July 15, 2001 to July 18, 2001 (Fort Simpson to Flood Creek)
We should be on the river by now, but due to rain & low ceiling the floatplane cannot fly, so we spent an extra day in
a hotel. Now we are hanging around base camp passing time and waiting for word on weather conditions at Rabbit Kettle Lake.
Spirits are high. This may be a wet trip I think. Mosquitoes are bad and will be worse so I am buying a bug shirt and I
think it will be well used by the time I get off the river.
(July 16, 2001) We are still waiting for the floatplane.
It is noon and we have been waiting for 4 hours. Weather is still overcast...BUMMER. There are a dozen or more people at
base camp just waiting. A fine lunch is served.
Good news...weather is clearing at Rabbit Kettle and the plane
is on its way.
The plane is being loaded with ½ the gear, 3 canoes and 5 people. A big load for so small a plane,
but it fits.
We are off!! For a 1-½ hour flight through the clouds, but they start to breakup as we near our destination.
As we begin to lose altitude we fly between craggy mountains whose peaks are just above the tree line. Snow is still in the
weathered valleys forming small rivulets of run off for the wildlife.
Touching down in a spray of water as the
floats gently touch the still lake surface. We tie up to the dock where the ranger is waiting. With one prop still running
everyone pitches in to unload.
Ranger Carl Lafferty greets us as he tells us there is a sow grizzly with cubs in
the area and our trip to the Tufa Mounds is called off. We bring our gear to the camp and set up for the night. We eat a
good meal and Carl comes over to regale us with stories, mostly about the people who lived along the river before the white
man came here. We turned in for a good sleep at 12:30AM.
Next day (July 17, 2001) we portaged our gear to the
river where we loaded the canoes and listened to a talk on river safety given by Krystal and Lowell. Due to the late start
that day we decided to camp across the river.
On The River (July 18, 2001)
We start our journey on the river
after a good nights sleep shoving off into an intimidating current. But soon everyone is paddling confidently, enjoying our
first day on the river.
The background is mountains populated with pine trees and lots of other vegetation. I
keep looking for wildlife but see none except for tracks along the shore.
We stop for lunch on a gravel-bar. Cold
salmon and pita bread. When we leave the current is tricky and Rick and Jen come close to tipping their canoe, but only get
a little water in their canoe. One more stop at Hell Roaring Creek to rest, then camp is made at Flood Creek. Mosquitoes
are bad here; they swarm into the tent when the screen is opened. The ground is soft.
Rick caught a nice Dolly
Varden trout and we all applauded him as well as took pictures. He caught another but it broke his line. He practices catch
and release. I will now turn this journal over to some one else to continue.
July 19, 2001 (Flood Creek to Virginia Falls; from memory after journal took a swim)
Everyone awoke this morning rejuvenated and revitalized after witnessing me catch that huge Dolly Varden last night. We quickly
packed our gear after another fantastic breakfast. We headed down the river. Today we were faced with slow current and large
meanders. We certainly had enough time to practice our paddling strokes.
We paddled down the river.
lunch, we stopped along one of the meanders. We ate lunch while skipping stones into the Nahanni. Tom and Paul competed for
We paddled down the river.
This afternoon was hot and plenty of water was consumed.
We stopped again for a snack and a rest. Moose, wolf and bear tracks were spotted along a creek. Later on, 2 mud monsters
emerged from the bog but we were relieved to find out it was Paul and Jen.
We paddled down the river.
river left we noticed an osprey nest at the top of a tree and soaring above us were 2 osprey displaying incredible grace in
We paddled down the river.
Finally Sunblood Mtn came into view, but there was still plenty
of paddling to do. We gathered firewood on a little island while a few of us took pictures of a Yellow Leg (bird).
We paddled down the river.
As we approached Virginia Falls the louder the crashing water became. Finally
the dock came into view. We landed, unpacked the gear and portaged it to the campsite.
was set up, dinner was served and a few of us were surprised to see a "Full Moon" above Virginia Falls, surely a
rare sight with so much sunlight.
I hit my sleeping bag looking forward to a little hike up Sunblood Mtn tomorrow.
This area is truly spectacular, every second I am here I am absorbing its beauty.
I am able to finish
writing this at 12:15AM
July 20, 2001 (Virginia Falls layover day; from memory after journal took a swim)
We awoke to a clear, but cool morning that rapidly became hot, eventually unpleasantly hot. Lowell, Krystal and Paul prepared
another great breakfast, which Lowell bravely defended from the Whiskey Jacks.
It was great to get a break from taking
down tents and figuring out how to stuff all our gear into bags that we know held it the day before, but don't seem to the
next time we pack it...I finally have appreciation for the meaning of stuff bags.
We then did something unusual...we
separated. Krystal and Paul and Jen, Rick and Bill up Sunblood. Starting at 10am we finally reached the summit at 2:20pm.
Along the way we had progressively better and differing views of Sluice Box Rapids and parts of Virginia Falls, and up and
down the valley. We all felt privileged to be there.
Along the way Krystal and Paul pointed out different flowers.
They were old friends to some of us, and new pleasures to others. Books were pulled out to try to identify some with some
creative naming required. We wished that Gary were along to help. Paul gave us a treatise on trees and shrubs.
we finally reached the top...hot, tired and sweaty we were rewarded with magnificent views 355° around. We could see far
upriver from where we had come...to hills and mountains all around...and down river to where we would head tomorrow.
5° of view were taken up by a man made phallic symbol that Gary might have appreciated but was such an eye sore that none
of us would even include it in pictures.
