Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Following Verlen and Valerie-XI-More of the Mackenzie

Newsletter Number 2 dated August 1986 has the Krugers over 600 miles upstream, a month after they started. They were downstream some place from Wrigley.

Verlen: "The river is at its seasonal high and there's an enormous amount of logs and debris rushing by. Some of the logs are huge, having come from hundreds of miles upstream, from above the permafrost. Some are freshly fallen trees, washed into the river by eroding banks. It will be years before some of them make it to the Arctic Ocean...We paddled hard this morning against a strong headwind and stiff current, but when the debris and logs became hazardous in the rising water, we decided this would be a good time to head for shore and write our Newsletter dispatches"

Valerie: "As far as we can tell, we are the only ones since Alexander Mackenzie in 1789 who have paddled upstream on this great river...Our progress does not come easily...The river is coursing by so fast that nothing stands in the way...If we stop paddling even for an instant, the river carries us backwards...We learned quickly that river is in charge - and we work with it as best we can."

That they were approaching Wrigley meant they had passed the communities of Norman Wells and Tulita. They undoubtedly stopped and visited or shopped.

Wikipedia: "Norman Wells (Slavey language: Taeghoti 'where there is oil') is the regional center for the Shatu region of the Northwest Territories...Oil was first seen by Alexander Mackenzie during his exploration of the river in 1789 but it was not until 1911 that an oil bearing formation was discovered. Imperial Oil was established in the area in 1937...During the Second World War, Norman Wells was deemed important as a source of oil for military operations in Alaska..."

Spectacular Northwest Territories.Com: "Tulita - "Where Two Rivers Meet" - is a small...community at the confluence of the Great Bear and Mackenzie Rivers. It began as a trading post in 1810. Old Hudson Bay Post buildings still overlook the river...." Tulita was originally known as Ft. Norman.

Wikipedia: "Wrigley...The community is located on the east bank of the Mackenzie River...below its confluence with the Wrigley River...Originally located at Fort Wrigley, the community relocated to its present location in 1965, because it was more easily accessible. The population continues to maintain a traditional lifestyle, trapping, hunting and fishing."

Valerie: "As we pushed off from Wrigley we faced 140 miles before reaching the next town of Fort Simpson...The increased current was causing us a lot of extra work and made paddling more difficult. It was during this stretch that Verlen suffered an injury. We were paddling over a gravel bar at the mouth of a river flowing into the Mackenzie, but because the current was so swift, we were having trouble with our paddles on the gravel as the bar made the water too shallow. So we used poles to propel ourselves forward, and as Verlen pushed off one time with a strong effort he slipped and fell heavily into the rigid canoe cockpit."

Verlen was obviously injured but appeared to ignore it and with him popping aspirin for the pain they kept going, paddling 13-15 hours a day. Then on July 14 they were pushing through a rapid when Verlen abruptly stopped paddling.

Valerie: "...his canoe began to slide backwards...his canoe came crashing into mine. I jumped ashore and grabbed his bow rope, pulling him to safety. From he pain on Verlen's face, I knew something was dangerously wrong!"

Velen had felt something snap in his back and couldn't move.

Valerie: "I began to cry. The enormity of the situation was overwhelming." Then she got her act together.

Her brother's account: " Struggling to shore, Valerie said they were in sight of a cabin on the opposite bank...they camped the night and the next day Valerie more or less single- handedly ferried the boats and Verlen cross the river. The cabin man 'Leo' then drove them 32 miles to Ft. Simpson".

Valerie's account in the Newsletter is much longer and is vivid. Leo actually took them to Fort Simpson in his fishing boat; the two Sea Winds and all their gear on board, with his wife, son, dog and a load of fish along.

Using Google Maps I believe I have zoomed in on the exact location where this all took place.

Next: Verlen in the hospital

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