Monday, 7 April 2014

A day out with Niall


I left the north coast of Scotland on the Friday evening as I had done on many occasions and headed down to Jim’s. There were only a handful of climbers who could claim to head south for a weekend’s climbing in the Scottish mountains and I was one of them. It took about an hour to get down the Strath Halladale road, take the short cut up over Glen Loth (if the road was open) and then another hour to Inverness on the A9.

Jim Hall was a career climber. This isn’t saying he made his living at it, but that this is what he did, this is what defined him, that climbing was what he identified with. He had made his living as a nuclear engineer and I had met him while he was working in Dounreay. Together we had opened up some of the best sea cliff climbing on the far north coast of Scotland (which largely remains unrepeated).

Jim lived in Newtonmore. In typical Jim Hall style, he had selected his home town, not for its amenities or its wonderful setting but because it sat right in the middle of the Highlands, thus affording him the choice of going east or west with equal ease depending on the BBC weather forecast at 9.30pm on the night before. As any experienced Scottish winter climber knows, never make your destination decision until the last minute.

We weren’t close friends. Not in the accepted definition of the term. We spent a remarkable amount of time together, we climbed well together, but I’m not sure that we really liked each other. It was one of those odd relationships you often find in climbing. Two people brought together by a common interest, a common passion, but where individual personalities limited the bond. I don’t doubt it was as much me as it was Jim and I hope no one thinks that we didn’t get along, it’s just that we had a time limit together beyond which we needed our own space. Essentially, we wound each other up.

I had met Ally (Alistair) in the Torino hut on the French Italian border a few years earlier. I was climbing with an ex-army friend called Warren and Ally was with a lad whose name now escapes me. This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy. I think on this occasion, myself and Warren had just done the Pyramid du Tacul and Ally and his mate were going for the Rochefort arĂȘte but it could have been the time when myself and Warren did the full traverse onto the Tour Ronde. Or perhaps we had done both? In any case, I think they noticed us because of the smell. Warren and I had been bivvying out on the glacier for a couple of nights and so we were a bit ripe. Despite this minor social problem we all agreed to rope up the next day to walk back across the Vallee Blanche in a snow storm. I can’t remember if the cable cars weren’t running or if it was just pig headedness but it was an interesting trek back in low visibility. Warren was in the lead and went through a crevasse once due to us cutting across towards the midi station too soon. You need to keep left for quite a long way once you get up onto the Valee Blanche from the Glacier du Geant but with low visibility and no tracks to follow it was an easy error to make. In any case we all made it back and a bond was formed.

The following year we linked up together and drove down to Cham in Ally’s Citroen Picasso. This time Ally was accompanied by Mark. Both Ali and Mark were fell runners and two of the fittest blokes I’ve ever met. We stayed in the Torino hut again and I think we attempted the Dent du Geant but got turned back by bad weather. This time Warren and I decided to take the cable car back. We had a bit of a wait and so Ali and Mark decided to see if they could beat us back on foot. They didn’t manage to but it was very close. I think they did the Torino to the midi station in an hour and a half! Within 2yrs Mark was no longer with us, taken by cancer, a really sad loss.

Now, Alistair had a girlfriend, Allison (Yes, that’s right, Ally and Ali). He had decided to take her climbing in Scotland and we agreed to meet up on the Sunday of the weekend in question to do some routes on the Ben. We were aiming to form a rope of three as Allison had limited winter experience.

So when I got to Jim’s I told him I was only up for one day as I was heading over to the Ben for Sunday. He was good with this and we planned a trip into the Loch Avon basin to look at Hell’s Lum on the Saturday. For some reason we decided to cross country ski over the plateau and this might have been a good idea had we had the proper gear but I might have forgotten to mention just how tight Jim was.

So there we were on Saturday morning, climbing up the goat track, each with a pair of 1920’s cross country skis strapped to the sides of our packs and a pair of Max Wall ski boots inside the packs which Jim had picked up in a car boot sale for about a fiver. Up on the plateau there wasn’t enough snow to link together 100 yds and even if there was the things on our backs would have been more hindrance than help so they never came off the packs. Then when we walked down to Hell’s Lum the whole thing was so out of condition that we simply kept going on past, came out of the basin and returned to the car park.

