Major renovations were completed in early November 2017 but I expect that warts remain.
Thanks for your patience. Allan
Appendix 9. The fatal rapids.
Some overlap of material presented here is unavoidable with that presented in Appendix 8. Rapids in general.
0. Moffatt had obtained a copy of J W Tyrrell’s book, which provides no material regarding the fatal rapids.
1. Moffatt had obtained a copy of J B Tyrrell’s report, which I believe to be identical to his journal; I have been unable to access it.
2. Moffatt had accessed JBT’s book, which makes no mention of the rapids (those between Wharton Lake and Marjorie Lake) where Moffatt died.
Reference. Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
3. Moffatt had accessed JBT’s maps for the entire 1893 trip. The one for the reach where Moffatt died does not show the fatal rapids.
Reference. https://barrenlands.library.utoronto.ca/zone.cfm?ID=1893&zone=6 .
4. As well, Moffatt had corresponded with JBT; only a little information (kindly provided by participants) from these exchanges is available. It is clear, however, that Tyrrell had provided Moffatt with rapids information significantly beyond that given in JBT’s book. Sub-Appendix 1. Tyrrell sources provides background for the interested reader.
Reference. Ancillary 7. Moffatt’s Tyrrell sources.
The reliability of JBT’s advice to Moffatt.
As I document below and elsewhere, Moffatt followed closely Tyrrell’s advice regarding rapids on the Dubawnt, most importantly his advice regarding the fatal rapids.
His [Tyrrell’s] journal had been accurate to that point, namely lunch time on 14 September, immediately prior to the running of the fatal rapids. [LeFavour, private correspondence, 2015]. LeFavour refers here to the entire 10 or so weeks prior to that point. I assume that by Tyrrell’s journal, LeFavour includes the advice provided in the correspondence.
Moffatt possessed detailed information from J B Tyrrell regarding Dubawnt rapids. That information had proved accurate for something like 11 weeks previously.
Given the nature of the accusatory literature, I find it necessary to state the obvious:
1. In the 11 weeks prior to his death, had there existed even one significant difference between the three JBT sources (his journal, his correspondence and his maps), Moffatt would have surely have noticed it and would have scouted the rapids where he died.
2. In particular, on 13 and 14 September, the Moffatt party portaged the rapids immediately above those where he died.
1. Are we to believe (as the Sports Illustrated editor evidently expects us to do) that, having that very morning completed a portage made in part to protect the film and cameras (the very purposes of the trip), Moffatt changed his mind and, a few hours later, decided to risk the loss of both film and cameras?
2. More importantly, are we to believe (as the SI editor evidently expects us to do), that, a few hours after completing that portage, Moffatt decided to risk the lives of all members of the party and so took the the ultimate chance in running those rapids in desperate haste as the party raced against winter?
START AGAIN HERE
The evidence for 13 and 14 September.
13 September. .
On the day before Moffatt died, the Moffatt party ran two rough rapids, then camped after portaging some gear around a third, a much more serious one. These are the drops of 15 and 6 feet and the portage of 400 yards mentioned in Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
The party completed the portage of 400 yards and resumed paddling. At the lunch stop that day, the party added 20 lb of lake trout to the food supply, which was already sufficient that the party had no need to hunt caribou again. Reference. Appendix 6. Food.
Trusting Tyrrell’s advice, which had proved accurate for the previous 10 weeks or so, Moffatt led the way downstream without scouting the rapids below the portage. Only when it was too late to bail out and head for shore did Moffatt see major rapids ahead and so realise that Tyrrell had failed him that day. He could only shout “Paddle!” to his bowperson Lanouette and try to tough it out. His canoe and a second overturned in a pair of rapids not mentioned by Tyrrell, spilling the paddlers into the cold waters. Moffatt died of hypothermia about an hour later.
I ask that the reader compare the above description of events (which is based on the journals of the trip participants) that lead to Moffatt’s death with the following assertion of the Sports Illustrated editor.
…the Moffatt party races against winter… In desperate haste, they take an ultimate chance.
Over the 55 years from 1959 to 2014, every accuser got wrong the cause of Moffatt’s death.
I believe that they did so largely because both the Sports Illustrated editor and Grinnell redacted evidence that Moffatt had been advised by J B Tyrrell that there existed no rapids of any significance in that reach.
Points 1 and 2 (below) compare Moffatt’s journal entry (his last) for 13 September with the Sports Illustrated editor’s version of it [SI article, lower right column on p 82].
One sees that the SI editor redacted the phrase Following Tyrrell’s route from Moffatt’s journal entry for 13 September. That phrase shows first that Moffatt had obtained Tyrrell’s advice for that reach, second that he was following it.
Should this redaction be believed to have been accidental, I point out that it falsifies the editor’s assertion …the Moffatt party races against winter on the Barren Grounds. … In desperate haste, they take an ultimate chance. [bottom right of p 76, for the period after 16/17 August].
Points 5 and 6 (below) compare the SI condensation (a faithful one) of Lanouette’s journal for the day of the tragedy with Grinnell’s version of it [Grinnell book, p 202].
One sees that Grinnell redacted, and replaced by an ellipsis, the passage This surprised us. Art had figured we had already shot the last two rapids into Marjorie Lake. Actually, what we had gone down were only riffles, and what lay ahead was the real beginning of the first rapids.
Does anyone believe this redaction to have been accidental?
And so, as I remark several times in this manuscript, it then concerns me that the Sports Illustrated and Grinnell had certainly corresponded [SI article, p 88].
Comments regarding the accusations.
On the basis of no evidence known to me (and none was provided), every defamer who wrote about the tragedy asserted the cause of Moffatt’s death to be rather one or more of those discussed in Appendices 1 through 8. It seems necessary to state that an assertion by a previous defamer is not evidence.
Few of those eight accusations had any support in evidence when they were made. Many of them fly in the face of easily available contrary evidence to the contrary. And every such accusation is falsified by the evidence in toto.
The prime example is James Murphy’s Lack of food, proper equipment and most importantly, lack of a planned itinerary, contributed to his demise. [Che-Mun, Canoelit section. Moffatt, Myth & Mysticism. Spring 1996, pp 5 and 11].
I find it worthy of explicit mention that this accusation was made in Murphy’s review of Grinnell’s book.
1. In that book, Grinnell documents a plethora of food from the land and also from the cache in the six weeks before the tragedy. Reference. Appendix 6. Food.
That is, there was no lack of food. In fact, there was not even a shortage of food on the whole; the truth is rather that the party was hungry at times, gorged at others.
2. I believe that George Luste would have been much angered to learn that his recommendations for gear appropriate for paddlers circa 1996 had been used to defame Moffatt, who died in 1955. Reference. Appendix 3. Equipment.
3. The evidence regarding the schedule (Murphy’s planned itinerary) is contradictory, as I document in Appendix 7. Schedule.
Summary. In constructing his case against Moffatt, Murphy ignored evidence that falsifies his accusations.
The evidence regarding the fatal rapids.
I repeat that Tyrrell’s book makes no mention of the fatal rapids below the portage, which was completed in the morning of 14 September. Reference. Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
Outline. I provide the following paragraphs.
1. Moffatt’s journal entry for 13 September.
2. The Sports Illustrated editor’s version of Moffatt’s entry for that same day.
3. The assertions of the Sports Illustrated editor.
4. Participant Lanouette’s full journal entry for 14 September.
5. The SI condensation of Lanouette’s journal entry for that day.
6. Participant Grinnell’s version of that condensation.
7. Private correspondence from Lanouette.
8. The evidence of participant LeFavour.
9. The evidence of participant Pessl.
10. A comment of Luste.
12. Additional evidence.
1. Moffatt’s journal entry for 13 September.
Note. I lack access to Moffatt’s journal entries for 11 and 12 September, but I have no reason to believe that they contain anything relevant to the tragedy.
Moffatt’s journal for 13 September.
The following is the complete text of Moffatt’s journal entry for the day before the tragedy, as kindly supplied by Pessl (with (?) indicating faint, uncertain words on my copy).
Off at 10:15 across outlet bay [of Wharton Lake], Skip caught 3 trout, then down 15 foot very swift rapids, no rocks but very rough. Took water, had to bail. Following Tyrrell’s route, down 6’ rapid, back in (?) map, lunch 2 fish chowder, 2 hardtack. Then along island, water in channels, very fast, no looking it over, about 5 miles of it. Sun out more than for 6 days, but spotty. Pulled into bay by esker, I found good dry portage while canoes unloaded above last very rough + rocky part of rapid. I carried canoe across to little valley below bay, where we camped. Others portaged while I cooked huge glop, fish and bully, pudding + tea. Then, in darkness, I made last portage trip for load of wood, (?), 2 poles. Thought of wolves. Saw none!
