Day 22 -
morning, I'm awoken by the sound of thunder that overpowers
the roar of the rapids. I quickly pop out of the tent in
time to see a large herd of caribou running up the bluffs
across the river from us. Everyone scrambles out of bed and
grabs camera gear. As we start to film, more herds of
caribou come over the ridge to the north of us. The herds
range from less than 100 to more than a thousand. One of the
smaller herds comes down to the same place we'd planned to
camp on the shore opposite us. After grazing for a bit on
the lush grasses, the herd moves down to the river and
starts to cross - right through the rapids. The herd swims
across the river and lands right underneath the cliff face
we're sitting on. They shake off the water and go either
left or right underneath us, then up the bank. After a few
hours, more caribou have arrived and there are vast numbers
of animals across the river from us. We walk down the shore
a bit and film the herds. Deb goes back to our tents with
Kyle to bring back a canoe so that we can cross to the other
When we hike the hills on the opposite side, we're surrounded by caribou. Large herds mill around us, some walking and some running. The kids try to run with the caribou, but the animals can easily out pace them. On one occasion, small herds casually stroll past so close we could almost touch them. Eventually, we get back in the canoe and head back to our side of the river. We'd planned to get something to eat, but just as we reach the tents, the herd comes back down the river and its larger than before. We hike back to watch and film. Some of them cross the river, but most seem to be dozing. They're standing quietly, but their heads are down with the snout touching the ground for many minutes. Suddenly, on some cue imperceptible to us, the herds become active again. At first, they mill around in large circles. Areas of the herd spring into short stampedes and raise clouds of dust. Eventually, the herd begins to climb the hill to the top of the bluffs. As they climb, we're staggered by the size of the herd. We count about a hundred to get an idea of how large an area they'd occupy, then try to section off the herd to see how many groups of 100 are in the herd. We come to the conclusion that there's easily more than 100,000.
As the animals climb the bluff, groups of them stampede for short distance - probably spooked by something. From our vantage points, it looks like one of those domino exhibitions where fields of domino pieces fan out in all directions once a key piece has been knocked over. Its spectacular to watch.
The large herd eventually moves out of sight over a ridge and we head back to the tents. We're disappointed that they didn't cross the river here, but we're thankful we got to spend so much time with them. By now, we're famished. We've been so fascinated with the caribou that we never made it back to the tents to gather up food. Supper last night was our last meal. We'd planned to have a layover day today, but with all the caribou around us, we'd have stayed the extra day here anyway. As we prepare supper, Kyle looks at the distant hills and finds them alive with caribou. The herd traveled a few kilometers downstream and crossed there.
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