Appendix 5. Pace and Weather

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Appendix 5. Pace and Weather.


Arthur Moffatt did not die due to a plodding pace early in the trip, forcing him later to race in desperate haste…against winter and so to take the ultimate chance in the fatal rapids.
The cause of his death is documented in Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.

The assertions.

Comment. I call the following items assertions because in no case was any evidence provided in support of them.
Assertion 1.
Already nine days behind schedule, the Moffatt party races against winter on the Barren Grounds. The days grow colder, provisions dwindle, game grows scarce. In desperate haste, they take an ultimate chance. [Sports Illustrated article, bottom of the right column, p 76].
Assertion 2.
Arthur Moffat, a seasoned traveller, took a group of young men on a slow and undisciplined trip down the Dubawnt. [2000]
Assertion 3.
Their lack of schedule meant they took risks to catchup on time and Moffatt died of exposure after they dumped in a large rapid they did not scout. [2000]
Assertion 4.
They were a bunch of guys who didn’t know what they were doing and led by a guy with poor leadership skills. They fooled around and did a lot of crap and it finally came back to bite them. This was simply a group of novices led by someone more interested in film than travel, which squandered its time and resources and then made some tragic mistakes. [2005]
Assertion 5.
…the Moffatt story unfolds as a tragedy just waiting to happen – indifferent leadership, an inexperienced party, bad chemistry, a plodding pace, and an apparent apathy toward the season closing on them… [2005]
Assertion 6.
For half of August, they voted to take “holidays” and went nowhere. [2012]
Assertion 7.
The men talked less and took more risks…all three boats plunged over two sets of waterfalls the paddlers hadn’t bothered to scout…. [2014]

Responses to side issues.
I refer the reader to the following Appendices for the evidence regarding the corresponding parts of the assertions of Moffatt’s accusers.
Appendix 4. Experience addresses the assertions poor leadership skills, indifferent leadership, an inexperienced party and the like.
Appendix 6. Food addresses the assertion provisions dwindle, game grows scarce and the like.
Appendix 7. Schedule addresses the assertions Already nine days behind schedule, lack of schedule and the like.
Appendix 9. The fatal rapids addresses the assertion take an ultimate chance (which refers to the running of the fatal rapids without a scout) and the like.
Appendix 8. Rapids in general provides more general evidence regarding the Moffatt party’s approach to running rapids.

The pace/weather/schedule/holidays accusations.

The essence of the accusations is that the party travelled too slowly early,
in part out of laziness (that is, it took too many holidays),
in part because it lacked a schedule,
and who knows what else went on in the minds of Moffatt’s accusers.
Later, in desperate haste to make up time, the Moffatt party
raced against winter (perhaps even freeze-up),
and so it took risks to catchup on time,
and one of those risks resulted in the death of Arthur Moffatt.
The two lesser accusations are addressed in the following Appendices.
Appendix 7. Schedule.
The major accusations, those regarding pace and weather are addressed separately.
Part 1 (Pace) provides the pace-related evidence in the four legs of the trip. And so it addresses accusations that the early pace was too slow, forcing the party to take the ultimate chance by running the fatal rapids without a scout.
Part 2 (Weather) documents the weather experienced by the Tyrrell-Tyrrell party of 1893, as evinced by the books of J B Tyrrell and J W Tyrrell. It provides also a few pieces of weather evidence known to Moffatt from the 1893 trip.


The evidence regarding the pace.
The trip breaks naturally into four legs.

Leg 1. 3 July to 16 July.
The Moffatt party started from Black lake (on the Fond du Lac River), then ascended the Chipman River (with its brutal portages), reaching the south end of Selwyn Lake (from which the basin of the Dubawnt River was reached by portage) on 16 July [Pessl, p 41]; part of the portage across the height of land was completed that day.
Comment of the Sports illustrated editor.
In the days that immediately followed, the expedition made good time despite erratic winds and rain, the back-stiffening portages and missed routes. The maps the party used – they were the only ones in existence – were never precise enough, and there were many times when, after long wearying hours of working up a stream, the canoeists would have to admit their mistake and painfully retreat. [SI article, bottom of right column, p 73]
The maps could be the government-issue maps of the time (not available to me) or (more likely?) J B Tyrrell’s maps. The latter for the reach from Black Lake to Selwyn Lake are the following.

