot. We were tired, hungry, full, rested, sore, strong, weak, joyful, sad, and excited. We moved fast, we were slow, we broke things, we fixed things. We caught fish, we missed fish, we ate fish. Sometimes we wanted the trip to end and sometimes we felt like we could paddle and portage forever. It was everything. Everything and far beyond. None of us would trade this experience for the world.
We meet our goals and finished the expedition with very little waste. Our food bags and food packing system worked fantastically! Our bags proved to be more durable than plastic and none of our food spoiled. Our waxed Cabot Cheddar was excellent, still tasted great and was almost completely mold free on day 42. Thanks Cabot! Stayed tuned for an update on implementing a single use plastic free expedition.
In upcoming posts we will do our best to give you insights into our experiences. Let these spark your curiosity to ask us questions.
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