The Canyon

Niall Sizing Up the Canyon Ahead
The infamous Peel Canyon has been playing on our minds for the best part of 2 years now. Accounts of others who had paddled this way all referred to the canyon in ushered tones of deference and sometimes fear. This was the crux section. A 90 degree left hand turn at the end of the Wind River. Having swelled with water from the entire catchment area the river here was at its strongest. A wall of rock rises from the rapids a couple of hundred metres high. The water smashes into the rock at 20-25 kmph creating a recirculating wave sucking floatsom down beneath the undercut cliff. The water that escapes hits buttresses of stone leading to a powerful series of whirlpools. Jagged splintered trees are pushed and crushed like kindling into the caves at the water line. These form pungi sticks to trap anything that has the misfortune to enter their clutches. It is enough to make a couple of paddlers setting up on the bank feel a little sick!

The Canyon's Teeth

We had made excellent time to the head of the canyon the day before. The river moved very fast. With the rain we had and losing 450 meters of height during the day GPS logged us as moving at 16km per hour plus. I actually found it a bit stressful as every river running decision had to be made so fast. To find another idyllic campsite right before the canyon was a very welcome treat. Framed by gorgeous flutes of orange rock our campside pool both offered a "refreshing" swim and provided some lovely Arctic Grayling fish. We set up camp and got the fire going

Calzone the Ultimate Camp Comfort Food

This camp marked the end of the Wind River. We knew the next week would involve getting our heads down and knocking out some serious mileage down the slower moving Peel River. Through binoculars we tried to read the rapids beyond our camp. Neither of us wanting to say what we were thinking. An uncertain truth hung in the apprehension between us. It looked easy! Don't get me wrong if you took the line river right you would probably die! Once committed there was no option to stop so you need to get it spot on first time around. River left looked okay though. If we just made for the far side of the river and skirted the slightly submerged gravel banks without them throwing us right we might just make it on the edge of the rapids. Away from the whirlpools and caves of doom! There is a rule in paddling that the length of time you spend staring at a rapid is directly proportional to the time you spend getting mashed in it! We stopped looking.

Super Moon at Canyon Camp
Fortunately we had a stunning night to distract us. A rare Super Moon rose. Orbiting slightly closer to the Earth it appears larger than usual. This combined with it's full state and it being the last camp on the Wind seemed significant. I wanted tomorrow to go smoothly. Actually I wanted to nail it. Not only run the canyon without accident but run it in such away that the River would have to accept us as worthy of traveling it. Of course this was more about proving to myself that this wasn't a hair brained scheme after away and that the planning and preparation would see us through. I plugged my headphones in to accompany the roar of the rapids below, visualizing the perfect line down the river in my mind.

Sun Setting Over the Peel Canyon
A couple of days before we had discovered that we had been over rationing the cheese. It is hard to explain what an exciting discovery this was. With only a week and a bit to go we basically couldn't eat enough cheese! This led to a run of cheese toasties for breakfast. This morning was no exception and the dense rye bread and plastic cheese certainly crushed any remaining butterflies in our stomachs.

Made for Cheese Toasties?

Niall Multitasking
This was a significant part of our story, so we took no chances in filming it. Batteries changed and fresh memory cards loaded, we fitted a GoPro to the front deck of the canoe facing back towards me, and another on Niall's head looking forward. The time to commit was upon us. A quick conference on the plan, we floated the boat, and hopped in. Immediately we had to paddle hard upstream as we were on river right and to do nothing would seal our fate. Glancing over my right shoulder I took in the glassy sections of water and the white froth indicating the rocks to avoid. I waited to the last possible moment and then opening the paddle to resist water the boat turned, slowly at first, then as the flow caught it we were on our way at speed. Fixated on the water we were heading towards the hazards slipped past us almost unnoticed. We had to concentrate on were we were going not what we wanted to avoid. Too much speed on the corner. The front of the boat dipped into an eddy initiating a fast tight turn. The boat rocked violently, first against the water, then against our slightly uncoordinated counter reactions to keep her steady. Two weeks before this would have been a capsize, but as it was the flutter was over, and the worst section avoided. We were relived but also felt almost cheated that it had been that straight forward. We had faced far worse on previous days. We just hadn't had the time to get worked up about those. A strong lesson in the role of mindset in these things. We relaxed into the grandeur of the Canyon itself. The Wind was behind us. We were mentally and physically heading home. All be it in completely the wrong direction, slower than before and heading into the Arctic Circle!

Survived the Peel Canyon