TBH, I was ok with this. It was a great day out even if we didn’t get anything done (and had carried a set of old skis around just for fun) and I was off to the Ben the next day for some easy climbing with Ally and Ali. Winter climbing can be quite stressful so the thought of an easy and enjoyable weekend had its appeal and I was now mentally set for cruise mode.

So I left Jim’s at about 4.30am on the Sunday morning and headed over to the Ben car park to meet up with Ally and Ali.  I think they dossed down in the car and I met up with them as planned and on time and after the usual sorting of gear, shit in the woods (Christ on a bike I wish someone would put a bog in that car park – perhaps they have now?) and a quick cup of coffee we set off.

We were good and early and there weren’t too many ahead of us. We made steady progress up the track, past the guide’s car park and on towards the CIC hut. The dawn was just breaking and we were in that half light where you could make out most things but the detail was lacking.

For some reason Ally decided to cross the burn early, well before the hut and in the half light he didn’t notice the glaze of ice formed over the rocks. About half way across he slipped and fell and even I heard the crack and I knew then and there it wasn’t going to be good. By the time I got to him his wrist was already swollen and even a blind man could tell it was broken. Shit, what to do? Clearly Ally had to go back down to hospital and Ali was going with him. She would need help to get him down as he could walk ok but was in pain and would need to take it slow.

So we rigged up a sling and back down we went, meeting party after party of climbers on their way up who gave us odd looks of “why ya going down?”  And me, I’d just switched off by now, decided it wasn’t to be and was happily chilled at the prospect of an early bath.

Now Ally is a sociable character who makes friends easily and as we descended the track we bumped into a party of lads who he had met in a cafe the evening before and who he’d struck up a conversation with. After the initial enquiry and explanation of events Ally pointed out that it was a shame for me as I now had to miss out on a day’s climbing. Me, I’d already switched off and was ready for a pint (ok, maybe a little early) and the drive back up north so, while I appreciated Ally’s concern, I was good. So then one of the lads said that they were a party of three and I could hook up with one of them and that it would work out all round. One of their group was a novice and if I could take him that would be great. Now I could see my easy day on the hill turn into a bit of a ball breaker so I happily pointed out that I hadn’t brought any gear. Yes I had my harness, axes and crampons but as I was going to make up a rope of three, essentially following Ally up the climbs, I hadn’t brought any of my own ice screws etc. I was carrying Ally’s rope and a few nuts but that was it. So then Ally handed over the rest of his gear and Ali handed over what she was carrying and there I was faced with the prospect of turning round, going back onto the Ben, with someone else’s gear and with a novice partner I didn’t know from Adam.

The lad’s name was Niall and as I looked a little closer I realised it was Niall Grimes. Shit. What could I say? So I said “Hi Niall, I’m Bob, what do you fancy climbing?” and he said “point 5” and I thought “you can fuck that, mate, the queue will be four parties deep by now, I have you as a winter novice, I have someone else’s rope and gear and frankly I don’t feel much like committing suicide” So I said “Hmmm, perhaps we should try something a little more straightforward” and we headed off to do Comb Gully.

When we got there we moved up to a stance just below the rocky outcrop and waited for a party to move off before I moved up and set up a belay. Can I just say now how much I love climbing with other people’s gear and a new partner who I don’t know?  It’s the ease with which you can find everything, how you know how everything fits together and how it all falls into place......or perhaps not. In any case I set Niall off on the first pitch and to be fair he flew up it, like he was a natural. I think he might have strung together two pitches because when he did bring me up I was facing the crux pitch which was fine and I knocked this off, brought Niall up and then he finished off the climb and we topped out into brilliant sunshine and a wonderful day on the Ben.

(aside: Right now the whole fuckin’ world is questioning why I allowed a complete winter novice to set off leading the first pitch of his first ever winter climb. But the truth is that it all made sense at the time. Grimer is no slouch at climbing, has the experience to understand protection and set up belays and was completely up for the challenge. So who was I to blow against the wind?)

