Key Largo to Elliott Key (Biscayne Bay), Florida / February 16 - 26, 2015
February 27, 2015
Chokoloskee to Key Largo (Florida) / January 7 - 17, 2015
January 18, 2015
Key Largo à Elliott Key (Biscayne Bay), Floride / 16 - 26 février 2015
February 27, 2015
Fort Chipewyan (AB) to Peace River (AB) / August 18 - October 1, 2016
September 30, 2016
Thursday, August 18 to Saturday, October 1, 2016
After a very long wait, we finally received our first package on August 18, at the post office in Fort Chipewyan. The next day, a second package arrived (not without spending long hours on the phone with Canada Post). The third package was unfortunately returned to Quebec. While waiting for our packages to arrive, we spent time with Derek. We shared meals together and helped him with his project of building a shed. We also spent the evening with Daniel (from New Brunswick) and his wife Clara (who also invited us to have lunch with them the next day). So, it is on Monday, August 22 that we left this small and charming community of less than 1,000 inhabitants. Fort Chipewyan was once a very important trading post. Before we left, a last goodbye to our friend Derek on the beach of the park.
We followed the Quatre Fourches river at the outlet of Lake Athabasca. We saw several bald eagles along the way. As we were getting closer to the Peace River, we felt butterflies in our stomach. We had many apprehensions about this river. So many people have told us that we would not be able to paddle against the current; that the current was too strong.
Our first impressions of the Peace River were strong. The river was wide, the current was actually strong and the water was very silty. We did not see any of our paddles in the water. Our first stop for the night was on a little piece of sand on an island. The shoreline was mud. This reminded us of the North Saskatchewan River.
The second day, we took a passage behind the islands. According to maps and GPS, there was no problem to paddle there. It would return to the main channel. But, there was not enough water and we had to turn back. Two hours lost ... lost yes and no, because this trip allowed us to have a close encounter with a wolf. He seemed not to be afraid and approached quietly. I think I was more nervous than he was. We could hear his pack further. The pack had to be close in the trees located about 200 meters behind him. For his part, the lone wolf was no more than 400 meters away from us. Pierre was excited. He filmed the scene. I did not want to stay too long. The wolf kept on approaching. We were in shallow water and it was narrow. Jasmine barked lustily, but the wolf had no fear of her. Maybe he was sick.
Around 6:00 p.m., it’s another kind of surprise we had. We had a visit! Derek came to see us. It took him two hours by boat from Fort Chipewyan to join us. We had dinner with him before he left. He probably arrived in the dark at home. What a nice surprise it was!! In addition, Derek brought us water.
The next day, it is a black bear we saw crossing the river. Jasmine got too excited by his presence and she felt into the water. She came back by herself to the canoe. Once back on the canoe and after getting us all wet after shaking herself, she looked at us and wiggled her tail. She knew she had pushed her luck. Silly dog!
Landscapes changed as we progressed. We saw cliffs of limestone and sand. We saw layers
of different colors in the walls overlooking the river (clay, mud, alternating sand and even rust color). Mosquitoes and blackflies were in abundance at the beginning, despite the growing cold. There was a lot of erosion at some places and trees in the water forcing us to leave the shoreline and paddle into the strongest part of the current. Geese were numerous and chattered all night. We also noticed that the leaves began to change color. It was a sign that the fall was just around the corner. Every morning, the tent was covered with a thick carpet of dew. The tent was heavy with the weight of those millions of droplets. However, when we were blessed with sunlight, water particles shone bright before dissipating.
Then, the Boyer Rapids. Nothing monstrous except that the river is 2 km wide at this point. We had to rope the canoe because of the strength of the current and the lack of water. Several rock barriers cross the river on at least one third of its width. In addition, due to lack of visibility in the water and the lack of visible signs on the surface of the water, we often touched the rocky bottom with our paddles. We were glad when we finally completed the rapids section and that the riverbed had returned into sand. That day, we saw hundreds of swallow nests anchored to the walls of the cliffs in addition to seeing a hawk. After the rapids, we found also an island where there was plenty of sand and lots of wood. We set up camp in anticipation of the rain. With all the resources available on the island, we created a very comfortable camp.
