Outpost Versus The River

Outpost Versus The River

Dispatch by Paul Auerbach
Photo by Jimmy Martinello

As we slept on a patch of rock in the middle of the Slave River, weather moved in from the north and the west, bringing a stiff breeze and intermittent showers by the time we finished breakfast. It was pretty plain that we would have to be in one of two places: either inside our tents and sleeping bags waiting it out, or inside our dry suits pushing down river. Delano and Jimmy were of one mind: keep moving and just hug the shoreline to avoid the worst of it. So we broke the camp down, being careful not to let the gusts of wind grab a loose item and lift it off our little island and into the rapids to either side of us.

We ran the small rapids just next to the island and started paddling north, still probably 100 kilometres away down the Slave. Within 20 minutes of paddling, with the wind and current coming at us from the west, we turned a corner and saw the river widening in front of us, revealing a view some two or three kilometres down river. In the distance we could see the white crests of waves that must have been three feet or more.

Wood Buffalo River 2The waves giving us a run for our money 

It's a river, but with the big skies, as Delano noted, the wind can really get up a head of steam, and it was whipping the Slave into a roiling, thunderous body of water just ahead of us. So hug the shoreline we did, paddling straight into what might have been a 30 kilometres headwind, with the current straining to help us out in the face of wind that kept driving us into the shoreline. 

We paddled like that most of the day, talking little except during breaks or lunch, kneeling on the boards from time to time to reduce the drag, and digging hard to generate the force needed to make any headway at all.

The sky broke on occasion, and the islands, sand bars and poplars were bathed in a beautiful soft sunshine, in sharp relief to the slate grey clouds that stretched to the horizon.

By seven p.m. we were pretty much exhausted, so we gave one last push to cross to the east bank of the river, contending with some nasty currents, landing on a beautiful ridge overlooking a bend in this very sizeable river. The clouds moved out, to the south, and by eight p.m. we were treated to a view of the setting sun and the clear skies that gave us reason to believe tomorrow will be a great day of paddling. We are well into Wood Buffalo now, and where before we saw boat traffic and the occasional helicopter, now we see and feel only the expanse of this beautiful wilderness. The effort expended today to get to this spot feels justly rewarded.


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