Good distance today, Marjorie Lake tomorrow.
Comments regarding this last entry made by Moffatt in his journal.
1. Please note in particular the phrase Following Tyrrell’s route.
2. The 15’ and 6’ rapids are documented in J B Tyrrell’s book, as is the portage (of 400 yards).
3. But please note that JBT’s book makes no mention of the rapids below the portage; it was in these rapids that Moffatt died. Reference. Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
4. The portage was completed in the morning of 14 September; after a break for lunch (at which time the party added 20 lb of trout to the already considerable food supply), the party continued downstream toward Marjorie Lake.
5. I ask that the reader compare the above with the following.
2. The Sports Illustrated version of Moffatt’s journal entry for 13 September.
The following is the complete relevant text on page 82 (lower right column) of the Sports Illustrated article.
[On September 11, the Moffatt party, having traveled with snow squalls and wind in their faces all day, reached Wharton Lake. The following morning the weather was better than it had been for a week, although the skies were spotted with clouds. After a portage around rapids, Art Moffatt wrote “I cooked fish and bully, pudding and tea. Then, in darkness, I made the last portage trip for a load of wood, my packsack and two poles. I thought of wolves on the way but saw none. Good distance today. Marjorie Lake tomorrow.” And this was the last entry Art Moffatt was to make in his diary.]
One sees that the SI editor redacted the phrase Following Tyrrell’s route.
To me, that phrase is the key to understanding the tragedy, for it shows that Moffatt was only following Tyrrell’s guide when he chose to run the fatal rapids without a scout.
I suggest that only the most credulous could believe that redaction to have been an accident, a slip of the pen.
And I suggest it to be no coincidence that the redacted passage falsifies both Assertion 1 and Assertion 2 (below) of the editor.
3. The assertions of the Sports Illustrated editor.
I ask that the reader reflect on the relevance of the phrase Following Tyrrell’s route to the following assertions (the parts regarding rapids) of the Sports Illustrated editor.
Increasingly, the men were taking chances. They now shot down churning chutes of white water, which, a month earlier, they would have scrutinized with a doubtful eye. [top of right column, p 82].
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. [bottom right of p 76, for the period after 16/17 August].
Responses to the rapids parts of Assertions 1 and 2.
As they apply to rapids above those where Moffatt died, both assertions are falsified by the evidence provided in Appendix 8. Other rapids.
With respect to the fatal rapids, both assertions are falsified by the evidence that Moffatt was only following J B Tyrrell’s advice when he ran the fatal rapids without a scout.
And so I suggest it to be no accident, no slip of the pen, that the editor redacted the passage Following Tyrrell’s route… from Moffatt’s journal entry for 13 September.
And, given that Lanouette’s evidence (provided below) falsifies all of the editor’s Assertion 1 and much of her/his Assertion 2, perhaps the editor failed to read that evidence.
I refer the reader to Ancillary 1. Accusations for a fuller discussion of the accusations regarding the fatal rapids.
Response to the food part of Assertion 2.
The statement game grows scarce is falsified by the evidence of Moffatt’s journal, which documents the shooting of five caribou in the six weeks before the tragedy, the last on 5 September.
It bears mention that Moffatt’s journal documents also the shooting of many ptarmigan, the catching of many fish (three species), and the harvesting of blueberries and mushrooms, all in those six weeks. Reference. Appendix 6. Food.
4. Lanouette’s full journal for 14 September..
The passage that follows (the one relevant to the onset of the fatal rapids) is excerpted from his journal for 14 September, as provided in Ancillary 2. Lanouette excerpt.
The journal itself is not publicly available and so I express my gratitude to Lanouette (Moffatt’s bowperson) for making it available to me; I hope that the padding community as a whole is similarly grateful for his generosity.
We had a rather satisfying lunch of chowder and three hardtacks (or ‘tacks) apiece and were ready to shove on again around 2:30 or 3:00. The weather was still dismal, although the wind had dropped (I think) almost to a complete calm.
