Day 12, August 20
Dodo Creek (MP 40) to Carcajou River (MP 25)
15 Miles, 8:30a to 8:45p
The shorter day yesterday made the morning's walk quite enjoyable. Dodo Creek began meandering and we managed to boulder hop every crossing we were forced to make for the short time it took us to get to a magnificent falls on our right. From here almost all the way to the Carcajou River we had to cross back and forth across the creek between 60 and 80 times (…too many to keep track of accurately).
After the waterfall, the canyon opened up and Dodo Canyon's reputation became evident. The walls of the canyon are severe and remind one of the canyon lands in the United States' Southwest. The going was strewn with boulders, and the risk for twisting an ankle was made even greater by the attention paid to the beauty of our surroundings. Despite the difficult footing, it felt like we were making good progress (we weren't, but it felt like we were).
We made it to Pump Station #2 and explored the area. The pump house was placed in a surprisingly protected spot considering the creek has ravaged almost every square inch of the canyon floor. In the pump house's living area, we found a message on the wall from Sean Smith to Dave. Sean and his partner, Kevin, hiked the Canol from the Mackenzie River to Godlin Lakes last year. We signed the wall to continue a time-honored tradition and then hiked the few hundred feet to the mouth of Echo Canyon.
Echo Canyon was awe-inspiring from the air, and was no less so from the ground. We dropped our packs and took our cameras into the steep, narrow canyon. The walls were so close together that we had to cross the creek six times in just a few hundred feet. Although the echo wasn't as evident as the name would imply, the perspective was overwhelming. The cold trapped by the canyon walls encouraged us to leave sooner than any urge to get back to our tough day's hike.
Shortly after lunch, we spotted some dall sheep to our left climbing up to the edge of the canyon wall. As we watched them, we heard rocks falling behind us. Roberta snapped Dave and me out of our sheep-watching reverie to see three more behind us. These were much closer and demonstrated their ability to easily walk on near vertical terrain. It doesn't get much better than this.
Although it seemed like we were making good time, we weren't. The rock hopping began to wear us down and our breaks became easier to take and tougher to leave. The canyon opened up to become over one half mile wide and picking out a route became less based on where the river went and more based on what surface features would hurt our feet the least. Each bend looked like it might reveal the end of the canyon, but upon reaching them revealed a new bend in the distance. Finally we dragged ourselves to the bend where Dodo Creek meets Katherine Creek and they make their way to the Carcajou River. Our exit from the canyon was marked by peregrine falcons screaming at us to leave.
By the time we left the canyon we were exhausted. This was the most salient goal all day long and it was pretty hard to convince the body that the Carcajou was up to five miles away still (if the guidebook is to be believed). We weren't entirely sure how far we were from the river, and decided that we wouldn't walk past ten o'clock. Dave was less inclined to stay with the group when he was last in line than we were. On this particular occasion this was quite fortuitous as he found a duck (a tall stick held up by a cairn) which marked the resumption of roadbed. The roadbed was straight as an arrow and in great shape. Much like the game trails yesterday, this saved us a lot of effort and we got to the Carcajou in the easiest possible way.
The Carcajou is a wide river moving a lot of water with a moderate current. We tested it to see if it would be easy to cross. The water was knee-high according to Chris and Jeanne, but due to the storms between when they crossed and when we found it, it was much deeper. We decided to tackle it tomorrow. We back-tracked to a sandbar and set up camp on it. The mosquitoes were surprisingly light and we were able to have a leisurely dinner. This also marked the first time we filtered water on the entire trip.
The dew got the tent wetter than any downpour could have…