Friday, January 15, 2010

Following Verlen and Valerie-XII-To Slave Lake and Slave River

Continuing on the Mackenzie:

Wikipedia: Fort Simpson. is a village...located on an island at the confluence of the Mackenzie and Liard Rivers...(it) was first started as a trading site in 1803 then named Fort of the Forks post..."

Fortunately for the Krugers, it has a hospital.

Valerie: "When we arrived at Fort Simpson we caught a ride to the hospital where X-rays were taken of Verlen's back. The doctor said being on the river was a great risk, and that Verlen had suffered a 'massive muscle tear'. Verlen was still in great pain and had difficulty even walking. We knew he couldn't possibly paddle...

There were some difficult decisions to be made...we couldn't end the expedition...(after) much soul searching...we purchased a used six hp motor to assist us until Verlen could paddle again...Verlen supervised the building of a flat transom and platform that would fit between the canoes and hold the motor. We used that motor from Fort Simpson to Fort McMurray - approximately 1000 miles."

Then she describes the stresses and strains on the rig and their partnership as a result of having to travel with a noisy outboard motor. I have never seen a photograph of that rig.

Valerie continuing: "We traveled up the remainder of the Mackenzie to Great Slave Lake, crossed the south end of the lake and stopped at Hay River and Fort was a long 200 mile stretch up the Slave River to Fort Smith...Using the motor was a disappointment to us but it certainly didn't effect the warm, friendly greetings from people on shore...the Royal Canadian Mountie at Fort Providence even...drove us to the gas station to fill up our gas cans."

They traveled on to Fort Smith, just below the famous Slave River "Rapids of the Drowned", then Fort Chipewayan and the Athabasca River to Fort McMurray where Verlen pronounced himself ready to paddle.

I mounted my Google Earth virtual helicopter and followed along.

Great Slave Lake is the deepest lake in North America and 9th largest in the world.

Hay River is a town located on the south shore of Great Slave Lake at the mouth of the Hay River. The area has been used by Indians as far back as 7000 B.C.

Fort Resolution is located at the mouth of the Slave River on the south shore of Great Slave Lake. It is the oldest documented community in the Northwest Territories.

Fort Smith is a town on the Slave River adjacent to the Alberta/Northwest Territories border. The Indian name was Thebacha, "beside the rapids". It is at the end of an ancient portage around what were considered to be four impassible rapids.

Both Verlen and Valerie tell of arriving at Fort Smith just below the famous Slave River "Rapids of the Drowned" but neither tell how they got their cobbled together, hybrid catamaraned Sea Winds-with-outboard-motor above these rapids and the three big rapids above them.

This is an example of why it is so regrettable that neither Verlen nor Valerie nor anyone else did a book on the Two Continent Canoe Expedition.

In their 1987 book One Incredible Journey Verlen and Clayton Klein go into 17 pages of detail about Verlen's and Clint Wadell's 1971 adventures paddling in and portaging around these Slave River rapids.

Here are extracts about these rapids from Verlen and Brad Frentz's 2005 book The Ultimate Canoe Challenge when Verlen and Mark McCorckle went through in 1981 (partner and son-in-law Steve Landick had gone on ahead by himself): "There are four main rapids, Cassette, Pelican, Mountain and Rapids of the Drowned, each about a mile long. As the name of the last one suggests, these are dangerous waters and through the centuries many lives have been lost in them...I had a copy of Alexander Mackenzie's journal...It pleased me to follow his detailed descriptions; they were still accurate and useful. Mackenzie and his party went through this wild stretch of river in 1798 and needed nine portages. Mark and I used the same nine portages and they were still good."

Verlen and Mark also ran some of the rapids

"I had come through these rapids before, and we studied them carefully before the trip. So I knew what to expect. But we still landed above each rapids and looked things over".

We used the same procedure during my 1948 wilderness canoe trip in Western Ontario. The Canadian Government maps we navigated with always showed where the rapids were and you could always tell by the sound when you were approaching them. The four of us would get out of our canoes and walk the banks and plot out a route as best we could. Each canoe crew misjudged once. My brother and I wiped out when we didn't hit a big "V" dead center and had to ride the rest of the rapids "bareback" (you swim on your back with your feet downstream ahead of PFDs in those days).

Verlen describes shooting the Cassette Rapids in detail. He goes on: "The remaining three rapids were runnable using Mackenzie's descriptions, and we came into Fort Smith in good shape".

Next: To Fort McMurray.

No comments: