We took our girls on an Arctic vacation
It was unheard of—a family attempting the perilous eleven-hundred mile trip down the treacherous Mackenzie to Aklavik in a 14-foot boat. It brought us up against real danger as well as excitement and we’d never try again — but here’s how we proved it could he done
“It happened to us” This is another of the series of personal-experience stories that will appear from time to time in Maclean's . . . stories told by Its readers about some interesting dramatic event in their lives. HAVE YOU SUCH A STORY? If so, send It to the articles editor, Maclean’s Magazine, 4H1 University Ave., Toronto. For stories accepted Maclean’s will pay the regular rates It offers for articles.
Half a mile ahead, the lights of East Three, the new Aklavik townsite, glowed faintly through the slashing curtain of rain. Gabe, our Loucheux Indian guide, the wolverine fur of his parka plastered to his face, swung his arms methodically as, crouched on the bow with our one paddle, he dug its blade into the wild chop. The boat wallowed and the ooze of the bottom clutched at my tent pole; I tottered but recovered and shoved backward once more.
Partly protected by the flailing, rain-drenched canopy, Ellen was poling too. The girls, snugly bundled in their sleeping bags, slept peacefully in the lee of the windshield, undisturbed by the tossing waves and deluge from the sky, which had turned the Mackenzie River’s East Channel
into a frothing, miserable hell on which nothing moved but our fourteen-foot boat. Empty gas tanks thumped hollowly on the bottom boards as we pitched and rolled, our useless outboard motor tilted out of the water to cut down resistance.
Fifty miles to the north lay the Arctic Ocean. Half a mile north was shelter. And here, almost at the end of our eleven-hundred-mile voyage from Hay River, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, we were apparently going to spend the night, for the battering wind blew us upstream the moment we ceased our paddling and poling, and at best we were but holding our position. Muskeg, a lake and a creek would prevent us from beaching and walking into the settlement.
I shouted to Gabe. White teeth flashed as he turned around, grinned back and then followed my pointing finger to the spot where the streaming mud banks of the channel were sufficiently broken to afford a landing place. He nodded and we headed in.
I leaped as the stern bumped, clawing at the willows for a handhold. Gabe followed and we slithered up the fifteen-foot bank into a maze of glistening alders and willows; Gabe’s hatchet started swinging as I slid back to the water for the tent.
Fifteen minutes later, teeth chattering and trying to find a dry place in my sleeping bag, I lay in gloomy misery on the floor of the tent and watched Ellen struggle in vain to get the Coleman stove going. We had drained even its fuel into the gas tank when it became clear we would run out short of our goal. A sickly orange flame appeared, fluttered for a moment, then went out. There would be no coffee, either. Gabe and the girls were already asleep in the two driest bags; the tent bucked and swayed and the rain drummed noisily on its canvas. It was undoubtedly the lowest moment of my life.
Whatever had possessed me to talk my family into this kind of nightmare? Why couldn’t we take our holidays in Banff or Jasper, like normal people, where if a storm blew up we would at least have a roof over our heads, dry bedding and hot coffee? Why?
Suddenly I knew. It went back twenty-seven years to another tent, pitched on the blizzardswept ice of Great Bear Lake, where a newspaperman-turned-prospector’s-assistant sat waiting for his paralyzed companion to die.
Six days earlier, scouting the grim cliffs of Conjurer Bay for his partner, the greenhorn had found the queer, toboggan-like furrow in the snow at their foot and, a quarter of a mile farther on, their victim, dragging himself toward their lonely camp with his arms alone. Two days ago their food had run out. Now, while the blizzard shrieked through the forty-below blackness outside, last letters had been written and, in the back page of the newspaperman's diary, a poem:
Oh, when my son has reached the state
Of manly mind and limb,
And settled in his steady gait,
May I be there with him!
Oh, may there still be paths to find
That careful men should shun,
And may the way be not too kind
Until his trek is done . . .
I turned over, bent my knees around the centre pole of the tent
In perilous waters the girls played games while father grew grey
continued on page 43
continued from page 25
“We knew nothing about camping and little about boats. Everyone said the trip was madness”
and settled down for the night. This was no ordeal; this was a family heritage.
My father, F. B. (Ted) Watt, and his partner survived that earlier adventure and, since he wrote that poem to his three-year-old son, a lot of it had come true. At sixteen Fd spent my first summer in the north, as a deck hand on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s old wood-burning paddle-wheeler. Distributor; last year, a newspaperman myself, Fd seen Aklavik, Coppermine, Fort Good Hope and Fort McPherson—the places Fd dreamed of on many an evening in Edmonton when Dad could be persuaded to tell “just one more story.”
