Tuesday, July 25, 2006 (Day 12):
The day was cloudless and warm.
I knew I would now be playing in the big leagues, with all of the water from Lake Advance and the Three Gorges, added to the remainder of the George River coming from the east.
I made it through the rapid immediately below the Three Gorges and found myself being carried along, with standing waves even occurring in the middle of the George where there were no “official rapids”. The roar of the official rapids could be heard at a long distance and I approached each with great caution. My intention was to line everywhere I could and indeed there were good routes for lining on the first rapids. After careful inspection, I was able to run one or two.
I finally came to the rapid before the long expansion on which Tuktu Lodge is located, a rapid about 2.5 kilometres in length. Wayne and Carl had taken a side channel, a kilometre in length, which they found to be easy paddling, before lining back down to the main channel. I took the same side channel, which I found needed no paddling as it was flowing at very good speed with standing waves for its full length.
I then lined down to the main channel, where I found there was deep flowing water ahead of me right up to the river bank, making it impossible to proceed further by lining. The dense alders precluded portaging or lining my canoe from the edge of the river. I was nicely cornered with a further kilometre of rapid in front of me. It seemed to me though, that I was now past the worst of the rapids in the main section and I could not see anything that looked too difficult ahead me, with the calm water of the expansion awaiting me in the distance.
I had been canoeing with my full spray deck installed, since getting past the rapid with the eddy which had trapped me two days earlier and knew I could not be sunk by any standing wave as long as I could remain upright. I had felt pretty stable in the rapids that morning and had found it easy to get around boulders as I saw them coming up ahead of me.
Thus off I paddled, heading for the centre of the rapids, as I could see exposed boulders closer to shore. Alas, bad rapids can be invisible at a distance as the drop leading to them results in them “being below the horizon”. After about 400 metres, there before me was a short section with criss-crossing standing waves appearing to be about 5 feet high. My canoe was rolled violently back and forth and there was no way I was able to avoid being rolled over.
Thus, there I was in the maelstrom once again. I had no difficulty remaining with my canoe, which took a few hard knocks on submerged boulders. This time I was able to keep from getting between any boulders and my canoe, although I took a couple of hard knocks with my feet and knees as I went over submerged boulders.
The violence of the rapids subsided and I wondered if I would reach an area shallow enough in order to touch bottom and stop the forward motion of my canoe and myself, as I had been able to do, when I dumped in my first rapid days before, and right my canoe. Not this time. This was a big-time rapid and I found myself being washed out into the expansion which was about 5 kilometres long and nearly a kilometre wide.
I again had that fish caught on a hook feeling, although I could feel that my emergency back pack was in place under my life jacket with my satellite phone and other survival stuff and I trusted that my GPS remained attached to my belt. Pretty soon, I was slowly floating along beside my canoe. Ahead, I could see a small island approaching me and I unfurled my rope from the end of my canoe and tried to swim in its direction, pulling my canoe. I missed it by a small margin and wondered if I was destined to float the length of the expansion. I still felt warm enough but knew that hypothermia would eventually be a danger if I didn’t get out of the water.
It seemed to me that what little wind there was had been coming from the west and thus swam in the direction of the eastern shore of the expansion. Finally I was able to touch bottom and quickly got my canoe and myself to the shore. Taking stock, I discovered that my pockets were empty, but happily my knife, compass and GPS were all dangling on the end of their strings coming from belt.
Righting my canoe, I could see that the shaft of my spare paddle secured to top of the canoe had lost some plastic from the violence of the contact between my canoe and submerged boulders. My “rudder paddle” had remained in place, tied next to my spare paddle (I remove the rudder paddle from its normal location on the side of my canoe when running rapids) and my regular paddle was floating next to the canoe, secured by the nylon string from the front of the canoe.
I soon had the canoe bailed out and was underway for Tuktu lodge which I could see some kilometres down the expansion. By the time I got there, my nylon clothes had pretty well dried.
Start of the rapid. I headed to the right in order to canoe down a side arm.
I headed down the arm in the centre of the picture.
I lined back to the main channel down the arm seen above.
Believe it or not, I passed just to the right of the island below and finally made it to shore near the point to the left.
Tuktu Lodge consists of an impressive collection of buildings, but it looked like it was no longer operational. There were small chalets, which were unlocked, but fly infested and closed in and thus I set my tent up on a small patch of grass in front of the chalets and main building.
Location: N55º33.39’ W064º37.933’ Straight-line distance covered: 14.3 kilometres