Day 10 – Aug 14 "Put your back into it, Shaun!" - Nighttime visitors
Today was a distance day - there were no significant rapids and if we plan to take a day off we need to crank some kilometers off the river.
Shaun floated on the raft for most of the day, I docked between the pontoons for hours at a time. We came to a narrow canyon, no rapids but the current was hitting one of the walls quite strongly. Bruce was taping Shaun's piloting of the raft and giving instructions; instructions which became quite urgent in their pitch and volume as the raft began to get too close to the wall. The raft hit the wall, the nose of one pontoon buckled and the raft went sideways, the current grabbing the upstream pontoon. The raft tilted to about 35 degrees while Bruce and Shaun jumped to the raft's high side. All the while Bruce had his camcorder filming - some very interesting footage and very fortunate that the raft did not flip or we would be down to zero camcorders. Shaun's loose kayak fell of the raft and floated into the many small whirlpools where I had to retrieve it.
This excitement over, we started to look for a camp site. We found one just into another canyon, one with 1000 foot walls stretching up from the river. Before dinner (and the failing light) we decided to climb to the top of the canyon to see if we could scout the river downstream or to figure out where we were on the map, as Bruce had accidentally left his GPS behind at our lunch spot two days earlier. <DOH!>
The ascent was brutal, about a 35 degree incline and non-stop until the first plateau at 1100 above the river. The views were spectacular. Shaun managed to stick his finger and ankle on some cactuses, causing much pain. We had hiked downriver a few hundred meters and wanted to drop straight down instead of going back the way we came. This resulted in our descent via steep ravines and gullies. The way down was dicey and rather dangerous.
After a dinner of burritos, we were having our hot chocolate around 9:30 when by chance I had my headlamp on and got up to get a drink of water when I noticed a glint of light behind us in the rocks. It didn't register at first, but a second or two later I looked up and shined my light in that direction to illuminate an adult cougar hunched under a tree only 25 feet behind our backs. It was a startling and disturbing sight. I said to my fellow river runners "Guys, looks like we have a cougar in our midst." Actually it was two cougars, another was lying in wait about 20 feet past the near cougar. Amazingly enough it did not bolt with our lights on it and only left after we threw rocks and shouted at it. Even then it only retreated to where the second cougar was. Arming ourselves with more rocks we started throwing them and they retreated a bit further up the canyon gulley. More rocks were thrown and we could no longer see their eyes. Bruce fetched his bear bangers and fired one off, hoping to scare them off for the night.
We had much animated discussions about this aggressive and intriguing behaviour, and our conclusion was that with the dry season there was probably not as much food for them to hunt down and being that the big cats are so elusive, their only possible reason of being so close (within 2 bounds of their strong legs) was to prey on us. This is not unheard of, as on Vancouver Island they take a person (usually a child) every couple of years.
We debated on what to do about this situation. We could not leave this site as it was pitch dark, our tents were high on the beach near the trees as that was the flattest part. We opted to move our tents away from the trees, closer to the fire and build the fire up.
With salmon jumping in the river and rocks sliding down the opposite canyon wall, no one slept great but we welcomed the morning never the less.
Day 11 – Aug 15 Jason the Ferryman-Dusk Paddling
Quite happy that we had an uneventful night, we departed 'Camp Cougar' with our next stop being the car ferry. We had been told that the ferry operator doesn't get much in the way of visitors and stopping in to say hello would be a welcomed gesture.
Jason is the fill-in ferry pilot and was indeed quite happy to have someone to talk to. We ate our lunch in the shade of a large tree next to the government house used to accommodate the pilots while they are on shift (14 days on, 14 days off, working from 7am to 7pm daily).
He was very hospitable (beer) and we filled our water jugs up with the fresh well water there, allowing us to dump the iodine purified (and flavoured) creek water.
We then headed downstream until we came to some natives net fishing (not dip netting) where we pulled in and talked with them for about an hour. Ron, Bob, and especially Darrel <?> were very informative regarding the current fish run (Sockeye heading to Williams Creek <?>). The stories they had to tell were quite amazing, like Ron falling into the river while dip netting and being saved from drowning by him getting pulled out by his mane of hair. Darrel had lost an uncle by the same situation recently.
Even though the dip netters tie themselves to an anchor while working, the rope has broken many times and we noticed that none of them ever wore any kind of lifejacket.
We offered to buy one of their catch but they wouldn't hear of it, instead giving us a fish with the words 'My mother would have a fit is I were to sell you this fish'. A very kind gesture indeed.
We continued on looking for an amazing camp site as we wanted to take the next day off because we were getting fatigued. Passing many mediocre sites, we stopped at one at 6pm that had potential. However it did not provide any shade (and tomorrow we were going to be in camp) so we headed downriver again in search of our perfect site.
3 hours later, it was getting very dark and we could see the hydro towers coming down the side of the peaks to our left, indicating that we were closing in on the rapid 'Powerline'. We spotted a sandy beach on the left just upriver from the rapid and we knew this was our only option for a camp site. Very fortunately this location proved to be excellent. A rocky outcropping would give shelter in the midday heat, a separate tenting area, and plenty of dry firewood with which to cook our salmon.
Dinner was fantastic - bbq'd salmon with lemon and pepper, with a side of rice and salad. Bruce definitely has a gourmet's touch.
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