My wife Ellen and our three girls, Kathryn, six, Judith, five, and Enid, two, had lived in the same atmosphere. It was no surprise, then, that when I broached the idea early this year of taking my holidays and doing some work for my paper, the Edmonton Journal, at the same time by traveling down the Mackenzie to Aklavik, Ellen should sigh, “1 wish I could go, too," or that we should quickly agree the oldest girls should be included. And it was only to be expected that, amid choruses of dismay and horror from our families and friends, there should be a letter from Dad. in Ottawa, to say, “It should be a wonderful trip!”
I'ooled by the midnight sun
It was hard not to agree with the skeptics. No one had ever heard of a family traveling the Mackenzie in a small boat, and our budget dictated that it would not be-a large one. We had absolutely no camping experience—which we tried to rectify by a hurried, May 24 week-end trip to Banff and Jasper—and, up to two weeks of our departure, neither Ellen nor 1 had ever handled an outboard motor. We had only two assets: a burning determination to make the dream a reality, and a friend, Carl Leviston, who knows enough about boats and boat building to fill several books. Carl produced our boat out of his head; it was a stout fourteen-footer, five feet in beam, with a high, jolly-boat bow to break the waves and heavily reinforced at stem and transom to deal with the hazard of floating logs. An Eskimo patient at the Charles Camsell Eskimo and Indian Hospital in Edmonton named her — Aulasoktok, which means, One Who Is Always Traveling, or, colloquially, One Who Gets Around. And, to the surprise of everyone but ourselves, Tuesday, July 2, saw us chugging out of Vale Channel at Hay River, N.W.T., seven hundred and twenty-five miles northwest of Edmonton, onto the placid waters of Great Slave Lake; destination: Aklavik.
Counting the crew and our thirty-twogallon load of gas, the Aulasoktok was carrying almost half a ton. It was suppertime when we reached Wriglcy Harbor, an uninhabited island at the confluence of the Mackenzie, which provides a storm haven for the boats that travel the river.
We quickly learned our first lesson— never travel after 10 p.m. unless you have to. Fooled by the light (even near Great Slave the sun sinks below the horizon for only a short period in summer, and it is never more than dusky) we pushed on for Fort Providence, fifty miles downstream. At 1.30 a.m. it was no longer bright and the air had turned bitterly cold; worse still, the Aulasoktok was skid-
ding uneasily through boiling eddies and a swift current that indicated we were very close to the Providence rapids. Kathryn and Judith were asleep in the bow; Ellen and I held a hasty council-ofwar, as the first of the series of buoys,
which mark the five-mile channel, loomed up out of the dusk. We decided to risk the passage.
Our speed now was close to twenty mph; the first set of buoys whipped by and, a few minutes later, the second set,
a mile from the first. We peered through the dusk for the third, but in vain. Seething water surrounded us now and Ellen, the navigator, looked up worriedly from her charts. “I think we’d better try to land,” she said—and, as in answer to a
prayer, a river boat suddenly appeared, moored to the west bank. I needed no persuasion.
A figure in long johns appeared on deck as we swung in alongside the other boat, then ducked hurriedly for the cover of a hatchway as he discovered the navigator was a lady. "We're lost!" Ellen called out as Kathryn and Judith awoke, brushed the sleep from their eyes and joined her amidships. The man in the long johns grinned sheepishly. “We’ve room in the cabin for the little girls." he said, “but I’m afraid you two will have to sleep on deck." We didn’t argue.
The mosquitos dined well that night. Stiff, sore and covered with bites, we rose at 7 a.m. to greet a beautiful day and the figure of our rescuer, now more suitably attired. He introduced himself as Captain John Kaasa. skipper of the federal government’s rapids boat, which marks the channel in bad spots. “Good thing you stopped,” he added. “We’re just finishing up here and the next set of buoys isn’t in.” With that he invited us below, where Kathryn and Judith were reigning supreme as Kaasa’s two crewmen shoveled them full of eggs and bacon.
