National Geographic : 1931 Aug
ON MACKENZIE'S TRAIL TO THE POLAR SEA came up, sending breakers against Hans's boat, and I laughed aloud to see him row ing to shelter up the Arctic Red River at midnight, with his shirt tail flying in the wind. My laugh scarcely had time to echo before the section of the bank on which my canoe was resting broke away, dishing both the canoe and me into the muddy river. Never before had the bleakness and cold of that northern land so impressed me as when the water rose about my waist and I tugged at my canoe to get it and my equipment out of the river. Hans and I had a pancake celebration when I left him at 2 a. m., August 18. He had decided the delta was too crowded with trappers and was going to trap above Arc tic Red River. The river was covered with a thick fog, but by Io o'clock the fog had lifted and I passed Point Separation, where Sir John Franklin and Doctor Richardson parted in 1826, Franklin turning to the west and Richardson coasting easterly to Corona tion Gulf. To the northward lay the Arctic coast across a hundred miles of low delta islands, the undisputed heritage of the Eskimo. TO BE ALONE WITH NATURE IS JOY This was a big moment for me. There was no life to be seen-only that life I had come to know in the wind that chilled me and in the sun that gave warmth. In the silence I could hear my watch ticking loud. To the westward loomed the snow-capped Rockies, the barrier my canoe-cramped legs were to conquer in crossing to the waters of the Porcupine. Shortly after noon I arrived at the mouth of the Peel, which shares with the Mac kenzie a common delta. I headed upstream 28 miles for McPherson. A few miles above the mouth I stopped at a Peel village where most of the population seemed to be children. A thrill of conquest swept through me the next afternoon as I sailed into Mc Pherson. Formerly, until superseded by Aklavik, it was the end of the run for river boats. It was here that I had de cided to forsake my canoe and cross the Rockies, through mountain streams and swampy tundra, to the waters of the Yu kon-a decision so punctured by misgiv ings that I hurriedly sold my canoe and engaged a Loucheux guide for fear I might change my mind. My right knee had been injured in Japan a few years be fore and would stand no undue exertion without becoming swollen and painful. Judging from accounts of the hardships of the overland trip, I was already as good as buried. TIHE PAINFUL TREK BEGINS A whaleboat transported us across the river August 22, and Abe, my guide, loaded our packs on four dogs. I made my 6o pound pack up after a picture from a NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE showing a Korean carrying live pigs to market. The trail ran through a wood, then across a tundra swamp to the base of a hill, where we camped for the night near a small stream. Abraham seemed morose and un friendly, but he gave me a large caribou steak that the Indians had contributed as postage stamps for some letters I was carrying to Old Crow for them. The next morning, though Abe objected, we ascended a series of rolling hills, where wet willows soon increased the weight of our packs and soaked our clothing. A bit ter, sleet-laden wind swept the open ridges, and I was soon encased in a sheet of ice. While Abe lamented and rested, proclaim ing "It is bad," I galloped about, trying to keep the inside temperature of my clothes above freezing. Abraham dragged the dogs, with their packs on, across two swollen mountain streams so deep that their noses stuck out of the water like periscopes, yet he attrib uted all the water collected during the day to the wet willows. As we approached McDougall Pass a splendid vista of rolling, mossy plains and snowy mountains loomed ahead. My legs twisted on the moss clumps and my left knee began jabbing me with pains that grew steadily worse. I withdrew most of my sympathy from the struggling dogs and bestowed it on myself. The dogs straggled into camp that night broken-hearted and howling in protest. CALAMITY BEFALLS THE GUIDE With Indian obtuseness, Abraham was not merciful to his dogs. He had almost choked one to death, dragging it along the trail when it was too weak to continue. As the dog lay in the trail, its companions leaped on it with bared fangs to tear it to pieces.