The river flowed on rather swiftly and it was but a few minutes before we heard and saw another rapids on the horizon. (Notes – at this time, Art figured we had shot the last 2 rapids into Lady Marjorie and so we were not anticipating anything more along this line – actually, what we had taken for rapids were only riffles and what lay ahead was the real beginning of the first rapids). At the top, these rapids looked as though they would be very easy going – a few small waves, rocks … nothing serious – so much so that we didn’t even haul over to shore to look it over before proceeding as was customary. The river at this point was straight and we could see both the top and foot of the rapids quite clearly – however, although we didn’t realize it, we couldn’t see the middle, even though we thought we could – at any rate we barrelled happily along. We bounced over a couple of fair-sized waves and took in a couple of splashes but I didn’t mind, as I had made an apron of my poncho and remained dry enough. I, as was my habit, was looking a few feet in front of the canoe, looking for submerged rocks – suddenly, Art shouted “Paddle” – I responded and took up the beat, at the same time looking farther ahead to see what it was we were trying to avoid – to my complete surprise, what I saw were two lines of white, parallel to one another and coming closer with every passing instant – I looked at them in helpless fascination, not altering my stroke any. The lines of white were the crests of two huge waves formed by the water as it crashed over 2, 3 or 4’ ledges or falls). Note: it was too late to pull for shore – all we could was to pick what seemed to be the least turbulent spots and head for them.
Lanouette was surprised because J B Tyrrell had advised the party that there existed no rapids of consequence between the portage (the one completed in the morning of 14 September) and Marjorie Lake.
As I document in Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt, J B Tyrrell’s book makes no mention of the fatal rapids. Those rapids are mentioned in the Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence, which suggests however that they are a matter of no concern. I refer the reader to the evidence of LaFavour, as provided in Item 7 below: …the last two apparently easy for they were mentioned only as “rapids”. That correspondence is clearly an item to be pursued; I hope to find the opportunity to do so.
Following Tyrrell’s advice, which had proved reliable for many weeks previously, Moffatt continued downstream without a scout, to his death.
5. The Sports Illustrated condensation of Lanouette’s journal for 14 September.
A condensation of Lanouette’s journal entry for 14 September was reported in the SI article of 1959 (the very first publication regarding the tragedy). The following is excerpted from page 85.
After a fine lunch of fish chowder, we shoved off again at around 2:30. The weather was still dismal, although the wind had dropped. In a few minutes we heard and saw rapids on the horizon. This surprised us. Art had figured we had already shot the last two rapids before Marjorie Lake. Actually, what we had gone down were only riffles, and what lay ahead was the real beginning of the first rapids.
At the top, the rapids looked as though they would be easy going, a few small waves, rocks—nothing serious. We didn’t even haul to shore to have a look, as we usually did. The river was straight and we could see both the top and foot of the rough water quite clearly, or we thought we could. We barreled happily along. We bounced over a couple of fair-sized waves and took in a couple of splashes, but I didn’t mind as I had made an apron of my poncho and remained dry enough. I was looking a few feet in front of the canoe for submerged rocks when Art suddenly shouted “Paddle.”
1. The interested reader will verify that the above is a faithful condensation of Lanouette’s journal, as provided in Item 4.
2. The interpretation of the passage is clear to me:
Moffatt had possessed prior information regarding the fatal rapids. From that information (which came from J B Tyrrell), he concluded that the rapids were of no concern, and so he ran them without a scout. Unfortunately, Tyrrell’s information was incorrect.
3. Many of Moffatt’s defamers in the matter of the fatal rapids are known to have possessed the SI article (this from the content of their accusations, some regarding other matters), but not one of them mentioned Lanouette’s exculpatory text, which lay in plain sight in the SI article.
4. Worthy of special mention in this respect is the Sports Illustrated editor her/himself, who not only omitted mention of the passage, but also made accusations falsified by it. Yet worse, the editor redacted the exculpatory passage Following Tyrrell’s route from Moffatt’s journal for 13 September.
The evidence of Lanouette, as published in the Sports Illustrated condensation of his journal, demonstrates that Moffatt had full reason to believe that the coast was clear to continue downriver without a scout.
But not one defamer in this matter mentioned the exculpatory evidence of Lanouette’s journal, which lay in plain view in the SI article (which was used by them to make other accusations). Did they not act in unseemly haste?
6. Grinnell’s version of the condensation of Lanouette’s journal.
Grinnell provided the following version of Item 5.
