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Sacred Rock


Moody Skies
We were nearly there. A mere 20 miles not 500 flowed between us and the Dempster Highway. Somehow though, these were the hardest. Our motivation was lacking. Perhaps tired as well, but mainly we had lost our paddling mojo. Niall compared it to the feeling actors get on the last night of a show and the "get out". When we might have expected to feel excited about reaching our objective we actually felt quite deflated. Also fed up with paddling!

A large island appeared on the horizon. In places the river was 4 miles wide so taking a left or a right around a shoal such as this had mileage consequences. I got the map out, fairly confident due to the size of the island where we were, but wanting to check it against GPS. Niall piped up from the back, "is it the Isle of Wight?". I said something about how his contribution is always valued and carried on ignoring him to get a fix on our location. 

True enough we had got to Shiltee Rock. You have to be careful how you say that! I was intrigued as pretty much nothing else had been named on the map like that for the previous month. Prominently rising from the ridge line a strange broken jumble of rock stood out. We moored beneath it, and Niall not feeling it, I ascended by myself through the woods toward the rock. Being alone for the first time in weeks felt very strange. Paranoia hit me straight away and I drew the bear spray canister from my hip holster. Following a trail through the dense birch and spruce it was clear others had come before. Coke cans hanging off string marked the way. At a steepening the trees parted and I was at the improbable outcrop of vertical crazy paving. 

View From Shiltee Rock
Although I had no previous knowledge of the place I got the distinct impression that this was a site of importance, sacred even. I'm afraid the climber in me defeated my reverence and I cautiously scrambled to the top, gingerly weighting each block first, expecting the whole thing to fall apart at any moment. 

What a view! Taiga forest everywhere but interspersed with little lakes and hills. The commanding position added to the cathedral like experience. I did feel bad that I may have climbed something sacred but then I've climbed a few cathedrals  and churches in my time so I hope it was in the spirit of appreciation rather than desecration!

Shiltee Rock
Since returning I've been able to research Shiltee and it transpires that it is indeed a special place for the Gwich'in. Legend has it that a pubescent girl defied her ritual seclusion and witnessed her father and brothers returning from the hunt. As a result they turned to stone. This seems striking similar to a San Bushman tradition where anyone witnessing a girl in her coming of age seclusion will be frozen in whatever position they are in. These warning stories could be interpreted as ways to ensure culture and tradition is upheld by the next generation. Without intending any disrespect I have to say I would be rooting for the brave girl who questioned why she should be locked up rather than the men who had put her there!

Nearly There