The next day on August 27, we stayed put because of heavy rain. We were not into miserable conditions and honestly, were very comfortable. We were able to collect also 40 liters of fresh water (which we needed). That day, we also had strong wind. In the afternoon, the sand dried up and it's a sand storm we had for the rest of the day. The sand seeped everywhere and stuck on all pieces of equipment despite our best precautions. It was only once the zips closed on the tent that we could finally dust off ourselves. It is also on that day that we put our hats on for the first time. We were treated to 25C during the last days.
August 28 was freezing. The wind was strong and the river was raging. We also saw pelicans (this was a long time since we had seen them).
The following day, we had to think about the water level. In 12 hours on August 29, we noticed that the water level had risen by 12 inches. What was happening?! Our friends Jim and Lisa searched to understand. The increase was caused by the heavy rains received in the west and water released from the Bennett Dam (located upstream, over 1,000 km away from us). Certainly, the water level rose quickly and permanently as did the strength of the current.
One night we stopped on the tip of a muddy and sandy bar. We were treated to the best concert of nature (near Big Slough). It was 9:50 p.m. when it all began. It was already dark. Everything echoed. Two wolf packs sang on each side of the river. Coyotes joined the group not long after; then a bear. And a beaver family that seemed to wonder what that big red thing and this long yellow thing were (our tent). We believe we heard also buffalo moans. All this went on for hours. It was great and to rethink of it, I still have chills.
Continuing on our way west, we also began to witness waste along the shoreline (WD-40, gas barrels). Too bad, because we were still in the Wood Buffalo National Park. Approaching Garden Creek (a native village), we saw four young people from the other side of the shore. They shouted to attract our attention and we responded. Then we decided to cross the river to go talk with them. It was not the right place to cross. Normally, we would have waited further down the curve. Worse, the people fled before we arrived. We found it very strange. It was the first time it happened to us. Several kilometers further, we arrived at the village. We saw two other young people on the edge of the ramp. We stopped to seek information about where we might find the store to buy food. The teenagers had difficulty answering in English. They spoke Cree. They also seemed to be afraid of us. Nevertheless, one of them told us that the store was located near "the point that go cling-cling". He spoke about the church tower. We therefore left and stopped again in front of the church. The slope was steep and I could not see the top. Pierre left alone to go to the store. He returned confused. People in the store spoke virtually no English. They had difficulty answering. They seemed to be afraid of Pierre. On the walls were displayed Alberta welfare programs and a salt reduction program. He said it was the most miserable reserve he had seen. Everything was falling apart. There was no maintenance of the buildings. Each house has between 2-4 dogs in the yard along with snowmobiles, quads and trucks. On his way back to the canoe, he met two drunken women driving their trucks and trying to sell him a Bible.
It was raining that day. It was cold and we still had not seen a place to stop to camp. Normally, we would have asked permission to sleep on the reservation. But this time, we decided to move on. It was only later that we learned that in the mythology of the people living there, that there are little people, little mischievous men who live on an island not faraway. We might have been identified as these little characters.
