Tidal River Valley
26 January - Every time I walk on the land here, I think it can never get more beautiful. Then I take another walk, and it gets more beautiful still.
Today was another small adventure. After National Non-Smoking Week (a special kind of "Hell Week" for those of us who work in tobacco control) ended yesterday, I woke up today with the not too ambitious plan of walking down the Road to Nowhere, following the river valley. This is always a safe walk - there are lots dogs and their owners around, along with skidoos and skidoo tracks to follow. And you can get a nice walk for twenty minutes or for a couple of hours.
The Road to Nowhere heads more or less north, but the river valley runs from north to south. Usually I go north, but on a whim I decided to go south, possibly circling back quickly for a short walk. Soon, the river valley starts narrowing, almost into a gorge. I debate a little bit. I know I won't get lost, because the river valley heads to Frobisher Bay. On the other hand, I don't trust myself to retreat back if needed because I sense that the gorge holds mystery and wonder. Mystery and wonder win out, as they always do. Off I go.
The valley narrows quickly and descends. I am a little daunted, because I don't know what happens when the frozen river begins to meet the frozen sea. But I am encouraged because there is a set of recent footprints in the snow ahead of me, and also a fainter trace of snowmobile tracks. I follow the footprints. As long as I don't see them disappear into a large hole, I figure I'm good.
The gorge is getting narrower and ever more beautiful. Coppery rock faces with colourful lichen are rising up the sides. I'm taking picture after picture, already piecing potential photo collages together in my mind.
Following the footprints works for a good while. I start coming across signs that the river is meeting the sea. There are variations in the levels of the ice cover, cracks in formations, and a turquoise shade of blue in the cracks. It's the colour of icebergs, of glaciers at a distance. This is clearly ice break up from shifting tides below. But the footsteps continue, avoiding the obvious variations in ice levels, and sticking closer to the sides of the valley/gorge. It seems wise that I do the same. The snowmobile tracks have disappeared, either blown away by snow, or by a reversal in direction.
Then, the footprints diverge. They start heading up the side of the valley, but it is the opposite side of the valley that I want to be on. The wisest course would be to go up the valley on my own side, but it is too steep. Plus, I can't see the bay yet. I'm drawn to continue until I see where I end up. I know I'm close, because I can see a small sign or utility structure of some sort ahead. I continue cautiously. The path is nearly all broken up ice now. It is clearly frozen solid, but I am uncertain if the pieces of ice are still shifting, and how big these shifts might be.
I soon find out. My left foot goes down not on solid ice, but into a hole, knee deep. Holy shit. I'm waiting for a flood of freezing water to fill the hole and wondering how the hell I can scramble quickly onto dry and stable ice. To my immense relief, no water bubbles up. But I have seriously bruised my leg, and I'm wondering just how well I'm going to be able to navigate the steep slope of the valley, never mind walk the 3 km or so back home over snow and ice. I could retreat back the same way I came, but it is not well travelled and if my leg really is injured, I want to be on a hill looking for the nearest sign of civilization. Preferably a road and a taxi.
The slope has leveled out a little bit. I scramble up sideways like a crab. It is more snow than ice, so I can dig in, and my leg holds up just fine. At the top, I see that I am a five-minute walk from the Apex Road, and am in fact not looking over the Iqaluit suburbs, but directly over Apex. I feel relieved to see this, but stupid that I explored the river valley without telling anyone where I was going, and doubly stupid that I was feeling like the Great White Adventurer. I could have broken a leg, and then frozen to death within spitting distance of a taxi.
But relief overwhelms all. My leg is feeling good, so I start back over the hills, heading home quickly for one of the three reasons I usually turn around from a walk on the land: fear. (The other two reasons are cold and lack of light. Both can quickly run to fear.) I stick reasonably close to the road and where I know the dog walkers occasionally wander.
The late afternoon light is incredible and I stop a couple of times to take pictures. The magnificence of the land remains, the cautionary tale already fading away. I'll be out here again. Soon.
LOOKING TOWARD THE GORGE
RIPPLES IN THE SNOW
THE VALLEY NARROWS
LOOKING BACK, THE SUN IS TRYING TO POKE THROUGH
COPPERY ROCKS ALONG THE SIDE OF THE GORGE
LOOKING BACK UP - RETREAT IS POSSIBLE!
AN ARTISTIC YET OMINOUS SIGN - CRACKS IN THE ICE
MORE OMINOUS SIGNS. FROZEN RAPIDS.
THE PARTY’S OVER. LOOKING BACK AT THE HOLE I STEPPED IN. IN FUTURE TELLINGS OF THE STORY IT WILL BECOME A CREVASSE.
APEX, BEAUTIFUL APEX. HALLELUJAH, CIVILIZATION!
GORGEOUS LIGHT WALKING BACK
HOME SWEET HOME. THE NAVSAT MARTIAN THINGIES AND, IN THE DISTANCE, MY APARTMENT BUILDING.