In a few minutes we heard and saw rapids on the horizon… [paragraph break]
At the top, the rapids looked as though they would be easy going, a few small waves, rocks—nothing serious. [Grinnell book, 1996 edition, p 202]
One sees that Grinnell redacted the exculpatory passage
This surprised us. Art had figured we had already shot the last two rapids before Marjorie Lake. Actually, what we had gone down were only riffles, and what lay ahead was the real beginning of the first rapids from the condensation of Lanouette’s journal [Sports Illustrated, p 85, middle of right column] and replaced it with an ellipsis.
This passage tells me that Moffatt (and so Lanouette) had been told by J B Tyrrell there were no more significant rapids above Marjorie Lake.
Grinnell redacted the key passage This surprised us…first rapid because it showed that Moffatt had been misled by Tyrrell’s advice.
1. Several accusers are known to have been misled by Grinnell’s redaction.
2. The same three exculpatory sentences were redacted also in the 2010 edition of Grinnell’s book [p 207].
3. Pessl disputes many remarks in Grinnell’s book. Especially noteworthy here is Grinnell’s thinly veiled suggestion that Moffatt was suicidal, this with reference in particular to the running of the fatal rapids without a scout.
4. As I documented above, the Sports Illustrated editor also redacted exculpatory evidence regarding Moffatt’s decision to run the fatal rapids without a scout. And so it concerns me that the two had certainly corresponded (perhaps met in person) before the publication of the SI article in 1959; I refer here to page 88 of that article.
7. Private correspondence from Lanouette.
Comment. Thanks to Lanouette for these email messages and for permission to publish them.
1. …he [Pessl] and Art had studied them [J B Tyrrell’s journals] carefully before setting out and notations from the journals had been made on Art’s maps. [17 January , 2015].
2. I can assure you that, at the time of the accident, there was no sense of panic. But after recovering from that experience, we certainly focussed in getting as much mileage behind us each day. [17 January, 2015].
3. Certainly there was no panicky, helter-skelter paddling down the river to reach Baker Lake. [20 March, 2015].
Comment. I am uncertain regarding the times to which the remarks no sense of panic and no panicky…paddling are intended to apply.
8. The evidence of LeFavour’s article.
For completeness, I quote again LeFavour’s comment His [Tyrrell’s] journal had been accurate to that point, namely the start of the fatal rapids. [Private correspondence, 2015]
The source for the following is LeFavour’s article in the Evening Recorder, Amsterdam NY. Part 3, page 8, 29 December (1955)].
…As we sped through Wharton Lake only the occasional snow flurry fell, an incentive not a deterrent. Up to that point we had shot five caribou and by doing so had saved enough meat to see us through. Now it was not even necessary to spend time hunting. We traveled, and traveled hard.
The river between Wharton and Marjorie Lakes split up into three channels. The longest of these [the rightmost] had been traveled by Tyrrell in his trip 60 years before and was described in his journal: there were five rapids, the first two rough but shootable, the third long and heavy requiring a portage of a mile [”400 yards” in Tyrrell’s book] and the last two apparently easy for they were mentioned only as “rapids”. Because this route was described we took it, being careful to look over the first two which were indeed rough. Hurrying as we were, no foolish chances were taken.
1. Tyrrell’s remarks regarding the first two rapids and the portage square with those of participant LeFavour.
2. The first key passage is the last two apparently easy for they were mentioned only as “rapids”. I say that this passage is key because these are the rapids where Moffatt died. I should mention that this advice came from the Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence, rather from Tyrrell’s journal/book (which makes no mention of them).
3. The second key passage is Hurrying as we were, no foolish chances were taken.
I ask that the reader compare this with the Sports Illustrated editor’s assertion
…the Moffatt party races against winter on the Barren Grounds… In desperate haste, they take an ultimate chance. [SI article, bottom right of p 76]
A cold breeze blew the morning of the 14th. Thankful for the chance to keep warm by walking we completed the portage around the third rapid and at noon, under the watchful eye of four wolves lounging on a nearby ridge we set off downriver. By two we had stopped to eat a lunch which included hot soup cooked on a sweet smelling dwarf birch fire. Gas was precious, and the constant gathering required to keep the fire going helped to warm our cold feet. Here too, we fished, and after 20 pounds of trout were caught we gave up for the water was freezing in the eyes of the rod. It was cold, there was no doubt about that.
