MOUNTAIN LIFE - Ontario | Winter 2016 - page 78

We survive the night, and all but fly the next morning on the
crusty surface of Elbow Lake. We reach the Little Missinaibi by
way of a long portage. Before setting out, we anticipated this
swift-flowing waterway would be a crux. I know that across eastern
Canada, “snowwalkers” dating back to Native hunters and French
used frozen rivers as travelways—but
a dark blot of steaming water, flowing like a pool of blood from
the base of a rocky rapid under a sheet of ice, makes me nervous.
For her part, Kim refuses to leave the safety of the shore. This is
a problem, since it’s obvious the only passage downstream lies
on the opposite side of the river. Equally evident is the fact that
it’s my job to test the ice. Kim spots me with a rescue line while
I walk gingerly, probing the surface with an ice chisel at regular
intervals and gaining confidence as the blade reveals uniform,
solid ice.
After this shaky beginning, the Little Missinaibi proves friendly.
More than ever, our journey mirrors a summer canoe trip. We
tiptoe carefully to the brink of numerous rapids and waterfalls,
scouting for a portage. Dragging the laden toboggan overland is
just as difficult as shouldering canoes and packs; and once back
on the river, we glide effortlessly on the downstream side.
Five days after setting out, we reachMissinaibi Lake and camp
on the south shore. That night, the northern lights play over Fairy
Point, transforming the sky into a pulsing lava lamp of white,
yellow, green and red. The impressive display reminds us of a
Cree story which describes the aurora as the dancing spirits of
It’s a fitting climax to our trip. The next morning, we approach
Fairy Point in silence—a stark contrast to the incessant waves
that roll here all summer long. A spear of ice hangs over the
mysterious, red-ochre renderings of animals, spirit forms and a
bizarre, misplaced smiley face—perhaps a prehistoric emoticon. We
linger over lunch, until the warming sun urges us to travel fast on
winter’s last breath.
TOP:Theauroradances over the frozen LittleMissinaibi River,marking the first of back-to-backevenings
of northern lights.MIDDLE: Jack thedog’s favourite timeof day.BOTTOM:By frozenwater and snowy
land:KimMihell hauls the tobogganacross oneof 18portages.CONORMIHELLPHOTOS.
1...,68,69,70,71,72,73,74,75,76,77 79,80,81,82,83,84,85,86,87,88,...128