A Gratuitous Helicopter Ride and a Foolish Search
Wednesday, August 11
Tomorrow arrives as another nice sunny day. Today, Joel & co. intend to climb as high onto Caubvick/D'Iberville as they can. They take our recommended 'south central' route and will not go further than the upper football field if they don't feel comfortable. They start up good and early ( a smart thing ). Jack & co. leave on their own side adventure. They'll be meeting us a few days later back at the landing strip. It is now just myself, Roland, Tom, John and Francois at our south base camp.
Another low-flying Christophe shot.
Park Archaeologists at work
As the morning draws on, Christophe and his sportily-flown chopper are up and down and everywhere. Mid-morning, Christophe lands (nothing like the daily helicopter visit to your camp - only up north!), and drops of a trio of park archaeologists who've heard about our finds and want to investigate. We describe the two sites we know of and show them pictures. They quickly identify the rock shelter from the other night as 'modern' (as in not archaeological), but the other site piques their interest.
We give them directions, and then Tom, Roland, Francois and I decide to tag along to see what a day in the life of an archeologist is like. When we reach the sites, they proclaim that they are indeed authentic "tooley" sites, probably about 100 years old, and were used as bases for hunting caribou in this valley. One of the indicators of age are the "paving stones", which one of the archaeologists tells me is indicative of a sport to place a whale-oil lamp. They also discover a couple of more sites nearby that we hadn't seen, including a cache/fox-trap site.
We return to camp, and Christophe lands to pick up the archeaologists. We inquire to Christophe about the possibility of a ride up and around the mountain to get extra footage for the documentary. We are given a noncommittal response, but there is some hope.
Later, I watch as Francois and John engage in a lazy afternoon of caribou antler carving, juggling, Neanderthal noises, and various other shenaningans. These two guys can be pretty goofy after days of dehydrated food and no TV! John looks like quite the Marlboro Man with his 20-some-odd year old cowboy hat!
The weather continues to be beautiful. The bugs are bad only when the breeze is not blowing, and I still marvel at how very nice it is to be able to walk around camp in sock feet on nice grassy ground.
Joel, Chris and Jimmy come back down from their climb (Joel is way ahead of the other two, as usual). The three of them had met three of our north team members on the upper football field near the summit (we had some members from the north team who hadn't climbed the mountain yet). Joel had teamed up with them and accompanied them along the Minaret Ridge to the summit. I had always suspected Joel would make it all the way to the summit - he seemed like a keen and fearless type. In any case, they are now going to pack up and head down to a campsite near the Koroc river where their canoes are located.
After dinner, the Nunavik Rotors helicopter touches down next to our camp (again!). Christophe puts up four fingers. Looks like we are going to get our mountain ride! Since this is primarily a way to get extra footage for the documentary, Francois gets to sit in front. Myself, Roland, and Tom hop in back.
Francois films the ascent
Christophe is a sports car driver in the air. He likes to zoom along just feet above the ground, next to cliffs, and with lots of swoopy turns up canyons. In no time, we are flying up and around the cliffs and ridges of Caubvick/D'Iberville. Francois hardly looks up from his camera viewfinder at all. A little bit of a drag for him, then, because he sees his entire helicopter ride from a videoscreen!
We point out the recovery sites for Dan and Sue. We position ourselves for a good look at the Minaret Glacier Headwall, where Sue was found, and of the inukshuk built above it. We then fly around and through the Koroc step, where Dan was found. What an amazingly narrow knife-edge it looks like from the air! We are then whisked back down to our camp. Total time... maybe 10 minutes. What an amazing ride. Many thanks are given to Christophe for his generous ride-around-the-mountain.
Plan view of Minaret headwall cliff
Tomorrow I am thinking of climbing a 4800+, apparently un-named, and perhaps unclimbed, peak above camp. We are thinking of naming it in honour of Susan or Dan, or both. John has agreed to accompany me up the mountain.
Directly over our camp
Shortly after the helicopter ride, Joel comes running up... saying that saying that Jimmy is missing. Apparently somehow in the sequence of events from hiking down the mountain, packing up their camp, and heading down to the river, they got separated. Joel and Chris have been looking out for him, even retracing their steps back up-valley, but to no avail. Roland snaps into "SAR" mode and recruits 4 of us (John/Roland/Francois/me). So much for a relaxing evening!
We devise a plan of search, and agree on signaling with Joel - if they find Jimmy, who has the SAT phone, they will call our SAT phone. Otherwise we can interpret a lack of a phone as meaning they haven't found him. Tom stays back in camp. We engage in a sound sweep. Separated by visible distance, we search parallel paths down the valley, looking at all visible hiding places along the way, and stopping every 5 minutes and blowing our whistles in unison and yelling 'Jimmy'. Blowing the whistle hard is LOUD, and after a few blasts my ears are starting to ring. Not wanting to permanently damage my hearing, I learn that if I put my fingers in my ears and clench the whistle really hard between my teeth, I can blow the whistle hard while protecting my ears. Must have looked silly, but it worked.
Our searching started at 7:45 pm-ish... and we continue well into dark. I can see that this is going to take all night (groan... another all-night epic!), and that I can kiss my idea of summitting the 4800+ peak goodbye. We continue searching, eventually making it so far down-valley that we are practically at their Koroc river camp. We can see a headlamp bobbing up and down ahead of us, but are unsure of who it is.
On a positive note, this was the night of the Perseid meteor shower, and the sky was mostly clear. We all saw some excellent meteors, some with nice vapor trails... and also some awesome green/pink curtains of northern lights. The best we'd see on the whole trip. Roland claims they look like a "flickering witch's mask". (Whatever that looks like...)
At about half a kilometre from their river camp, we get a SAT phone call... and, Jimmy is there, safe and sound!!! Apparently somehow Jimmy was faster than they thought and was at the river camp all along while they and we were searching up-valley. Argh! Thiking back to our SAR training, I remember the term for this type of search: "The Bastard search". Joel apologizes profusely and invites us for wine and food, since we were so close. We figured we might as well, and so made our way down the final half km and joined them at their camp in front of their campfire (which John loved... John loves campfires), and they gave us red wine and pita bread with peanut butter and jelly. Quite tasty, actually. It is now roughly midnight.
We now hike aaaaallllllllll the way back 8km up-valley, in the dark, over trailless rocky terrain, to our campsite. What a big waste of time! As I said earlier, I was contemplating doing the nearby 4800+ peak the next day, but now John (the only available and interested candidate to hike with me) nixed that idea. So, the plan now was to simply hike back down the valley the next day with all our stuff and camp at Joel's, Chris', and Jimmy's river camp. They had indicated that they would be vacating the spot the next day as they made their way down the Koroc on the canoe portion of their trip. Roland's knee and lower leg start to bother him and he slows down significantly. We arrive back in camp around 3am, with Tom guiding us the final bit by standing at the camp with a flashlight as a beacon. Gee, I'm getting used to this overnight hiking stuff.