At 3 p.m. we were again on the river. Gone was the wind, and we hoped to get a good way up Marjorie
Lake in the calm before dark. A mile downriver the roar of the next rapid reached our ears, a roar which had become familiar and comforting in this quiet land, a roar which in the past had promised excitement. As we coasted into the top of it all appeared to be well. You could see the bottom, the water, though white, was apparently shootable. Tyrrell had indicated by his neglect that the rapid was an easy one, and it seemed to be just that.
A flock of ptarmigan on the shore caught my eye, but soon we were past them and out in midstream. It was then that Skip and I noticed that Art and Joe in the lead canoe were having trouble. They were over! We saw the two huge waves, walls of white water which seemed almost five feet high. Pete and George had made the one, were heading for the second, and then we saw nothing but the unavoidable waves. We were into it!
The objective having been accomplished (namely to document how the tragedy came to pass), more out of respect for the participants, I terminate LeFavour’s account here.
The key passage is … Tyrrell had indicated by his neglect that the rapid was an easy one, and it seemed to be just that. In full agreement with the evidence from other sources (in particular, the condensed version of Lanouette’s journal (SI article, pp 85-87), this passage evinces that, in choosing to run the fatal rapids without a scout, Moffatt had only followed J B Tyrrell’s advice. Given that Tyrrell’s journal makes no mention of these rapids, LeFavour must refer here to the Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence.
A minor point.
Sub-Appendix 2. The Tyrrell-Moffatt route between Wharton Lake and Marjorie Lake discusses the passage The river between Wharton and Marjorie Lakes split up into three channels. The longest of these had been traveled by Tyrrell in his trip 60 years before.
1. Although Moffatt’s defamers could not have been expected to know of the Evening Recorder article, it does falsify their accusations.
2. I thank LeFavour for providing it and for permission to reproduce it.
9. The evidence of Pessl.
After completing a short portage, loaded the canoes and continued our dash down the river. It was cold and windy, the sky was overcast and we stopped at frequent intervals to warm our feet and legs.
[We] approached what we thought must be the last rapids with confidence and impatience. Art stood up … looked ahead, and … drove his canoe for the middle of the flow. … The next thing I saw as we shot around the bend was a white wall of huge waves. … Beyond the thundering waves, the yellow camera box and Art’s gray canoe bobbed crazily in the rapids below. [Canoe&Kayak, May 2012 issue, p 48, right column].
That’s the other lesson I learned, says Pessl. To be patient. If we had just been patient and confident, if we hadn’t been in such a headlong rush that we didn’t stop to scout the rapid, we would have been fine. It’s very hard to do that, in the grip of panic, but it would have made all the difference. Art would have been with us, his life …. Pessl pauses. When it comes down to it, even with everything that happened, we were so close. [Canoe&Kayak, May 2012 issue, p 102?, left column].
The tragedy of September 14, when Art Moffatt died, occurred, in my opinion, … , because Art and I tried to concurrently accomplish two mutually exclusive objectives: canoe travel and documentary filming of that journey. The demands of these opposing goals delayed and distracted our commitment to river miles. Art and I remained tragically stubborn in our commitment to filming the journey, even in the face of serious and obvious deterioration of the weather. [Nastawgan, Summer issue, 2013, p 5].
The weather grew harsh. Freezing temperatures, wind-driven snow, dwindling food supplies, and deteriorating equipment pushed us hard to travel faster and more efficiently, and ultimately we made a fatal mistake. We approached the rapids entering Marjorie Lake with caution, but without an onshore look. Standing up in our canoes as we floated toward the rapids, we saw a modest current sweeping toward a right-hand bend and drove our canoes into that initial current V. [Pessl book, p XVII.]
The tragedy of September 14 occurred, in my opinion, not because of Art’s alleged mental instability or some sort of Zen nonsense, but because Art and I failed to accurately translate our collective Albany River experiences to northern big-river conditions, especially into late-season, freezing conditions, and because we tried to concurrently accomplish two mutually exclusive objectives: travel and film. …we did not differentiate between what worked on the Albany River and what would not work in late season on the Dubawnt.
The deteriorating weather…changed our modus operandi from cautious land-based scouting of rapids to a floating assessment as we were sucked into the headwater Vs of each successive rapid. It worked for several days and many rapids, except for one.
Somewhere between the robotic distance grinds of… and the tragic disregard for time, distance, and season of the Moffatt leadership (and I include myself I that category), there must be a reasonable balance for wilderness canoeists on long journeys… [Pessl book, pp 172&173].
Comment regarding passages 2 through 5.