Out on the top a big smile crossed my face, I began to relax and thought “great, nice easy route, time to chill and then head back down and home”....... Only Niall had other plans. “What next” he says.

So we abed back down number 4 gully to see what was available.  I had thought about doing Green Gully but it had a big queue so I opted for number 3 gully buttress. And again I set Niall off first thinking he would breeze the first pitch which was essentially a snow ramp.

He was out of sight from my belay and after about an hour of very little progress I was thinking “what the fuck is he doing?” so I start hollering to check if he was ok and he must have thought I was a right cock. In any case, when I did eventually get the shout it turned out that he had chosen the hardest start option which was really the beginning of another climb the name of which escapes me now. I think it’s a grade IV or V at least.  So fair play to him, he certainly had balls and some skill to go with them.

Anyway, the next couple of pitches took us to the stance just before the step across the gap and it was Niall who had lead this last one so that when I got there I saw he was attached to a single sling placed over a block and nothing else and he was looking straight up to where the last party had gone and I said “nope, the true route goes right, across this step. So I headed across, making the “come to Jesus” step in an ok style and then hitting the ledge which was fully banked out. The snow was consolidated but not so’s you could place any protection and as I eased my way across I prayed that I didn’t take a whipper as I didn’t think Niall’s sling would hold us both and if it didn’t we would both be making the evening news. Then Niall called to me to stop ‘cos he wanted to take a photo and I obliged while secretly shitting myself and then I made it out onto the top and started to breathe again.

I set up the belay and brought Niall across and he made the comment that it was a little exposed and we smiled and sat there for a while and took in the sun. The Ben was buzzing, seemed like half the world was up there that day and then Al Hinkes walked over and started chatting to Niall and I was sitting there thinking “this isn’t real”.

So we abed back down number 4 gully and I swear there must have been 100 people moving off the Ben via that route at that moment but by the time we got to the CIC I think we were the only ones left. Niall had started to move a little slow and I was in a hurry to get back to the car park as I had another 3hrs in the car to go. We sat down for a drink and exchanged any gear we had crossed over. I asked if he would be ok getting back down on his own and assumed he would catch up with his mates in the car park. He was fine with this and off I went. By this time it was dark.

Looking back it probably wasn’t a really great thing to do. But in truth we’d had very little rapport, no real banter and no real chat. It might have been my mood, it might have been his. As I said earlier, I’m not an easy person to get on with but I’m pretty sure he survived ;-)



