We'd been so long at Brintnell Creek that is was difficult, in many respects, to leave this camp. Consequently, we took our time taking down the tent when it was nearly dry, having a leisurely breakfast and packing the gear carefully. Alex, Tania and Andrew, the climbers, were tired and were glad for the relaxed pace. Having prepared the maps, I knew that to make the campsite at Oxbow Lake above Virginia Falls on the August 3rd (our expected date) we needed to paddle 122 km in four days. Since we were planning to stay at Rabbitkettle Lake tonight and the next night that left just August 1 and August 2 to paddle about 100 km. I was a little nervous about the distance since I had read that the river was slow in the next section.
As with most mornings here it rained a little, but by the time we were prepared to leave it was mostly clear. We loaded the canoes, put on the spray skirt and shortly after noon we were ready to leave. We had only 15 km to travel today, so we paddled leisurely and enjoyed the view. By lunch time we had reached the boundary of the Nahanni National Park Reserve.
Despite the fact that the river is slower than above Brintnell Creek, we still made good time and by early evening reached the Rabbitkettle campsite and visitor check in. After docking the canoes we chatted at the kiosk with some members of a group of guys who were traveling the river by raft. There were 8 of these fellows who collectively referred to themselves as the "Rub-a-Dub 8". They were from B. C. and have been doing canoe trips together for about a decade. This was the first time they had tried rafting.
We also meet a canoeist who was traveling the river with a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. He agreed to do the heavy work on this trip in order that his friend, an experienced paddler, can enjoy a trip while his health lets him. This man confirmed for us that there are many reasons why people come to the Nahanni. Bill Mason, Canada's canoeing icon, was brought here one last time by family and friends just before he died of cancer in1988 1 (Becky Mason).
With the canoes safely stowed we walked to the warden's cabin on the shore of Rabbitkettle Lake. It was good to be out of the canoe and hiking, it was hot and we soon worked up a sweat as the trail wound its way up the slope to the lake. At the cabin we checked in and met with wardens John and Ann, who talked to us about the park regulations. The check-in posts at various points along the river ensure that in the event they get lost their last whereabouts are known.
We took a welcomed dip in Rabbitkettle Lake to cool off and to get clean. It was a warm afternoon and the coolness of the water was very refreshing. We leave the lake with reluctance and returned along the trail to the canoes. Ferrying across the lake we arrived at the campsite which is well marked with tent sites and food caches designated. We were warned to use the caches because it was only a few days ago that the area was closed because of the presence of a grizzly bear.
Setting up our camp, we talked to the Belgian canoeists who we met a few days ago. One of them asked if we have had dinner yet. When I said that we haven't, he offered me a large pot half filled with pea soup, the remains of their dinner. I eagerly accepted and thanked him wholeheartedly. The five of us ate the soup with gusto and began the preparation of our own dinner of pizza.
The weather in the afternoon and evening took a dramatic turn as the wind picked up and blasted down the river valley. At the far end of the campsite we saw the Belgians under a tarp that blew frantically in the wind. It began to cool down and people put on windbreakers and rain gear in anticipation of the impending storm. Our own rain tarp, that Alex and Tania pitched, came down with a crash. As predicted, the rain came down in a driving torrent for about 15 minutes and then as quickly as it came, resolved into a sunlit sky and a rainbow against the peak on the opposite bank. Despite the onslaught we continued to prepare the Pizza and re-pitch the rain tarp.
We have our dinner under the tarp and prepared bannock for our lunch tomorrow. The evening ended with a nightcap of vodka cocktails and songs.