By 10 a.m., well fed and with the notso-fearsome-by-daylight rapids behind us, Fort Providence was in view—a church, airstrip, Hudson’s Bay post, army signals station, RCMP post, a dozen log cabins, a hospital and perhaps forty tents. A handful of Slavey Indians watched from atop the high bank as we pulled in. They were friendly but shy as we climbed the hill to check in with the RCMP. We'd stayed clear of the police— who hate being called “Mounties”—until now, since we were afraid that, with children aboard, we might have been refused permission to make the voyage, but our fears proved groundless. The police, we quickly found, were to be the most helpful people we would meet; each detachment would wire ahead to the next, giving our estimated time of arrival, so that if anything did go wrong they would at least know where to start looking for us. With settlements usually a hundred and fifty miles apart, it was comforting to know someone was on the lookout.
We spent that night forty miles downstream, at Mills Fake. My memories of river-boat days were of a bustling madhouse of men and equipment; it had been the northern terminus of the winter tractor trail from Hay River over which pipe, drilling rigs and tons of miscellaneous supplies had been moved by the U.S. Army for the huge Canol oil project at Norman Wells, four hundred and seventy miles farther north. Now its olive-drab Nissen huts gaped emptily across the river, surrounded by tall yellow grass and gradually disappearing beneath a tangle of undergrowth.
Thursday, July 4, we made but fortyfive miles, laying over at Browning’s Farm, a clearing in a dense forest where John Browning, a native of Utah and resident of the Territories since 1919, and his family of five boys and two girls have created an empire all their own. Browning still,works the vegetable beds that gave his place its name, but now his lumber mill, busy producing planed lumber for Tuktoyaktuk, on the Arctic coast, and East Three, is his major project.
Ellen and the girls turned in early. At 2 a.m. I made my way from Browning's rambling comfortable cabin to the tent. I found Ellen cowering in terror in her sleeping bag. She had seen the first wild animals we had met. Disdaining the threat of an invasion of mice, I callously fell asleep.
Jean Marie Creek, thirty-five miles from Browning’s Farm, was the first allIndian settlement we came on. We’d no-
ticed children watching from atop the bank as we landed, yet the settlement of nine cabins, once we’d reached it, appeared to have been deserted for years. We prowled about for fifteen minutes without seeing a soul.
Baffled and hungry, Ellen and the girls returned to the beach to make lunch. 1 continued my patrol and, finally, rounding the corner of a cabin found a young fellow in his thirties, sitting on a log and whittling as nonchalantly as if he had been there since the beginning of time. Aside from one other adult and three children who vanished whenever I looked around. I saw no one else, although the settlement had a population of seventy.
Ellen had more luck, if that is the word. Scrambling aboard the boat to get a cooking pot, she slipped and landed stern-first in the ooze at the water’s edge, drawing a chorus of giggles from an audience of hitherto unseen children atop the bank. She had taken the windshield with her when she fell, and her com-
posure was little restored when the skipper returned, discovered the damage and pointedly failed to offer the condolences she had expected.
Who is it?
From a small town she sang her way to big-time billing with a crew-cut comic. Turn to page 48 to find out who this girl grew up to be.
Later that day, and forty miles farther down river, we nosed into Fort Simpson. Scraped in would be more accurate: the Aulasoktok’s bow was nearly torn off on the rocky shoreline when I casually cut the motor ten feet from shore, forgetting there was a seven-mph current, and we whisked downstream for a good hundred feet, with boulders skinning the bow, before I could get started again. Then, heaven! I’d forgotten how wonderful a shower and clean clothes could feel!
Corporal Scotty Stewart was building a community hall and a golf course, supervising two carefree prisoners (liquor offenders who, in the evening, sang softly in the neat, white-painted jailhouse on the back lawn of the RCMP compound), running Fort Simpson's movie house, upholding the law in a few thousand square miles of wilderness and scanning the river for tourists when the Swiss Family Watt arrived.
He’d been expecting us and offered us the use of the detachment’s bachelor quarters while his wife showed Ellen where to find her washing machine and pressed us to stay. It was Sunday, July 7, before we could tear ourselves away from that lovely hot water, and head downstream for Wrigley, a hundred and fifty miles farther on.
Gone now was our ready supply of drinking water. The Liard River, empty-
ing into the Mackenzie at Fort Simpson, turns the clear lake water of the Mackenzie into a turgid brown soup. Kathryn and Judith developed fresh appetites for our precious canned fruit juices.
