It has taken us a little longer to reach Fort Simpson than we had originally planned, but only a couple of days. The weather has been very changeable and we have been hounded by more thunderstorms and high winds which have slowed or stopped our progress each day.
We are almost at our 3-month milestone which is very exciting, and the Mackenzie River has not disappointed. Our last update was from Fort Providence just at the beginning of the River proper and since then we have been impressed by the size and power of it. The River is very wide, and – for the most part – fast moving, with us being able to paddle at 10km per hour which is fantastic after having such slow water since Whitecourt so long ago!
Our first day on the River was an exciting and scary one. We crossed Mills Lake which is actually a bend in the river which bulges out so wide you can barely see the other side. During the crossing of this lake we were caught in a very fast moving thunder and lightning storm we did not see coming. A flash of light all around us, followed almost instantly by a huge crash of thunder. To say it was rather frightening would be an understatement! We paddled as hard as we could to get out of the danger area through 10-15knot winds, huge swells and waves crashing into and over the side of the boat as we were broadsided by the storm. Were we not to have a splashdeck and spray-skirts we would surely have swamped and been swimming to shore.
The next couple of days were spent pushing against the wind, though the campsites were good with sandy beaches to rest our weary bodies on overnight. The camping options have deteriorated since that time, and now we have seen hardly any spots we would be able to set up. The river has been clear and easy to take water from but at Fort Simpson the Liard River joins which is both a blessing and a bane. The good side is that the Liard is itself a big river and heavily laden with silt and sediment, so I am hoping the camping will be easier afterwards. On the downside, because of the silt it will be harder to collect water.
There has been a large anthrax outbreak in the bison in the area which took me by surprise to learn. Apparently, anthrax occurs naturally in the soil as bacterial spores, and in hot weather the bison roll in the dirt, releasing the spores and die in rather short order. We have watched helicopters delivering charcoal and fuel to the North shore to burn the bodies after covering them in a preservant before the burn-teams arrive. Around 150 animals have died on the last count we heard – truly remarkable as I never suspected anything like that would happen. Perhaps that is why we have not seen any!
We have also had a lot of smoke each day from huge wildfires that have been burning (some out of control) in Northern Alberta which has concerned as at times. We have awoken, and paddled in days where we can barely see the shore from dense smoke. Thankfully, this cleared completely when the river narrowed towardsthe small settlement of Jean-Marie, some 70km from Fort Simpson, a relatively large town of 1,200 people.
The fishing has been much better for us in the clearer water, and we have caught some decent Pike which have made fantastic eating. Bony, but delicious! We are making the most of it whilst we are able to catch them.
As the river is faster (hopefully this will last a while) we are going to be paddling bigger distances each day, aiming at 50km. We would like to get to Inuvik and our final destination a few days ahead of schedule just incase the Mackenzie Delta is slow or the weather bad as it can be for days at a time on the Arctic Ocean.
Our next stop is a town called Wrigley, almost a week away, so will post more about our progress and some more pictures then!