Saturday, 19 November 2011

A visit with Archie

A visit to Archie’s – a climber’s story
far enough away to gain seclusion, yet within reach of those whose genuine interest prompts them to make the trip...”
The road ran straight ahead as far as the eye could see and the land lay open and bare on either side of the scar with nothing on the horizon save what man had put there or allowed to remain.
This was once the land of the Cree, Assiniboine, Blackfoot and Sioux but these people had been disenfranchised, confined to reserves, overwhelmed by disease, hunger and immigrant numbers. And the once great Bison herds that had kept them in food, clothing and shelter, had long since disappeared.
We drove west towards the Rockies. Seven hours (give or take) of some of the easiest driving known to man, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Canmore, Alberta door to door. Get up to 120 Km/Hr, hit cruise and sit back. One fuel stop would do it.
It was winter and we would stay in the Alpine Club hut, an excellent, comfortable and quiet residence just outside of the town and a little away from the party houses that attract less dedicated clientele. Of course, if I were a few years younger it would be a different tale to tell.
But this isn’t a climbing story. This is the story of a different pilgrimage to a different place. This is the story of a visit to Archie’s, a visit to Grey Owl’s.
We were faced with a dilemma. The climbing trips to the mountains were great but time and distance confined these to two or three visits per year. The local wall in Saskatoon had closed and the replacement for it had not yet been completed. The only option was the university wall and this was small and top rope only. We needed to broaden our horizons.
Saskatchewan is known as a prairie province, a land so flat that on a clear day you can see the back of your head. But this is only true of the bottom half and then only really true of certain areas, primarily around the number one trans-Canada highway. This is what most visitors experience as they try to cross the prairie as quickly as possible.
As you travel north there are some real gems but you have to look a little to find them. The South Saskatchewan River meanders its way north east towards Hudson’s Bay through a secluded cut in the land (once it is free of Lake Diefenbaker) and the wonderful Qu’ Appelle river valley runs east towards Lake Winnipeg. North of Saskatoon the land begins to roll a little, the Birch and Aspen woodland becomes a more regular feature. There are numerous small lakes and some spectacular wetlands which attract a vast array of migratory birds during the spring and fall. Moose and Deer are a regular hazard on the roads.
Where the farmland of the prairie ends is Prince Albert, a small city on the North Saskatchewan River beyond which the great boreal forest begins. A vast expanse of pristine wilderness reaching up to the arctic tundra, the forest is home to much wildlife and few roads although the initial lakes are over developed with weekend cabins and power boat enthusiasts.
In 1927 the Canadian government dedicated almost 1,500 sq miles of the forest to a National Park and named it after Queen Victoria’s husband or the city 80km to the south, you can take your pick which. Within its boundaries lies the small resort town of Waskesiu at the southern end of a lake of the same name.
Also within its boundaries, but in a much more remote location, lies the cabin home of Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, the naturalist and conservationist who was also known as Grey Owl. A visit to Archie’s was our next adventure.
He was born in Hastings, England in 1888 as Archie Belaney and died of pneumonia in Prince Albert in 1938 as Grey Owl. His life was both interesting and controversial and is well documented. Those who wish to be derogatory will highlight the fact that he was, in essence, a bigamist, a con man and a drunk. Those who wish to be benevolent will look to his writing (3 bestselling books) and his pioneering work on conservation.
Either way, his small cabin on the shores of Ajawaan Lake has become a shrine. It is where he is buried along with one of his wives, Anahareo and one of his children, Shirley Dawn and is a place of tranquil beauty set deep in the wilderness of the park. It requires some commitment to get to but may touch your soul if you make the journey.
From the Waskesiu town site you can follow the Kingsmere road west and then north along the eastern shore of Waskesiu Lake. After about 15 km the road turns to gravel and after 32.5 kms you will find yourself in the Kingsmere car park.
There are several choices for travel in to Grey Owl’s; Hiking, Canoeing, Kayaking or motor boat although the later is restricted to small 40hp craft and is rarely undertaken due to the difficulties encountered in getting up the Kingsmere river.
The short Kingsmere River connects Kingsmere Lake to Waskesiu Lake. Kingsmere lake is roughly 12 km long and 8km wide and has a reputation for becoming a “churning and dangerous ” body of water in a very short space of time. 600m north of Kingsmere Lake lies Ajawaan Lake and Grey Owl’s cabin.
The hike to Grey Owl’s is 20km from the car park along the eastern shore of Kingsmere Lake. It is a rough forest trail in which you will encounter deadfall obstacles. There are several campsites along the way with the last one being the Northside site. You could push it to Northside in 4 hrs but 6hrs would be more pleasant and from there you have another 3km to get to the cabin. The round trip is likely to be a minimum of 2 days.