To me, Pessl’s remarks are those of an introspective person still trying, after 59 years, to come to terms with the tragedy; for publishing those remarks, I suggest that he deserves our deep respect.
Pessl (kindly and most frankly, both as ever) responded as follows regarding an email message of mine.
I understand the confusion, contradiction that the two quotes may create. The quote attributed to me [Excerpt 2] is accurate and comes from a conversation I had with Al Kesselheim when he was preparing to write his C&K article on the Moffatt Dubawnt journey (May 2012). It was a very emotional interview for me; the first time in many years that I shared some of my feelings about Dubawnt ’55. The quote expresses my remorse over Art’s death and my belief, in retrospect, that we should have scouted the Marjorie rapids. My use of the term “panic” was inaccurate, too strong and I regret that. Bruce’s phrase is much more accurate.
But our individual and collective state of mind during those early September days is pretty much conjecture and perhaps mostly semantic after so many years. The much more important question, clearly answered by your detailed research, is WHY we didn’t scout the rapids? And the answer: because we were following Tyrrell’s journal description of the river conditions approaching Marjorie Lake. Tyrrell’s river descriptions had proven dependable previously and indicated benign conditions entering Marjorie Lake following the last portage. [Pessl, private correspondence].
The passage we were following Tyrrell’s journal description of the river conditions approaching Marjorie Lake, alone and itself, falsifies every accusation made by every Moffatt defamer regarding the running of the fatal rapids.
10. A comment of Luste.
Art Moffatt, following Tyrrell’s notes, was not expecting the rapid in which he swamped and then died. [Luste, in Grinnell’s book, p 284].
Please note the phrase following Tyrrell’s notes. That is, Luste knew (by means unknown) and confirms that Moffatt
had obtained rapids advice from Tyrrell,
was following that advice, and
had been misled by that advice.
Unfortunately, not one defamer mentioned Luste’s exculpatory comment, which appears (it need be repeated) in Grinnell’s book, a prime source for accusations of o’erhasty running of the fatal rapid.
In particular, Grinnell himself (in his own book) had the opportunity to mention Luste’s comment, but failed to do so.
1. The Moffatt party possessed information, not provided in Tyrrell’s book, regarding the rapids below the portage. The source for that additional information can be only the Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence, which is known to have occurred but is not publicly available.
2. Those rapids were apparently easy for they were mentioned only as “rapids”. [LeFavour, Ibid.]
3. By the time that Moffatt realized the gravity of the situation, it was too late to bail out and head for shore; they had to tough it out. The rapids grew ever wilder, and despite Moffatt’s considerable experience in running white water, his boat and another capsized, spilling all four into the ice-cold river. The paddlers (one of them later fell into the water) in the third boat were able to rescue the other four, but Moffatt died of hypothermia about an hour later. Luste commented as follows. …one is struck by how close all six came to perishing in the cold water. [Grinnell book, pp 294 & 295].
12. Additional evidence.
1. Referring to food and running rapids, Pessl commented as follows. The protection of our supplies dictates our caution. [Pessl, p 90, 16 August]
2. Moffatt took major precautions to protect also the film and the photographs; after all, these were the main purposes for the trip! Indeed, Moffatt portaged parts of some rapids run by the other two canoes. [Pessl, pp 122 & 124 (search incomplete)].
3. Moffatt’s …decided to portage last 100 yds. of rapid, partly to get warm, also to avoid risk of wetting or hurting film & cameras… as quoted in private correspondence from Pessl; I refer the reader to Appendix 8. Rapids in general.
Moffatt’s sources regarding the fatal rapids were J B Tyrrell’s book and correspondence with him.
The evidence of Tyrrell’s book (for the reach between Wharton Lake and Marjorie Lake) is provided in Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt..
The full Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence is presently unavailable, only excerpts.
On 14 September 1955, Moffatt ran the fatal rapids (those below the lunch stop) without a scout because J B Tyrrell had informed him, implicitly, that they were not dangerous.
The evidence of trip participants Moffatt (I refer here to his journal entry for 13 September), Lanouette, LeFavour and Pessl attests that Tyrrell’s rapids information, which had proved reliable for the previous ten weeks, failed Moffatt on 14 September.
The efforts of the Sports Illustrated editor and of Grinnell were outstandingly successful, for their redactions misled the paddling community as a whole, including many prominent members of it, for 55 years regarding the cause of Moffatt’s death.
