HKR professor joins explorers to take on the Churchill River

Dr. Loeffler, a recreation professor, joined Marian Wissink (Computer Science), Dr. Paul Gillard (Department of Computer Science), Joe Boland (Technical Services), as well as Lew Feltham and George Pardy (both retirees from Technical Services).

Dr. Loeffler was the only one new to the river whereas everyone else had done it before but, she said, they all wanted to run the river maybe one last time given the dramatic changes that will take place with the various planned hydro developments.

"My favourite part of the expedition was immersing myself in Labrador once more... Travelling the Churchill, a river with such historic and current significance was very special. The Churchill River has large volume of water flowing through and this makes for some exciting rapids, whirlpool like eddy lines, and some big mileage days. We had two days where we paddled over 40 kilometres."

The group had one encounter with a persistent and bold bear. "We'd had a big paddling day (over 40 kms of slack water) through a section where there were few camping options because of steep river walls. We finally made Long Point and were about to make camp when this bear comes wandering in. He came within 20 feet of us before bolting but then soon circled around and came right into the area where we had dropped our bags," Dr. Loeffler recounted. "Our efforts of shouting, being big, blowing whistles and other assorted tries at scaring the bear off were unsuccessful so we repacked our boats and made our weary bodies paddle another few kilometres downstream to avoid what might have been a long and/or dangerous night with a problem bear."

Another favourite part for Dr. Loeffler was reminiscing with other Memorial employees. "It was great to share an expedition with others from within the Memorial University community. It was fun to share stories about how the university evolved over the past fifty years and play 'Did you know so and so' from this particular era? I took my SPOT messenger and satellite phone along and blogged daily from the river."

For Dr. Gilliard, it was his third time down the Churchill River. His first time was in 1999 and each time previously, he paddled with his son.

For Dr. Gillard, a favourite part was paddling down Winokapau Lake. "Paddling down this lake can be strenuous, because there is a close to 40 km stretch with no reasonable camp sites, particularly for a party of three or more canoes. It is a beautiful paddle, however. The steep hills come right down to the edge of the lake, and there are brooks with spectacular waterfalls spilling down the slopes."

"Here you are alone with your thoughts (and your fellow paddlers), exerting enough effort to keep you from boredom, but repetitive enough to be lost in thought. Other than your own party, you are days from civilization and extremely unlikely to see another human."

"Another favourite, and one that will likely disappear when the Muskrat Falls project is complete, is at the top of the Gull Island Rapids," noted Dr. Gilliard. "These are the longest and most significant rapids on the river, and looking down from above early in the morning, watching the mist blow upstream towards your campsite is a truly inspiring sight."

"As to this being the last trip on the river, personally I would like to do it once more, with my son. He wasn't able to make it this time, but I think that the trip will be available until construction begins in earnest, so there are probably at least a couple of years more when the river will be as wild and with as few travellers as now."