Our first real blow met us head-on after lunch as we entered the broad valley between the Mackenzie Mountains to the west and the Franklin Range to the east. Ahead, the river broadened to about three miles and our charts indicated the channel lay to the left of an island in the middle. That meant crossing the widening, as we were hugging the east
bank. With the water growing choppy, I was not eager for a soaking. No obstructions were shown in the right-hand channel and we decided to chance it. Whitecaps appeared on the water; then the streaming windshield wiped out forward vision. Just before a wave hit I caught a glimpse of a solid line of white water dead ahead. We headed inshore, fast, bigger waves now breaking clean over the boat.
From the beach, the white water was no longer a mystery; we had blundered into a mess of chutes, a shallow stretch
full of sandbars, wild water and gravel shoals. I had no intention of going back through that gauntlet, and spent the next half hour walking the boat upstream to a point above the chutes where the rest of the crew could reboard.
For two hours, we battled ahead. Then, as swiftly as it had arisen, the storm was gone and we were gliding smoothly along, with Camsell Bend and the North Nahanni River in view. A promising fiat beach made early supper a welcome idea (less welcome a few minutes later when we saw the size of the tracks a bear had
left on the sand) and we pulled in to relax, dry out and eat. Just before we turned in, around I 1 p.m., a wolf howled, just once, a mournful wail that carried across the still evening.
“I think I’ll stoke the fire a bit,” I said, with just the right degree of nonchalance. As an afterthought, I (licked the safety on the .303 ritle to “ready.” The wolf, wherever he was, apparently could not have cared less. We heard no more from him.
We rounded the last bend before Wrigley on Monday, July 8, in the midst of a new storm. A river boat was coming toward us, pushing three barges and kicking up a hefty wake astern. To pass her we would have to squeeze through a narrow channel, then cut sharply across her wake to reach Wrigley, on the opposite bank. “This will likely be rough.” I announced. “You'd better hang on."
The first wave reared up before us, a wall of water towering at least six feet above the boat. The Aulasoktok strained upward, tottered on the crest and fell off into the trough with a sickening crash. Ellen and Kathryn clung to each other and my own death grip on the tiller was all that kept me from being pitched into the water as we reared again. Three more huge waves followed, then we were through the worst.
“Let's go through them again. Daddy!” said Judith, her eyes shining.
We settled for Wrigley.
“Had the measles?”
Wrigley’s white population had been doubled since 1943, the last time I'd been there, by the presence of two summer welfare teachers and a Catholic lay brother. A young fellow in a baseball cap came down to greet us as we hauled the boat onto the gravel beach, and introduced himself as Irv Gardiner, the local Hudson's Bay Company manager. “Had the measles?" he asked cautiously. “Yes? Fine! You might as well move in with me.”
The measles query was quickly explained: Gardiner, who’d never had them, was one of about ten people in all of Wrigley, total population seventy, who was not sick. The two summer welfare teachers, Inge Kjos and Marie Myhrc, had closed down classes that week because there was no one to teach, and Inge, who'd trained as a nursing aid before she went into teaching, was now Wrigley’s full-time doctor. The nearest physician was at Norman Wells, two hundred and ten miles downstream.
As a bachelor, Gardiner had plenty of space in his three-bedroom home, a fortunate thing for us as the storm continued to lash the area. We were his guests for two nights. Gardiner had a real talent Ellen was quick to discover. During our journey Ellen had quickly become not only a fine navigator but also a bread-wheedler pur excellence. The latter skill was especially important in a land of no bakeries, where the alternative to bread is a devilishly hard substance known as “pilot bread.” daintily referred to as a sort of civilianized hardtack. When, by the second day, we had eaten all Gardiner’s bread, she posed her usual question.
"Don't know of anyone with bread around right now,” Gardiner told her. "Why don’t you bake some in my oven?”
“Me?” gasped Ellen, who had been shaken enough when she discovered northern bread didn't come sliced.
“Okay,” said Gardiner, resignedly. That afternoon, while Edward. his Indian assistant, looked after the store, Gardiner stayed home and baked bread.
Once again the north's traditional hos-
“We were caught in the rapids. Suddenly the motor coughed and died. ‘We’ve had it,’ I thought”
pitality was put to a test when we reached Norman Wells, where Imperial Oil Limited operates the Territories' only producing oil field and refinery. Here we had relatives — my cousin Marilee and her husband Bill Skea. Marilee's face when, at 10.30 p.m., she was hauled out of bed to greet the little cousin she'd last seen at the age of five, complete with his bedraggled crew, was a study. It did not stop her from making their cozy bungalow a fine haven for the next three nights, as we waited out the blow.
