Got underway a little late this morning. By the time we packed down camp and ate and actually got moving it was 11am. Chasing the light last night meant pushing past midnight once again, so an unrushed morning is welcome every now and then.
Today is the big push… see if we can make to Big Horn Lake, our final destination for this leg of the journey. A kilometre into the hike however, our progress is impeded. The river we just crossed offers easy access to the Donjek River, and a close up view of the Donjek Glacier itself. Though it means using up a bit more time, we drop our packs and head down for a visit.
Without heavy packs, the walk down is a breeze, and we find ourselves face to face with the edge of the glacier looking up at a wall of ice, sculpted by nature. What an impressive place to stand!
I walk along the sand beach, strewn with massive chunks ice that have been breaking off the glacier every day. From our previous vantage point we caught glimpses of this process, seeing ice falling, and hearing the thunderous collision of the against ice, and ice and water. But only now am I seeing the aftermath. I walk between what seem like huge white boulders, slowly melting under the summer sun. I even crack off of small piece of ice, and savour it as it runes to water in my mouth.
We push on from after our side trip and 6km later we find ourselves at Big Horn Creek, the last water crossing before we can reach Big Horn Lake. A creek my arse! This is a raging a muddy river, with multiple braids! We are viewing it from a cliff straight down, and take a deep breath. Saving the bet for last I guess.
We pull out the map and strategize. We have no way of getting down the massive cliff edge, so we opt to hike upstream in hopes of catching a gulley down. There we will reassess and see if we’ll camp for the night and try in the morning.
Anyone who has ever crossed a river up here would know that timing is against us to begin with. We’ve arrived here at the worst possible time of the day to try try a crossing, late afternoon. The sun has been heating up the glaciers, causing the river to swell with runoff. But we’ve got Big horn Lake on the brain, and with it now being so close, we just have to give it a try.
As we had hoped, we catch a trail and a gulley down to the river edge and are surprised at how passable it looks. Adam, Carl and I all sigh with relief and cross the first couple braids of the river. Piece of cake. The braids get harder as we go though and soon, we’re dropping our packs to scout more closely. This also gives us a chance to warm up our frozen feet. We enter the water gain, and now we’re past knee deep, and getting up mighty close to the crotch region in freezing water. Worse than the cold though, is that strength of the current. At times, each step has to be dug in so one foot doesn’t get swept away. A fall here would be brutal. Our clothes, food and camping gear would be swept downstream. But worse, in some ways, is my painting gear, paintings that I’ve begun, video camera gear, laptop and electronics are all at risk too, as well as the footage that we’ve shot on this leg of the trip. Going down in not an option.
One step a a time, and one braid at a time we persist and slowly gain ground. Aching cold feet have to wait. We keep reminding ourselves of the prize… a calm Big Horn Lake where we can drop our heavy load for good. Nirvana.
An hour and a quarter passes, and Carl and I are sticking our feet into the warm sand on the other side of the river. Putting on hiking boot never felt so good.
The rive now behind us, its one last push. Map says we’re on track. An other hour or so and we catch a glimpse of a calm body of water in the distance. Then we round the corner to find an old park warden cabin, and a picnic table. We’ve made it at last. We pitch our tent for our last night on the Donjek Route, and sit upright at the picnic table for dinner. We are so civilized.
Tomorrow we fly out, thanks to John and Sylvie at Rocking Star Adventures, and regroup at their place for for the next leg of my expedition… canoeing on Mush and Bate Lakes at the southern end of Kluane National Park. Can’t wait.