We, however, weren’t looking for a long walk; we wanted to experience the lake and to reach more secluded areas so we decided to go in by Kayak.
The forecast was perfect. Clear sunny days for Saturday and Sunday with low wind and warm temperatures, little or no chance of rain and a slight increase in the wind from the North West for Monday. That would put it behind us for the return leg.
My Kayak was a bright yellow Valley Skerray. It’s the original fibreglass version which is classed as a good beginner’s boat with a little more stability and a little less speed. I put it on top of the Jeep and loaded my camping gear, food, clothing etc. into the back. At 6.30 am on the Saturday morning I drove round to Richard’s and loaded his gear and kayak. His was a Valley Nordkapp, a faster, slimmer, less stable craft for the more experienced paddler.
I took the number 11 highway up from Saskatoon to Prince Albert. It is currently being turned onto a duel carriageway which is making the journey a little quicker. At P.A. I filled up with petrol and continued on to the National Park. The road goes north to La Ronge, a popular staging post for fly-in fishing camps and those heading onto the Churchill River system. We would turn off after about 60km and head into Waskesiu.
I have an annual National Park pass so we didn’t need to stop at the entry gate to the park but we did need to stop at the warden station in Waskesiu to buy our back country passes and camping permits. The total cost was less than $40 for 2 of us for 3 nights so it wasn’t too bad but the idea that you need permission to go into the backcountry is something us Brits find a little unsettling. This type of restriction is confined to the park areas. There are vast tracts of land over which there is no jurisdiction.
We were at the Kingsmere car park by 10am and had packed the kayaks with our gear by 10.30am. Somewhat unique to our gear, from a European perspective, was the inclusion of Bear Spray and Bear Bangers. The latter was to scare an intruding bear off and the former was to give you a fighting chance if the latter hadn’t worked.
Black bear attacks are exceptionally rare but they do occur and have been known to be predatory in nature. My travelling companion has a large scar on each arm and one on his head as testament to the time when a Black Bear came through his tent wall while he was in his sleeping bag. It’s not something you should waste too much time dwelling on but it is something you should have an awareness of. In any case, Cougars, Bull Moose and Bull Elk during the rut are likely to get you first.
As for the wolves, there is little documentary evidence to support the idea that they would normally attack. There was one notable case in Saskatchewan related to wolves which had become accustomed to humans through visiting the local rubbish tip and had attacked and killed a man but the overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. In fact, many old trappers have noted the presence of Wolves in and around their campsites at night and none had ever reported an attack on themselves.  Attacks on their dogs were another thing entirely.
The Kingsmere River is a gloriously rich oasis of life which meanders gracefully through the forest and simply sets the scene for the rest of the trip. We entered it from the trail that leads down from the car park. It was very high and flowing faster than usual. The North Country had had significant rain fall earlier in the summer and the effects were still being felt in September. Once in, we paddled upstream in brilliant sunshine.
After about 400m the river turns to rapids and, although not severe (possibly grade 1) they present a significant obstacle to a fully loaded sea kayak or canoe. As a result there is a railway portage which is 1km long and affords you the luxury of being able to load your craft onto a heavy metal cart and push it beyond the rapids on rail tracks. The original track was only the length of the rapids but this had been extended to take you almost to the lake. This type of portage was not unusual throughout the Canadian canoe routes and helped the Voyageurs ( speed up the transport of fur bales and goods.
Unfortunately, if you aren’t the first on to the portage then you have to walk to the other end of the track to retrieve the cart from where it was left by the previous user. This isn’t unpleasant but can be a little time consuming. Once loaded there are handles and a brake system to help push and control the speed.
We retrieved the cart from the lake end and loaded our Kayaks. You can put back into the river just after the rapids, which is a much shorter haul but there are a number of fallen trees blocking the river above this point making it an interesting section to navigate. As a result we pushed on to the end of the tracks and rolled the kayaks down the ramp and into the river.
It was warm, sunny and calm on the river so we didn’t put on our spray decks. As we entered the Kingsmere Lake we realised our mistake as the waves rolled over the top of the kayaks. The wind was stronger than we had anticipated and was coming out of the north which meant the waves were at their height at the point where we entered the lake.
We quickly diverted to the beach at Southend camp site and recovered the situation. We then headed north into a headwind and some choppy water with spray decks securely in place and thankfully so.
It is recommended that small water craft head up along the east side of the lake sticking close to the shore. As indicated earlier, Kingsmere can turn from a mill pond to a very challenging and dangerous state in a very short space of time. It is not uncommon for canoeists to be wind bound for a couple of days. For kayaks it can be a little easier provided you are confident in rough water as the waves won’t fill the boat.
Our plans were different. The main campsites are on the east or north side but we were heading to a more remote site on the far North West corner which can only be reached by boat. Bladebone bay is the start of a portage into some very challenging territory. As a result we were heading up the west side.
Paddling into the wind is a relatively easy exercise provided it isn’t too strong. Every now and then a wave would wash over the top but we remained relatively dry and the sun was shining and warm.
We passed the warden station early on, a posting I wouldn’t mind having myself. The fishing season was closed on the lake which was good for the somewhat rare lake trout and good for us as we seemed to be the only ones out there. It was likely the warden station would be closed soon but a flag was flying as we passed indicating that someone was still at home.
We paddled for a little over an hour and then pulled into a sheltered beach to have some lunch. It was pleasantly relaxing sitting on a log looking out on to the lake with no one else around. For me, the sense of isolation was a tremendous tonic and I felt entirely comfortable with the situation.
After lunch we continued north, passing Pease Point and heading out across the lake with the Bagwa Channel to our left. The Bagwa loop is a short chain of lakes and portages which might take two days to complete depending on weather, fitness and timelines. We had snow shoed in there in the past in temperatures of minus 20 degrees but a kayak trip would wait for another day.
At a little after 3 pm we paddled into Bladebone bay in calm and pleasant conditions. We pulled the kayaks onto the beach and went to check out the campsite. As expected we were alone and had the choice of sites, each with its own fire pit. There was a good pile of cut logs, a toilet and a bear platform to hang your food up on. We set up the tents (Richard snores), made a fire and got the supper going. It was a wonderfully calm night with an almost full moon and the lake was like glass.
We sat by the fire and talked till dark with a couple of shots of Glenfidich (for medicinal purposes only). The nearest human life was perhaps an hour away across the lake in Northside campsite and our nearest emergency help was 4-5 hrs away depending on conditions. There is no cell phone coverage out there but we did have a signal beacon with us for use in dire emergency.
Our intent was to travel across to Northside the next morning and hike the short distance (about 3km) into Grey Owl’s. We would then paddle back to Bladebone for a second night. The idea was for a pleasant and relaxed Sunday trip with no need for rushing or speed.
The forest at night is quiet but not silent. The hoot of an owl or the haunting cry of a loon ( on the lake can be regularly heard and there is often the sound of undergrowth breaking as nocturnal creatures go about their business. Our food was hung up out of the way from interested bears and we had cooked a good distance from the tents. No food was in the tents and I slept soundly in the knowledge that we had both bangers and spray should the need arise. There had clearly been a wolf digging at one of the camp sites before our arrival but no wolf was heard that night.
The morning arrived to a different sound, waves crashing on the beach.
Weather forecasts in Canada are possibly as accurate as anywhere else but this is not an endorsement and today was to be a case in point. Despite clear sunny conditions being forecast with zero precipitation, here we were in the middle of a system with strong winds blowing out of the east and while it wasn’t raining when we got out of our tents it was surely going to.
We ate breakfast and prepared to leave for Northend. Richard said he was going to put on his wet suit as it would be warmer if we dumped in the lake. I followed his lead but mine was a heavy surfing suit designed for the north coast of Scotland and once in the kayak I felt hot, restricted and sick. I paddled on through some exciting waves as the banks on the north side of the lake are steep and rocky and there was nowhere to put in to change. It was raining steadily now.
By the time we got to Northside I was fit to burst and was mightily relieved to get out of the wet suit. It was still raining so I pulled on a shirt and a lightweight waterproof and elected to hike in shorts. We both wore closed toe hiking sandals which make sense when you are constantly standing in water. We pulled the kayaks high onto the bank and into the trees.
We set off on the trail for Ajawaan and Grey Owl’s.  Ajawaan comes up relatively quickly as it is only 600m north of Kingsmere. It is a much smaller lake and relatively sheltered and the rain had slowed to a spit. Grey Owl’s cabin, however, is a further 2.5km round on the west side of the lake. The trail is well maintained with boardwalks where it is steep or boggy. There are various information panels along the way.
And finally we were there. The site is just as it is in the pictures with the main cabin situated on the shore of the lake and a further, later, cabin built up on the hill for Grey Owl’s wife and visitors at the time. There is a visitor’s book to sign and the interior of the cabin is stark and uncomfortable. I suspect it was a cosier place when Archie lived there. Within the cabin there is also the beaver lodge where his two “pet” beavers lived. A little way along from the upper cabin is the grave site where the remains of Grey Owl, Anahareo and Shirley Dawn lie buried.