With our tarp, we kept the camp dry overnight. Amazing to think that it has been more than 500 days that we have been using this tarp (from Hilleberg the Tentmaker). Unfortunately, what was already wet did not have time to dry. There was fog and then light rain in a.m. Nevertheless, we kept on paddling and saw the decrease in the distance separating us from the first large village of the river, Fort Vermilion. Along the way, we saw 4 swans flying and lots of fresh animal tracks. We were also officially out of Wood Buffalo National Park. By late afternoon on September 1, we stopped on a sand strip surrounded by very slippery, sticky and viscous mud. We had to be careful not to lose our footing. Then, just after finishing putting up the tent, the rain started. It blew too hard to put on the tarp this time (gusts exceeding 50 km/h). So we had dinner in the tent. We also had breakfast in the tent the next morning. We stayed there until there was a lull during the day. We prepared bannock (we were out of bread) and found refuge in the tent again for another episode of wind and rain. In the afternoon, while Pierre went out of the tent he surprised a black bear that was crossing to reach our island. Jasmine saw it and started to bark. The bear swam away in the opposite direction. An hour later, the same scenario happened again. Jasmine was really mad. No intruder allowed on her island. She was hopping with anger and yelping enough to hurt our eardrums. Then we saw a moose on the other side of the river. Life is very abundant on the Peace River. Since we left Fort Chipewyan, we were greatly impressed by the diversity and
abundance of animals. We had the impression of being in an open-air zoo.
It is only on Sunday, September 4 we could leave the island. Winds of more than 50km/h and rain restrained us from continuing our journey. September 4 was a cold day. Our hands were freezing and our dried skin hurt. I must say that on that morning we felt that we could not wait to arrive in Fort Vermilion (to retrieve the box of warm clothes and winter boots our friends Mireille and Dave sent us). At lunch, we were frozen. Our wet neoprene boots did not warm our feet. We kept on gigglilng throughout the meal to keep us warm. Our progression was difficult with an average of just 3 km/h. The current was still very strong and the water level continued rising. It was also getting more difficult to find a place to stop too.
Near the Fox Lake reserve, we saw two boat platforms used as ferries to reach the other bank and connect with John D'Or reserve. We saw several fishing lines hung on sticks ... and waste such as blue latex gloves. On all rivers we travelled so far, it is always similar. It is easy to know when approaching a village because of the waste. However, there are better places with less waste and some other worse places. All this makes us sad. But despite this, we met very friendly people. We stopped at Little Red River. We met Chester & Trenton, two natives of Fox Lake reserve. Both were fishing. Chester gave us a wealth of information. He is a Cree teacher. His views on youth education are really interesting. Trenton is a firefighter. And he took a great catch during our discussion - a walleye over 7 pounds! We chatted with them until 10:30 p.m. It was only 2C when we went to bed. The dew had already fallen heavy.
The day of September 5 was a big one. We arrived at the Vermilion Falls. But before leaving Little Red River, we met David and John, two young Ontario teachers. They love living here. They are well suited to the lifestyle of this remote region. They are enthusiastic and passionate. They also see the efforts on education. They are confident that the future of young native people will change with good education. Thirty million dollars has been invested into Fox Lake School and according to them, they already see positive effects. John also gave us a pike he caught during our discussions.
The approach to find the portaging trail next to the falls was not easy, even hard. The falls are impressive and are 2 km wide. The place where we were supposed to land was flooded. The water level was still rising, as was the flow. Jim and Lisa informed us that on that day, the water flow was 3300 m3/s. The normal is 1700 m3/s. Therefore, we had to find another place to land and clear our own path. With the machete, Pierre climbed like a mountain goat on the steep cliff. He cut trees, shrubs and roses bushes to clear a path about 250 meters long to the top of the cliff. Then, he tied ropes to help us to climb with our equipment on our backs. It took us three hours to portage from the river (below the falls) to the top. We had to pull ourselves with the rope and trees. The hardest part was getting the canoe up. In turn, we took a load on our back and moved a little higher every time. It was only at the top that we could relax a little. But the effort was great. It's one of those moments when you feel like giving up to lie down on the ground like in small ball. Then, we walked a little further until we found a suitable place to set up camp. We had a fantastic view of the falls. With the sun setting over the falls, it was beautiful. With that simple view, all the pain was gone. We knew that the effort was totally worth it. To see that, it was our reward. One must remember that after every difficult moment, there is always a more beautiful and grand moment that will justify our efforts and elevate ourselves. We were very well rewarded that day. After removing the roses thorns from our hands, we ate John’s fish and spent time around a warming fire.