August 23rd, 2016.
After a 1 and a half hour flight to the northwest, the floatplane from Schefferville (Quebec) dropped us at our Twin River Camp starting point, the source of the George River. My two companions for the adventure and I unload our equipment (126 Kg) onto the bank. Immediately, the DHC-3 Otter took off again, leaving us there for a twenty day adventure.
That’s when I began to think back to the genesis of this project that had been close to my heart for many years. Movies and adventure stories created a number of characters, animals and mysteries in my teenage imagination, including Davy Crokett, Pasquinel of the television series “Colorado”, played by Robert Conrad (whom I was lucky to meet in 2000), John W. Powell, “Naskapi” Speck, “The Last of the Mohicans” by Cooper.
However, it still remained to go from dream to reality: but where? Which season? How far? By foot or canoe? Inflatable or not? For what weight of gear?
We opted for two inflatable canoes and to make the 148 km descent of the George River in summer. Flowing for more than 560 km to Ungava Bay, the George River was used for more than 5000 years by First Nations people to reach their caribou hunting grounds. Since that time, it has been host to many pages of history: ancient indigenous tribes, famous expeditions, anthropological studies, breathtaking landscapes, hunting and fishing adventures.
After the fifth day, the excitement of the departure made room for doubt. For three days, a North/Northwest wind gusted to more than 60kmh, acting like battering on our frail canoes and we fell back to the opposite bank. Several times, we advanced no more than five hundred meters in an hour and we had to stop for our safety. I wondered about the rest of the adventure….
Worn out at night in my tent I realized I wasn’t in a fight where I could control everything. Fighting against black flies, mosquitoes, wind, cold, fatigue. I realized I had to try instead to be in harmony with this new environment, living in the moment, dealing with nature as I discovered it, taking the time to observe and enjoy what it offered.
Gradually the modern world with its concerns disappeared from my head, I lightened myself mentally to concentrate on the essentials. Small things became important. I felt a transmutation occuring. I felt more serene.
Since the river was up to 4km wide in places, I saw a bear eating blueberries up a dune, twenty caribou crossing the river just two hundred meters ahead of us, a dozen wild geese passing over us, ptarmigan hiding amongst rocks and alders, a squirrel who greeted us whistling. At each camp, I enjoyed the blackberries and blueberries, so popular with the bears, tundra tea we prepared every morning, and the mushrooms we ate as a soup in the evening.
Over the paddle strokes we moved from forested tundra to arctic tundra. Fir trees were stunted and more dispersed. My face was covered with a short beard, the lines were drawn.
On the tenth day, we allowed ourselves a day of rest, taking the opportunity to climb to the top of High Cliff Hill. After three hours of walking on alternating bogs and rocks, we reached the highest point where there was a bird’s eye view of the river and vegetation-covered hills. Out of time, I immortalized this tableau by taking a picture.
On the way down we passed through a steppe beside a forest, scattered with bleached larch and spruce, fossilized by time like ghosts that keep the souls of the tundra. I found myself talking to them. A hawk flew over us.
Dreamy, at night when the sky was clear I could see the Northern Lights. If science today can explain this phenomenon, the show nevertheless remains majestic. The undulating green veil is formed and deformed, quickly gaining in intensity or weakening slowly up to pink. I then think of the legends that indigenous people thought of when observing the colors in the sky. All three of us shared our thoughts on this silent light show: was it a good or bad omen?
After several days during which we made an average of 14 km per day, alternating between sun and rain, we arrived at Fish Camp. This place is world famous for its salmon runs. US and Canadian business people go there to fly fish for salmon (averaging 12 to 14 pounds). The arrival at the camp after running through 3 km of rapids was an intense moment, a moment of culmination and moment of nostalgia, signifying the end of the adventure. We warmed ourselves near a stove, while drinking coffee. By late afternoon in the kitchen of the main lodge, we prepared a salmon caught that morning in the form of three dishes: fish soup, a few thin slices of salmon marinated in lemon with olive oil, and fillets cooked skin side down.
At the table, facing the lake, everyone feasted and talked with the fishermen who had heard of our arrival. The next day, the aircraft came for us to bring us back to Schefferville flying over the river at 80 feet.
According to a rough calculation, we paddled 118450 times … but that’s not the most important thing. It is too early to describe precisely what this trip was and what it stands for now. This trip lifted me up. That’s why I will return.