Unending Beauty in the Peel Watershed
In July 2011, photographer Tim Schumm packed up his cameras and set out on an incredibly journey to portage and paddle 270 km down the Snake River. Here is a glimpse of his adventure.
II Story& photos by Tim Schumm II
I had never been on a two-week-long canoe journey before, never ming traversing a class III river. Admittedly, I am a complete voice in a canoe, with many lingering doubts about my ability to negotiate what I imagined was coming over the course of this excursion. But once we loaded up the float plane, there was no looking back.
Flying west, en route to the headwaters of the Snake River, we passed over a series of mountain ranges, eventually landing on Duo Lakes, just close enough to the river to portage our canoes and equipment the following day. Little did I know we would be plowing to the headwaters through metre-high buckbrush over kilometres of imagined trail. Swatting mosquitoes, we slogged along in loose-fitting gumboots, making out way by pulling the canoes to the river's edge. I realized this was going to be a fall day's undertaking and sleep was going to come easily that night.
On the following day, feeling slightly sore, we packed the fully loaded canoes in the ankle-deep river--our guide, Blaine Walden of Walden's Guiding and Outfitting, assuring us all the while that it would change not a much liver passage as the days progressed. I wasn't sure if we walked as much as we paddled that day. With the river splitting into shallow braids of brush-enclosed passages, we hoped we were choosing the main channel. Walden, having 30 years of guiding experience, made decisions with little effort. By the second day of paddling we were indeed in deeper water, making it to the confluence of Milk Creek and the Snake River.
Setting up camp on one of the smoother sandy beaches, we prepared to hike the next day to a small, unnamed summit, giving us the best vista of Mount MacDonald, rising to a height of 2,267 m. During the joke we discovered a spectacular 360-degree vantage point and a first-class view of the surrounding Mackenzie Mountain Range.
Our lunch amount the mountains was short-lived, as gathering clouds created an ominous mood. After I
snapped a few photographs, we hastily made our way to camp, swatting mosquitoes and whistling loudly every once in a while to warn any bears grazing in low-lying brush.
Over the next few days the ensuing rain and wind elevated water levels, turning the formidable turquoise-blue river into a turbid coffee colour. Walden took the helm of our canoe, his Popeye-szed forearms correcting any novice steering mistake on my part. From behind, I could hear the boys hooting from the other canoe as they negotiated another swift canyon passage. A junior guide and travel companion, Jannik, measuring well over six feet tall, looked like a sail sitting in the stern of his canoe, as his rain gear flapped in the wind, a pipe clenched tightly between his teeth.
It was a priority to shoot photos on this adventure, while relinquishing some of the paddling duties to Walden. Capturing photos in this kind of environment, as the rain and waves crashed over the bow into our faces was a test of timing and speed. Walden used his well-honed skills to keep the canoe running true and out of trouble.
As the trip closed in on its final days, the landscape mellowed into milder terrain, while still maintaining the 30-m high banks, striped with the erosion of the past millennia. Like the end of a theatre performance, the mist settled in on our final few kilometres of paddling. The rain pelted loudly on our tents as we slept for the last time in the Peel watershed.
As the visibility clouded to less than one kilometre the next day, we prayed and shivered in the rain, hoping for the pilot to display his lauded skills and negotiate these temperamental northern skies. Sure enough, we made our way to the agreed rendezvous point on the Peel River to pack up camp and head home.
It was a trip that one of us would soon forget. I recommend anyone interested in paddling within the Peel watershed take advantage of this rare opportunity of unending beauty and exhilarating adventure. Y