27 Jul, 2009 Painting at Wilberforce Falls
Well, maybe I overestimated just a little. My initial plan once arriving at Bathurst was to canoe along the ocean for 30km and then hike in 10km to get to the falls. All this in a week, and still get back to the lodge! What was I thinking! Our flight in yesterday made it clear that I had bit off way more than I could chew. Or course, I knew this would be dependent on the weather, and the winds that were howling made it clear that canoeing was out of the question. The logistics had changed as well. Our flight out was going to be Thursday, giving us 3 full days here. I did have a plan B however. One should never travel the north without an alphabet soup of alternate plans. Boyd had mentioned in our communications that a helicopter would be based at the lodge during our visit and was working out past the falls. He graciously suggested that we would be able to use this mode of transportation to get there and back, making the best use of our short time there. How convenient. We met with Boyd’s second cousin Lorne Warner, owner of the company that had the chopper there, and were off to the falls.
What a great way to get around. Like a bird, I was enjoy a fantastic view of the land below, including 3 grizzlies roaming the tundra, about 10km from where we going to be camping. Hopefully there would be traveling the other way. We approached the falls after about 25 minutes and the pilot steered us over the river upstream of the falls. Then I watched the flow plunge into a massive gorge of frothy water, sheer cliffs, rocky spires and rising mist. Truly, incredibly, breathtaking. We set down a kilometer downstream and hopped off with our packs. The choppers drone gave way to the sounds of water from the gorge as we began our hike. From the side, the gorge was barely visible. Just a slit in the tundra. Each step we took though began to reveal the far walls of the canyon. Approaching the edge, I was shocked to see how much bigger it now seemed from the ground than in the air. The views only got better and better as Max and I approached the falls. The brambles were often up to our hips, and the soft tundra underfoot made for a tough hike with our heavy packs. Was I ever glad we weren’t hiking this in! After a month on Ellesmere hiking around, I think I’m getting more worn out instead of stronger. Though only relatively short hike, filming, scouting and gawking made it much longer. We finally decide that we’d better pitch camp and find some water soon. We hiked a short ways away from the falls, found a spot where we could hopefully spot grizzlies from ways off, and set camp, including a small electric fence that I packed along. Not sure how well it would work, but it couldn’t hurt. Then it was off for water. The gorge was way too steep to even consider, so we hike around to the top of the falls where the river was accessible. This gave us another series of views that were spectacular and some great drinking water.
In the evening, we headed back down to a spot that I had scouted earlier. The view was great, but sheltered from the wind. And here that translates to an onslaught of ravenous mosquitoes. I had heard about them from the locals, who love the winds that keep them at bay, but thought how bad could they be. I found out. I had my bug jacket, but not being able to see well through it, I had to take the hood off and use bug dope. I think they liked the taste of it it tough, because I was still eaten alive. My oil paints became a colourful living grave of little critters, and I tried to grab paint dabs from between them. But sometimes that’s the price of admission to view like this. And it worth every bite.