Every author of every accusation regarding the cause of Moffatt’s death got it wrong. They asserted (only) that the cause was one or more of those discussed in Appendices 1 through 8.
What an ugly chapter in the paddling literature are the accusations regarding the fatal rapids.
Sadly, the eight other chapters of the accusatory literature differ but little.
Even John Hornby (Thelon River, 1927) was treated mildly in comparison.
Reference. Ancillary 1. Accusations.
Sub-Appendix 1. Tyrrell sources.
The expedition of 1893 was led by Joseph Burr Tyrrell (1858-1957) and his brother James Williams (1863-1945).
J W Tyrrell’s book.
Assumed to be a full transcription of JWT’s journal, it is available at the University of Toronto library, in microfiche form. I viewed perhaps 20 pages, but in cursory fashion only. I made no copies. I recall much detail regarding ethnography. I found nothing of interest regarding the scene of the tragedy; and I found no mention of weather as severe as that encountered by the Moffatt party.
I did not pursue the matter because I knew that Moffatt’s primary source for Dubawnt information had been rather J B Tyrrell; in fact, as best I know, Moffatt made no use of this item.
J B Tyrrell’s book.
I assume JBT’s book to be a full transcription of his journal; the latter is not publicly available; it might be held at the Thomas Fisher library at the University of Toronto, but I’ll not pursue the matter.
I assume also that, in the following passage, by report Moffatt means JBT’s book.
…who was kind enough to send, on loan until September 30, 1955, a copy of your report. [Moffatt letter to J B Tyrrell, 14 January 1955].
JBT’s book is held at the University of Toronto library. The kind, helpful staff there generously provided me with copies of page 56 F (upstream of “Doobaunt” Lake) to page 70 F (downstream from Aberdeen Lake).
In Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt, I provide the full text of JBT’s journal for the reach between Wharton Lake and Marjorie Lake. The interested reader will verify that Tyrrell makes no reference to rapids below the portage 400 yards long. It was in those unmentioned rapids that Moffatt died.
The Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence.
The following items evince that Moffatt had corresponded with J B Tyrrell regarding the Dubawnt River, in particular its rapids.
1. Moffatt’s letters of 18 December 1954 and 14 January 1955 to J B Tyrrell, (copies kindly provided by Pessl; not available to the general public). In the latter, Moffatt thanks Tyrrell for his response to the first.
2. LeFavour’s newspaper article of 1955.
3. The Sports Illustrated article of 1959 [Art Moffatt’s Prospectus, p 71].
4. Pessl’s Nastawgan article of 2013 [p 3].
5. Pessl’s book of 2014 [pp 10&176].
Comment. The Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence itself is not publicly available, only references to some of its contents, and a few excerpts. This is an important matter to be pursued, for we would then learn in detail what Tyrrell told Moffatt regarding the fatal rapids in particular. I believe the correspondence to be held at the Thomas Fisher library at the University of Toronto; if so, I hope to access it, one fine day.
Sub-Appendix 2. The Tyrrell-Moffatt route between Wharton Lake and Marjorie Lake.
The Dubawnt River exits Wharton Lake by two channels, but some waters of the leftmost channel flow into the rightmost, as one sees easily at Toporama and mytopo. BTW, this is the reason for the <em<three in LeFavour’s passage The river between Wharton and Marjorie Lakes split up into three channels. The longest of these had been traveled by Tyrrell in his trip 60 years before.
The topos identify the rightmost as the Dubawnt River.
Moffatt followed Tyrrell’s route, namely the rightmost channel. The corresponding evidence is provided in Ancillary 3. Tyrrell excerpt.
Comment 1. Bill Layman and Lynda Holland chose the leftmost channel in 2001, I don’t know why.
http://www.out-there.com/bill-jl9.htm#Monday July 30
I note that Layman incorrectly identified the leftmost channel as the one where Moffatt died.
Comment 2. After the tragedy, the Moffatt party portaged from Marjorie Lake to Aberdeen Lake, I assume because the rapids below Marjorie are particularly difficult, as described in another publication by Layman (2002)
Thanks to Les Wilcox for informing me of the latter.
Foreword and Forum.
Appendix 1. Reality.
Appendix 2. Holidays.
Appendix 3. Equipment.
Appendix 4. Experience.
Appendix 5. Pace.
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. The Moffatt-Tyrrell correspondence.