But though we had bad luck in weather, we had good luck of another sort. At Fort Norman, with typical generosity, Phyllis Wade, wife of one of the army signals men there, had presented us with a bag of cookies for our journey. Half way to Norman Wells Ellen had broken a filling on a candy decoration—a real crisis with the nearest dentist in Aklavik, five hundred miles north. We were plenty worried when we reached Norman Wells—then happily relieved to discover an army dentist, doing emergency work, had arrived just ahead of us.
By late Sunday the drizzle and wind were gone and ahead the river was widening as we neared the Sans Sault rapids, eighty-five miles downstream, indicated on our charts by two squiggly lines that reached out to midstream. The “track usually followed" indicated we should stay roughly in the middle of the river. Yet as we neared the dividing line between the rough and smooth water we discovered to our horror that whitecaps stretched from bank to bank, apparently without break. The Aulasoktok was tossing now, battered from every side by waves. Kathryn, not our bravest sailor. begged “The waves are too rough, Daddy! Let's go back!”
Daddy, scared stiff, was too busy to answer, for a wave that tossed us a little higher than usual had suddenly revealed, a good two hundred yards to our left and a hundred yards astern, a black buoy marking the right-hand side of the channel. What lay beneath us I dared not imagine; all I knew was that we were in the heart of the rapids themselves. I threw over the tiller and headed back upstream. The motor fought a current of close to fifteen mph as I tried desperately to reach the channel above the buoy, and not below, where boulders, gravel bars or any one of a dozen hazards might smash us and hurl us into the churning water.
Rolling and pitching in the wild swell, we crept upstream from the buoy and began to edge toward it. I opened the throttle wide to close the gap—and the motor coughed, shuddered and quit. We spun downstream, heading straight for the buoy. Its sharp steel prow could slice us in half.
“We’ve had it,” I thought, almost dispassionately, as I reset the throttle and grabbed for the starter cord. Waves broke over the gunwales and we wallowed helplessly. I was half aware of Kathryn calling out in terror, of Ellen kneeling on the seat behind me. I yanked the cord—and the motor roared, sweet and true. Tiller hard over, we skimmed past the buoy, then swung over again for the channel. Ellen motioned sharply with her right arm; I swung over and we passed clear of a bobbing tree trunk. And then the water was calm again. I slumped over the tiller, exhausted and shaking. Judith peered at my white face with ill-concealed disgust.
“What were you doing?” 1 asked Ellen, avoiding that contemptuous stare.
Ellen, as pale as myself, shrugged. “Taking pictures,” she said. "I couldn't think of anything else to do, and I thought there’d at least be a record of what happened—if anyone found the camera!” The midnight sun painted the cliffs of the Ramparts with gold as we slid smoothly through the gorge. Beyond, the river widened once more and, like a scattering of diamonds and rubies on a
cushion of green velvet. Fort Good Hope lay before us. All at once we realized we were cold. It was only thirty-six above; we wasted no time in hunting for a campsite but pulled in on the first beach we could find.
Without warning, all hell broke loose. The bells of Fort Good Hope's Catholic church began to clamor, setting off the keening huskies from one end of the
settlement to the other, and clear on the crisp air came the thump-thump-thump of tom-toms and the wailing chant of Indians.
“Do you suppose something's wrong?” Ellen asked. Above us. the uproar swelled to a new intensity.
"I doubt it.“ I said, and was asleep. We might be murdered in our sleeping bags, but 1 was too bushed to care.
We needed no alarm clock. Promptly at 9 a.m. the earth began to shake; stumbled from the tent to face a genial Catholic priest, atop a tractor which had just dumped a huge load of oil drums on our front doorstep. Our camping spot, it developed, was Good Hope’s dock area. A few queries disclosed that the Indian massacre we had heard going during the night was nothing more serious than the combination of a midnight mass, a drum dance by the Indians and the accompaniment of the dogs.
Afterward, gingerly picking my way shoeless (I had thoughtlessly left them on the beach at Norman Wells) up the flinty path to the settlement, 1 marched into the Bay post and, amid giggles from the Indian girls and snickers from the males, bought a pair of shoes. I believe I am the only tourist ever to arrive in Fort Good Hope barefoot.
