I had a unique opportunity on Thursday: Kenny, my bear monitor, offered to take me by boat about 18 kilometers up the mighty Coppermine River to the historic Bloody Falls to conduct aquatic sampling in the rocky rapids.
Kenny ably navigated the aluminium boat down the winding river. Although it was overcast and drizzly, there was no denying the spectacular beauty of the plunging, sandy shorelines and rugged terrain behind them. Ice five feet thick above the water line remained in a few bends on the western shore.
Soon we came upon the first signs of rapids. The choppy water was murky and hidden dangers lurked beneath…CLUNK…our propellor hit a large rock! The damage wasn’t terrible, but we quickly brought the boat ashore, deciding to hike the rest of the way. We unloaded our gear. Unlike the vast majority of the incredibly sandy landscape in this region, this particular stretch of land was littered with rocks of all sizes. It made the prospect of hiking a little unfavourable, but it also meant we had the perfect habitat for sampling aquatic organisms! The fairly recent spring ice break and thaw added an extra challenge onshore: the ice carries a huge amount of sand and this all gets deposited on the shoreline during the thaw. The rocks were slick with mud and interspersed with dripping chunks of melting ice.
There was one definite upside to the mud: the fine-grained and tightly packed sediments were perfect for preserving recent evidence of the comings and goings of various wildlife. The most exciting:
That’s the front left paw of a grizzly bear, and that’s the boot of my chest waders next to it. I love how you can see the claws too! Of course, while I was busy getting all giddy and snapping photos, Kenny was hightailing it to the nearest hilltop to have a look around and fire off a few “warning shots”, just to be safe. Wolf and caribou tracks were on the same narrow path.
We conducted our aquatic sampling in the rapids…stonefly, mayfly and black fly larvae were readily collected from the water, and adults were discovered hiding from the inclement weather under rocks on the shore. I also found a little souvenir on a rock I lifted from the water to check for nymphs: small nodules (I’m not sure what the crystals are-the clear ones I suspect to be quartz based on the cleavage but I’m not sure what the yellow-green crystals are) containing flecks of native copper! The rock was soft and easily smashed, releasing the nodules (much easier to put in a pocket than the entire rock!). Finding copper on the Coppermine was a wonderful treat.
The gear was once again packed, and we hiked our way about 2km upstream to a second sampling site closer to the falls. Although we knew it would be impossible to sample directly in the main rapids themselves, a brief scenic detour for a closer look was most definitely in order; the view was utterly breathtaking.
There is something about the power and recklessness of a waterfall that never fails to instill in me a sense of awe, reverence and respect.
A second round of successful sampling just downstream from the rapids concluded the day. All in all, it was a spectacular day, and one of my most memorable since arriving in Kug. Below is a small taste of the eleventy-millions pictures (click to enlarge) I took that day…I’m happy they came out as well as they did, considering the fog and rain!