A visit to Grey Owl’s is a uniquely personal experience. I had always wanted to come here and it did not disappoint me. I was reluctant to leave but content with what I found. As we headed back along the trail the sun was trying to break through.
When we reached the kayaks the sky was brightening up a little and the lake looked relatively calm. We checked out the Northside campsite and I was a little envious to find a reasonably new permanent shelter with a wood burning stove. I would be thinking more about that later in the day.
We had some lunch and then set off for Bladebone again. Almost immediately the wind got up and the lake turned to waves and white horses. It was an east wind and we were heading west which might seem ok except that, in a kayak, you tend to surf waves coming from behind you and this can make life a little interesting, especially in an empty craft. The waves were up to a meter high at times and I was paddling with full skeg. I lifted it just to see what would happen and was immediately pitched sideways on to the wind and waves. I quickly dropped the skeg again and turned the kayak in the direction I wanted. Dumping into the lake in this state would not have been fun. The real fear would by hypothermia and I never wished I had a dry suit so much in my life.
As we travelled west a large bald eagle followed us, flying from tree to tree and stopping to watch. It felt good to have him there although he would surely be heading south soon. Eventually we surfed up onto the beach at Bladebone and pulled the kayaks well into the trees for shelter.
We put up a tarp cover for some shelter but a fire was out of the question. We could probably have got one going using birch bark as a starter but it would have meant standing in the rain which would have defeated the object. It was a little before 4 pm and we decided to retire to our tents and get a little sleep and warm up in our bags. At about 5.30pm we rose for supper and chatted into the evening. We finished off the Glenfidich and retired to bed. At this point it started to rain very heavily and we began to have some concerns about the journey back the next day.
Somewhere around midnight I rose to take a leak. The sky was crystal clear and the moon shone through the trees. The temperature had dropped to a little above freezing and the forest dripped from the recent rain. A loon cried out on the lake. It was perfectly still with no wind. It was perfectly beautiful.
As the dawn broke a combination of mist and low cloud returned. This gave the lake a moody look yet it felt totally without malevolence. We had breakfast, packed away our things and set off in sunshine with a much cooler west wind at our side. We had the shelter of the west shore trees and pulled into one secluded bay to check out the camping possibilities. You can wild camp anywhere in the park provided you are at least 2km away from a designated site. This might be one for another trip. As we got back into the kayaks we heard wolves calling in the distance.
With the wind to our side and the waves quite small we made good progress across the lake. We entered the head of the Kingsmere River after a little under 3hrs. We decided to stick to the river until the top of the rapids where there is a grassy platform on which to exit. This would save a considerable haul on the rail cart but we had to negotiate a fallen tree across the river. As it turned out this was more of an inconvenience than a considerable obstacle.
You need to be quick to get into the bank at the point of exit otherwise you will be into the rapids and have to take your chances. It would not be good for a fibreglass sea kayak. We, however, made the manoeuvre fine and landed up on the grassy bank where we had some lunch before taking the short walk to collect the rail cart. We loaded the kayaks and took them down past the rapids to the final leg of the journey. The last 400m of the river were peaceful and relaxing and, as I watched Richard exit onto the bank we had left 2 days earlier I felt a tinge of sadness. I would have stayed a while longer but the real world was calling so we loaded up the Jeep and headed home.

As for Archie, I have this to say; he may have been a bigamist, a con man and a drunk but I can see how circumstances conspired against him. His alcoholism might be explained by his service in the 1st World War as a sniper where he was wounded and spent some time in hospital. His bigamy could be due to the expanse of land and sea over which he travelled, the social expectations of the time and the practicalities of divorce in those days. It may also be due to his abandonment by his parents. And as for his con, well his desire to be known as a first nation’s member was not borne out of a desire to make money. He lived his life as a native long before he was made famous and this fame was thrust upon him through his efforts to change the way the world thinks about conservation. His desire to live out his life in the Canadian wilderness as a member of its aboriginal people was a childhood dream and as someone who did the same, long before I had ever heard of Grey Owl, I can hardly hold that against him. After all, you only need to know my other UKC name to know this is true ;-)
The last word belongs to Grey Owl: “I hope you understand me, I am not particularly anxious to be known at all; but my place is back in the woods, there is my home and there I stay. But in this country of Canada, to which I am intensely loyal, and whose natural heritage I am trying to interpret so that it may be better understood and appreciated, here, at least, I want to be known for what I am”