A Sight-Seeing Day: The Power of Spring Melt, Cosmos Lake, Waterfall Glade and a Cairn
In the spring, when chunks of ice floated downstream, they went straight when the river turned and piled up a huge hill of rocks. I head back to the canoe as Mo takes a shot.
Today was the Fourth of July, Independence Day. We felt independent! We had found our camping rhythm and were thus free to enjoy more of the wilderness around us. Each of us had taken on different parts of the breakdown. We each knew what to do. For example, I specialized in folding the poles, Mo was the fly-folding expert. We had learned which packs were the heaviest and brought them first to the canoe. We had chosen certain sides of the tent to sleep on and automatically threw our gear to those sides each night. Beyond these mundane details, the vast wilderness spread out in such an immensity, a huge area in which we were the only humans. The almost constant illumination meant that we were free to paddle, eat, hike or sleep at almost any hour of the day or night. I believe we were tapping into some ancient primordial memory deep in our genes in which we lived at one with the environment--not insulated and separated from it by the diversions of machines, technology and masses of people.
Mo had a little too much immersion in the environment last night. He left the tent wearing only his Capilene long johns to answer the call of nature. His plan was to cover his butt with deet and immediately squat. But he returned shaken and said he was quickly covered with "5,000 mosquitoes" that could bite through the Capilene. The deet had no effect. All he could do was try to hurry the process as much as he could. He was in shock when he dove back into the tent.
We arose earlier (the stronger light did indeed reveal many bites on poor Mo) but cooked longer. I had cornmeal pancakes. We reveled in our independence as a strong tailwind joined a good current. We stopped near Cosmos Lake and walked up on the bank. We could see the lake but no sign of the radioactive Russian Cosmos spy satellite that crashed here in the 80's. (Our pilot later told us there was a cairn that marked the spot; but we never saw it.) We did see a large flock of white-fronted geese that seemed to prefer the little ponds that were a little way back for the main bank.
I had read in several accounts of rocks that had been moved by the flowing ice at spring break-up. What I had not read is that this is a constant phenomenon all along the river; not just in one or two places. In straight sections of the river there are many gouges and bent willows that show where the ice moved downstream. Wherever the river makes even a slight turn, the momentum of the ice plows straight ahead and pushes rocks and even large boulders into large piles. We stopped and climbed a hill made in this way. To the upstream side were fresh rocks pushed up maybe 100 feet; downstream the much older rocks were getting covered with lichens and various mosses. This was another aspect of the immensity of the place--one could see the processes that built the land had gone on for thousands of years without any disturbance by man.
Waterfall Glade. A warmer microclimate where unusual plants grow. Mosquitoes also seemed to thrive.
After finding the remains of a moose antler, we paddled again. We were on the lookout for Waterfall Glade, an area that has a warmer microclimate that allows plants that are not usually found this far north to grow. We ate lunch at a place that had a small stream tumbling into the river and some raspberry plants and violets. We continued on and found the real Waterfall Glade, where a small stream cascades off a cliff. It is noticeably warmer in the narrow canyon near the falls. The mosquitoes were very bad and we didn't linger.
A cairn built by the first recreational canoeists in 1962. We found a note from 1996 inside.
Soon we came to a cairn built by the first recreational canoeists in 1962. Inside was a note from some Norwegians who had passed through in 1996 on their way from Yellowknife to Baker Lake. I added a note about our much shorter trip. By this time it had begun to cloud up. When we finally found a suitable campsite, we had to set up the tent and shelter in a light rain. We picked a site that apparently was popular. We found several fire rings and a path was worn through the stones along the bank. It was dry tundra but the ground was somewhat uneven and it was a little hard to find a level place for the tent. We disturbed some kind of sandpiper who sat in the top of a nearby tree and made a continual call for a couple of hours. We also found a patch of caribou hair.
We had been cooking our own meals but on this night split a Cache Bay wild rice salad. The wild rice took a good while to cook and the rehydrated "salad" was a little strange--chewy and warm. I added a piece of pita bread with melted cheese, cookies from BackCountry.org(anic) and most of Mo's pudding. After all this, with the mosquitoes becoming more intense and more wind and light rain, we happily retired to the tent. Once we had removed all the mosquitoes, we happily relaxed. Approximate camp location: 13 V 055435
Technology Update Just before I entered the tent I decided to use my GPS to mark our campsite. But when I turned it on the screen showed only a few weird wavy lines and then went completely blank. The Garmin 38 is advertised as waterproof and I had once dropped into a lake in Minnesota without any problems. But the ride in my canvas daypack, which had gotten a good soaking on the Radford River, was too much for it. In the tent I got out my small tape recorder that I used to amplify my journal notes. But it would not record. Sand had probably jammed the mechanism. Then I tried my little map measurer (a dial attached to a small wheel); but it would not turn as I moved it along the map. I had also given up on the satellite phone and could only hope that my wife would realize that there was some technical problem and not worry. Mo and I agreed Mother Thelon decided that, if we said we wanted to leave the modern world behind, we would indeed leave it behind. In the morning Mo's watch strap broke and I began a game of having him guess what time it was--he rarely was close.