We’d read in Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s diary of his voyage of discovery in 1789 how lashing waves and rain battered his canoes as he crossed the Arctic Circle. We could feel for those coureurs de bois and Indian paddlers as we followed Mackenzie’s trail on Tuesday, July 16. Apparently Arctic weather doesn’t change much. There were bright moments, as when we rounded a bend at noon and found Hal Gorrell, a Calgary geologist, and his Indian guide, Jim Perriot, of Fort Good Hope, camped on the beach. But by nightfall, when we reached the trading post of Little Chicago, a hundred miles from Fort Good Hope and abandoned for the summer, we were ready to turn in.
Two days later we’d pushed as far as Arctic Red River (population: forty), only a hundred and fifteen miles from Aklavik. There we picked up Gabriel Andre, a Loucheux Indian, to guide us through the tricky channels that lay between us and our goal. Gabe’s extra weight would.
I knew, slow us down, so, to help offset the added load, I reduced our gas supply to only enough to carry us a hundred miles. East Three, we’d been told, was only seventy miles distant, which meant we shouldn’t run short of fuel.
Our departure was cheerful; it was hazy but warm and the Aulasoktok frolicked along at a cheering twelve mph. Then, twenty-eight miles from Arctic Red River, the motor began to miss.
All told, Gabe and I spent five hours tearing down and reassembling the kicker. Then, having tried everything else, we ran some carburetor cleaner through the gas tank—and it purred like a kitten.
While we worked, the sun had disappeared and it was blowing hard again as we headed into the East Channel. Huge waves slapped us about; the bow was streaming water. We could not go ashore because of the steep, flood-undercut banks on either side and the threat of a huge chunk of earth falling and swamping us, as had happened to an Indian in a twenty-foot canoe the week previous. Rain came, too, and deadfalls, often invisible in the waves, added to the hazards as we struggled up the channel, which is rarely more than three hundred yards wide.
But worse was to come. Someone had goofed, had underestimated the distance we had to travel. The shattering discovery was not made until the gauge on the last gas tank registered zero. And East Three was still not in sight. There was a little high-test gas in the camp stove: we dumped it into the boat’s tank—and still fell short of our destination by the proverbial (and, in this case, literal) mile.
We poled into East Three Saturday and spent the day trying to dry out our clothes in a damp and draughty tent which George Norris, who runs East
Three's booming taxi service, let us use. John Walsh of the East Three RCMP detachment arranged for the police schooner Herschel to guide us through the delta to Aklavik on the Sunday.
Tired and dispirited, we tumbled abord the Aulasoktok Sunday morning for the last time. Ahead, aboard the Herschel, Walsh, Constable Bill Johns and Phillip Elanik, Johns’ Eskimo special constable, kept fatherly eyes on us as we stuck to their wake; every now and then Elanik would contribute a cheery wave. We sorely needed that cheering up; it was bitterly cold and alternating between rain and drizzle all the way. It took us seven hours to cover the seventysix miles.
The north wind was busy again when we reached the Mackenzie’s Middle Channel, a four-mile-wide stretch of water down which the wind blows straight from the Arctic coast. Five-foot waves lifted the Aulasoktok from the water as we headed south and shot us forward at tremen-
dous speed, so fast that sometimes I was forced to swing aside to avoid landing on the Herschel’s stern.
Who is it? on page 44
Shirley Harmer, from Thornton’s Corners, Ont., left CBC stardom for Hollywood’s
George Gobel Show.
ing on the Herschel’s stern.
Aklavik hove into view at 5.30 p.m. Lour Eskimo boys came down to the beach as we nosed inshore, grabbed our bow line and hauled us in over the shallows. Our two bug-eyed children, who had seen Eskimo at East Three but refused to believe they really were Eskimo because they wore “Outside” clothing, watched with rapt delight. An hour later we were camped around a cheery oil stove in Jackie Norris’ kitchen, and the long journey was over.
“I wouldn’t want to do it again,” Ellen said, “but I wouldn’t have missed it, cither.” She spoke for all of us.
It had taken us twenty-two days to reach Aklavik by boat and by car; the flight back home took just eleven hours. Kathryn and Judith had not flown before and we were anticipating their excitement as the float-equipped Otter eased into its jetty at Aklavik four days later to start us on our way back. We said our good-bys, climbed aboard and helped the girls do up their safety belts. The motor roared, spray flew from the pontoons and then we were off and heading south.
The girls grinned at us, undid their safety belts, watched for a few minutes as the delta unrolled beneath and, fifteen minutes after take-off, were sound asleep.
Mere flying was nothing to a couple of youngsters who, after all, were the youngest successful navigators of the Mackenzie, it