Back to Super Camp: 21 September 2012

The morning was colder than previously and Chris said that the pressure was dropping – another indication of worsening weather (low pressure is usually a sign of increasing winds and precipitation). The snowline on the mountains seemed to be lower than yesterday and the wind was getting up. After a group discussion about the deteriorating weather we decided to make a run for it and try to get a little closer to the base camp at Nu Chugh Beniz in the centre of Chilko Lake. We would have to cross the lake at some point and the sooner the better as bad weather in the centre of the lake would be quite dangerous and, should the canoe capsize, a long swim back to land would not have been possible in this icy water. Death would be a matter of minutes after immersion. We set off North, to see if we could get closer to the base camp and hopefully get to a decent camp spot if not across the lake itself. A few meters from the camp, and while still sheltered from the wind, we set sail and then turned north towards the west side of Burnt Island. We made it easily past Burnt Island and 3km up the coast with the wind strengthening as we went. Then the wind increased steadily and steering became more difficult. The rudder started to vibrate in my hand – a sign that the speed was approaching 8 knots – and the small canoe started to weave from side to side and surf on the high waves. It was getting close to taking in water and sinking. Taking in the risk Chris asked me to steer towards a cliff just to the left of a small headland, which seemed to be a little sheltered from the full force of the wind. Chris ordered for the sail to be taken down so we could manoeuvre under paddle-power to land. We needed to assess the conditions just past the headland and, if possible, get someone onto the land to scout over the small ridge; but as we approached I had difficulty getting safely close to the shore so Chris decided we should head back South straight into the wind to regain some stability and have a talk about what to do. As we did, Chris explained to the crew what was happening with the small canoe and that it was too risky to continue south to the, unseen, conditions beyond the point.

We headed back south and toward burnt island for temporary shelter. It was a hard paddle into the wind but we were all well rested from the time at the Super Camp and we were already familiar with the area having done almost the same route a few days ago – with weaker muscles. We landed on the beach on the North side of Burnt Island and went ashore to scout around this sacred island to see what the land was like to set up camp, if we needed to. I clambered up the stony slope from the beach and found on the west side a scene that could have been from an archaeology programme. There was a large circle about five meters in diameter with a fireplace built in the centre. The circle had a wall of rocks to one side which were showing signs of being burnt at high temperature. This was, Chris said, a sweat lodge: the stones were heated up and placed in the fireplace and a frame was built around them with a cover. Water would be poured onto the stones to produce steam and a sauna effect inside the lodge. Sweat lodges were used for ceremonial and social events which might include songs, ceremonies, and story telling. Sweat lodges must be constructed and conducted safely by experienced leaders because the conditions of extreme heat and other dangers associated with fire and smoke can make the ceremony dangerous if handled carelessly (There have been deaths in sweat lodges that have not been supervised correctly).

A little distance from the circle was a large tent which, I assume was used for sleeping accommodation and, perhaps, preparation and eating.

There was also an open area nearby which had enough space for dancing or other rituals. Inside this space was a makeshift ladder (for what purpose?) and the remains of a ceremonial staff adorned with a First Nations emblem made from twigs and interwoven multi-coloured cloth. Further round was a small makeshift bay with a small motor boat – so small that it was inconceivable that it would cope with the smallest waves on a lake renown for high winds.

As luck ran, there was a break in the weather and we set off for the super camp again. It was only a short paddle back to familiar ground, and the prospect of our usual scampering over the steep rocky slope to unpack again, make a fire, and settle down for more meditation and waiting.

It was only a little disappointing having to return to the Super Camp and it was good to get back to the tranquillity and familiarity. It is a very meditative place here and well sheltered from the prevailing South wind. I spent the rest of the daylight hours reflecting on life here and my life back amongst society-at-large. And, really, there is no comparison. I just wish the special woman in my life, Jenny, was here as well.

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