The evidence of Grinnell’s book.
1. The long portage up to the Height of Land dragged on for weeks. [p 19]
2. After climbing up the rapids of the Chipman River for nearly a month, we approached the Height of Land. [p 41]
3. The next day [22 July], we completed the portage across the Height of Land. [p 48]
4. For the first month, we had been travelling upstream to the Height of Land… p 73]
Remark. These passages support my conclusion that Grinnell did not keep a journal.
In particular, the height-of-land portage was completed on 17 July [Pessl, p 43] (not on 22 July), and so Leg 1 was completed in 15 days (not nearly a month).
Summary for Leg 1.
The pace was not plodding.
The pace was not undisciplined.
The pace was necessarily slow, but the party nevertheless made good time, considering the difficult circumstances.

Leg 2. 17 July to 3 August.
The party completed the height-of-land portage on 17 July.
By barrens-basher, river-bagger, ego-tripper standards only, slow, plodding and undisciplined are fair comments for this leg. One piece of evidence suffices: Pessl described this leg as a leisurely summer vacation. [p 66, 3 August]
But much of that period was devoted to filming and photographing, the very reasons for making the trip in the first place!
Participant Lanouette speaks to the matter. On sunny days Art and Skip would often be off loping around filming scenery and wild life- why not? That was a major goal of the trip. Incidentally … Art’s film became a feature attraction on a television show called “Bold Journey”. It was repeated several times, to my knowledge. [private correspondence]

Leg 3. 3 August to 14 September.
1. At a group meeting on 3 August, the party decided unanimously to continue to Baker Lake, rather than return to Stony Rapids.
2. In the early part of Leg 3, the pace was not plodding and the trip was neither slow nor undisciplined.
3. In the later part of the same leg, the pace was never desperate, especially on 14 September. In more detail, there was never an OMG-we-gotta-get-outa-here-ASAP decision, as suggested by the Sports Illustrated editor’s gratuitous assertion Already nine days behind schedule, the Moffatt party races against winter on the Barren Grounds. … In desperate haste, they take an ultimate chance. [SI article, p 76, bottom of right column]
Response 1. The passage nine days behind schedule has no basis in any evidence known to me.
Reference. Appendix 7. Schedule.
Response 2. The SI editor provided no evidence to support her/his assertions races against winter, desperate haste and ultimate chance. Nothing in all the literature that I have read, most noteworthy of all the writings of the trip participants, provides any support for any of the three.
I conclude that none of the three is graced by a basis in any evidence known to me.
4. In fairness, I quote the following: After the initial “halfway” scare of time-distance regarding food supplies…we are slowly drifting back into our previous lethargy. [Pessl, p 84, 13 August]
5. In fairness, the start was unnecessarily delayed some mornings. The result of a less-than-thorough search:
(a) Grinnell book [top of p 68].
(b) Pessl [p 100 (23 August)].
(c) Franck [in Pessl, p 108 (28 August).
(d) Sports Illustrated [top left of p 82, second paragraph (6 September)].
6. The party took to getting up very early, to beat the wind (especially on Dubawnt Lake), as I document in Appendix 7. Schedule.

Leg 4. 14 to 24 September.
After taking two days to recover from Moffatt’s death, the party certainly pushed hard. Too little is documented to say much more. Indeed, what more need be said?


One question is whether the Moffatt party had cause to expect the harsh weather that it experienced in early September.
The far more important question is whether the weather had anything to do with the death of Arthur Moffatt.
Given that weather early in the two trips is less relevant to the tragedy, I document only that met by the Tyrrell party in the lower reach, from Dubawnt Lake to Baker Lake inclusive.
Today, we are told (I believe) that recreational paddlers should exit the barrens early; perhaps incorrectly, I recall advice (I can’t find the source, if ever it existed) to be gone by mid-August.
Even Eric Morse and party ventured into the barrens only in 1959, four years after the Moffatt party.
Moffatt’s sources regarding the weather.
I remind the reader that Moffatt had access to both J B Tyrrell’s
book, which I was able to access, and also to his
journal (aka his report), which I was unable to access.
But I was not able to access the full Moffatt–Tyrrell correspondence, in particular what (if anything) JBT told Moffatt about the weather.
As well, Moffatt had accessed J W Tyrrell’s book.
I possess some evidence (known to Moffatt) regarding the weather experienced in the 1893 trip, as I describe later.
I am able to assess, and I do, whether the weather experienced by the Moffatt party differed significantly from that experienced in 1893. The latter evidence from my inspection of both JBT’s book (which provides little weather-related material) and that of JWT (which provides lots).
I provide the following items.
1. Some J B Tyrrell evidence known to Moffatt.
2. The evidence of J B Tyrrell’s book.
3. The evidence of J W Tyrrell’s book.
4. Analysis of the evidence.
5. Summary.
6. Conclusions.

1. Some Joseph Burr Tyrrell evidence known to Moffatt,
as documented in the writings of the participants.
A cursory search found only two items.
Item 1.
Tyrrell…had constant rain and cold, also patches of old snow everywhere. But for us it has been very pleasant… [Moffatt, 16 August, top left of p 80 of the SI article].
Item 2.
Throughout Tyrrell’s journal, he speaks of seeing patches of snow well to the south and he suffered his first snow storm on August 10. [Pessl, 28 August, bottom of p 107].
J B Tyrrell’s journal (available to Moffatt but not to me) is distinct from J B Tyrrell’s book (which both Moffatt and I were able to access).
The weather experienced by the Moffatt party on Dubawnt Lake was milder than that experienced by the Tyrrell party 62 years earlier. In particular, the former saw no snow remaining from the previous winter. [Pessl book, pp 97-110]

The weather-related evidence of Joseph Burr Tyrrell’s book.
1. Dubawnt Lake. Eleven days were spent on the lake during five of which we were unable to move on account of heavy storms. [p 56F].
Tyrrell’s days for Dubawnt Lake were 7-17 August 1893, Moffatt’s 21-27 August 1955 [Pessl, p 129]. In partial explanation of the longer time taken by the Tyrrell party, I note first that it was ice-bound as well as storm-bound, second that it had to find the exit (a difficulty compounded by the ice).
2. Dubawnt Lake. On the shore of this and the adjoining islands the bases of the cliffs were often covered with an accumulation of old snow and ice. [p 59F]
3. Wharton Lake. The greater part of two days was spent in this lake, struggling against head winds, …looking for its outlet… [p 65F].
Comment. The date was before 23 August, when the Tyrrell party completed the portage between Wharton Lake and Marjorie Lake. [p 66F]
4. Aberdeen Lake. On 28 August, Tyrrell recorded the temperature as 40 F [p 69 F].
5. Below Schultz Lake (date not provided). A heavy storm, with rain, now set in… The storm continued to rage for three days, during which time we were unable to launch our canoes. [p 72F]
6. The Tyrrell party reached the west end of Baker Lake on 2 September; on 6 September, he recorded the water temperature of the lake as 41 F. [p 74F]
J B Tyrrell’s book makes no mention of the following.
Moffatt item 1, in part. constant rain and cold, also patches of old snow everywhere….
Moffatt item 2, in part. …Tyrrell’s journal, he speaks of seeing patches of snow well to the south….
And so one sees that Moffatt had possessed Tyrrell information beyond that provided in Tyrrell’s book. I decided to take Tyrrell’s journal (in part 2) literally; I have been unable to access the Tyrrell part of the Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence.

The weather-related evidence of James Williams Tyrrell’s book.
Note. I possess no evidence that Moffatt had access to any of the following.
7 August. …we broke camp early…down the river toward the frozen lake. … By this time, however, the wind was again blowing strongly, and a cold heavy rain setting in drove us to camp. During the night the wind increased to a gale, accompanied by torrents of rain… For three days the storm continued. On the fourth it turned to snow and the temperature went down to freezing—rather inhospitable weather for the 10th of August. … [p 95 & 96]
As we proceeded across the country we found the ground frozen and all the little ponds covered by new ice…it was a point of discussion with us whether the season of this land was spring or autumn. … The morning of the 12th broke cold and dreary. New ice everywhere covered the ponds… [p 97] …
On the morning of the 16th we were early aroused by the voice of a howling gale and the pelting rain… This storm continued with fury for two days…wet and shivering in the tents… On the afternoon of the second day, the rain ceased and the wind fell sufficiently to enable us to faintly hear to the north the roar of heavy rapids. [pp 102&103] Comment. These were the exit rapids from Dubawnt Lake.
On Aberdeen Lake, the party enjoyed fine weather—something unusual in the Barren Land districts for two days. [p 113]
On the morning of the 29th, enshrouded by a dense fog, we entered the river…we entered the west end of Schultz Lake… We were evidently in for a blow… No sooner had we reached shore than the storm burst upon us, but once in the river channel we were able to obtain shelter from the force of the gale if not from the pelting rain. [p 115]
After reloading the canoes…the wind beating the cold rain and the spray from the crest of the waves in our faces…our soaked and shivering party sought comfort… By the morning of the first of September, the rain had ceased and the clouds partially cleared away. The gale, however, continued to blow so fiercely as to frequently whip clouds of spray off the surface of the river, so that we were quite unable to travel in canoes. [pp 116 & 117].
The Tyrrell-Tyrrell party reached the encampment now known as Baker Lake on 2 September.

Analysis of the evidence.
1. The Moffatt party could have reasonably expected something like the foul weather that it experienced on 1, 2 and 3 September, at some time.
2. Before 9 September 1955, even apart from the matter of the ice on Dubawnt Lake, the weather appears to have been kinder to the Moffatt party than it was to the Tyrrell party by 9 September 1893.
3. At no time did the Tyrrell party of 1893 experience anything like the storm that struck Moffatt’s party 62 years later, on 9 September 1955. That storm (which destroyed one of the three tents) is described by both Grinnell [p 193] and Pessl [p 129].
Comment. The Sports Illustrated article [top right of p 82] reported that the winds of the storm of 9 September destroyed the anemometer in Churchill. That statement was repeated by Grinnell [p 193], whose source must have been the SI article.
I express elsewhere my opinion of the veracity of the SI editor and that of Grinnell, but I see no reason to doubt that the anemometer was destroyed.


The Moffatt party knew there to be no possibility of freeze-up until well into October, that is, well after its scheduled arrival in Baker Lake.
In the morning of 14 September, the party was on track to reach Baker Lake within a week or so of the hoped-for arrival date of 15 September. Indeed, despite the tragedy, it arrived on 24 September, two days later than the deadline (set by Moffatt) before an air search was begun.
Reference. Appendix 7. Schedule.


Contrary to the unevinced statements of Moffatt’s accusers, the early pace played no role in his death, for he exercised due caution even on the day that he died
The Sports illustrated editor’s the Moffatt party races against winter…In desperate haste, they take an ultimate chance is at best an exaggeration, given that freeze-up would not occur until well into October.
Reference for both items. Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.

Appendix. Earlier barrenlands trips.

1. Samuel Hearne, 1771.
As best I know, his was the earliest lengthy trip made by Europeans.
McGoogan, Ken. Ancient Mariner: The Arctic Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the Sailor Who Inspired Coleridge’s Masterpiece.
2. Other early barrenlands trips are documented in the thread
3. Oberholtzer-Magee, 1912.
The party reached the north end of Nueltin Lake on or about 30 August, then continued down the Thlewiaza River to Hudson Bay and points south.
I doubt very much that Moffatt had access to the record of this trip. One fine day, out of curiosity, I might compare the weather experienced by the two parties.

Celebrating the Oberholtzer-Magee 1912 Journey to Hudson Bay

Source not consulted. Bound for the Barrens: Journal of the Ernest Oberholtzer & Bill Magee 2,000-mile Canoe Voyage to Hudson Bay in 1912. Edited by Jean Sanford Replinger with Nancy Paddock. , etc.

Internal URLs.

Foreword and Forum.
Main text.
Appendix 1. Reality.
Appendix 3. Equipment.
Appendix 4. Experience.
Appendix 5. Pace and weather.
Appendix 6. Food.
Appendix 7. Schedule.
Appendix 8. Rapids in general.
Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
Ancillary 1. Accusations.
Ancillary 2. Lanouette excerpt.
Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
Ancillary 4. Distances.
Ancillary 5. Loose ends and the future.
Ancillary 6. Addenda.
Ancillary 7. Moffatt’s Tyrrell sources.
Ancillary 8. Evidence regarding the tragedy.

With the exception of quoted material, copyright to the above belongs to Allan Jacobs.

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