By reaching the top Rick and Jen could be inaugurated into the Manitoba
Order of Mountain Goats. We set Jen the task of calculating how many times the vertical height of Manitoba we had climbed.
The trip down was very hot and seemed steeper than the way up. We all ran out of water in the heat. In vain we
looked down karst holes for a water slide to take us down to the Nahanni. In vain we also continually searched for both Naha
on the cliff and hills above, and for Dall Sheep.
When we finally reached the bottom we reveled in a cool swim/dunking
in the Nahanni.
During the day, Lowell had the rest of the folks wandering down a trail close to them. Much of their
day was spent avoiding the sweltering heat.
Lowell had supper ready perfectly timed for the Sunblood group. We didn't
know how he managed it but we later learned he had his Naha spies who saw the Sunblood party descending.
Adele, the super enthusiastic park naturalist took several of us to the falls...along the way expounding on the flora, geology
and history. Jen took a picture of her avidly describing a rock. We wonder though how Jen will relate to her Grade 1 class
how Adele was describing the Bastard Toad Flax and how the flowers of Witches Broom smelled like semen...or so Adele said
she had read.
Gary and Adele were frequently seen huddled around plants...talking about their names and features.
Gary must have taken one or more pictures of every plant currently flowering...a formidable accomplishment.
that I was too tired to listen to a park interpreter. I went to sleep...appreciating the sound of rushing water and with
the buzzing mosquitoes in my ears. Tomorrow promises to be an exciting day.
July 21, 2001 (Virginia Falls to Marengo Creek)
It is July ?? and I don't care I'm having too much fun. The day started out early as I (Tom) got up at 6:00am to help portage
gear to the bottom of the falls. All of the food in the cache was taken down to the dock except for the food for breakfast.
Lowell paddled the canoe to the start of the portage while Paul, Krystal and myself walked the boardwalk.
and Lowell had half the canoe unloaded. We took as much as we could and headed off. The sun was low in the sky so it was
much cooler than the daytime when we all would return. After returning we had an excellent meal, of course!
the time we were done the camp was packed up and we took our gear down to the dock. It was then over to the portage. It
took many hours to get all the gear and by this time the sun was up and it was another hot day. I know that I drank 5 litres
of water, as I am sure the rest did also. It was great to see again everyone pitch in and do their best.
all was down we realized that we were missing a spray skirt for one of the canoes. Paul went back to camp to see if he could
find it. He came back empty handed. There was some speculation that maybe the wolf we had in camp that night might have
dragged it off.
We all had a snack and lashed 4 of the canoes together to create 2 canyon rigs. We then packed
our gear and had a talk about how we were going to go down. Lowell instructed us on how we were going to start off and from
then on we were going to follow his lead. Paul and I had a small discussion before we left and we were off. I was excited
as this was what I was waiting for.
The first section went pretty good. We took in a lot of water. Do not know
how it got there, maybe it was the 4 or 5 huge standing waves that we went through. I would like to know why they call it
a spray skirt because from where I was sitting there was a little more than a spray. Through the waves it seemed the bow
was under the water more than it was above. After the first section we went ashore and bailed. One of the canyon rigs did
not do so well as they ran it without the spray skirt. Some of us were amazed at how well they work.
all bailed we set off again and followed our fearless leader. All was going well and we were right in position behind him.
We were part way through and had a couple of inches of water in our canoe but that was not a worry. All of a sudden Lowell's
canyon rig hit a large hole, it stopped them dead and then they started to come back at us. By this time it was too late
and I knew that this was not good. All I remember is that Lowell and his crew were able to power their way through and at
this point I saw a large hole. The bow went down and then kept going.
I felt like a submarine. I was unsure what
was going to happen, but I knew that it was all over, the canoeing part of it, next came the swimming part. I stuck with
the canoe until it keeled right over; then held onto my paddle and jumped ship. I was allowed, as I was not the Captain.
I did not see, but I believe that Paul stuck it out a bit longer, being the brave captain he is. He later talked about how
he was molested by the wave. The water/swim was nice and Lowell, our fearless leader, made sure it was short. He got us
out and then we pushed our oversized "bobber" ashore. Our only loss was a bailer.
We then ferried across
to Marengo Creek and made camp. We removed our gear, which was 10-15 lbs. heavier. I realize that using a dry bag doesn't
mean that things will stay dry.
We sat down to a great meal and discussed our adventures. Lowell swears he did
not see the hole. (I think he was checking the scenery out for his next shot). We all dried our gear and were glad it was
a hot day. We then called it a day. Tomorrow we are able to sleep in. It was an excellent day. ARGHHH my back...it would
have been a perfect day if I wasn't so sore, but after the portage we are all in the same boat. Good night!
July 22, 2001 (Marengo Creek to The Gate)
We got to sleep in a little today at Marengo Creek, but tough to do in a sweltering hot tent.
Breakfast was at
10am great pancakes (I ate 3!) and grapefruit with great hot coffee.
Breaking camp was slow going as the sun bared
down. Great weather and we were still enjoying the reprieve from the bugs.
We paddled in the hot sun in our wet suits
and dry gear preparing for Figure 8 Rapids. As we neared the rapids we pulled out to have a look. WOW! They sure looked big.
Our team was quite subdued. Krystal, Lowell and Paul were looking for the best line, while the rest of us were huddled making
guesses at what we saw and I said a little prayer of thanks to who ever invented canyon-rigs. They had served us well through
"Lowell's Hole" and I had faith they'd keep us afloat through the humungous standing waves before us.
our path in the sand and we quietly walked back to the boats for a quick energy snack of Fudgeeos and Nuts'n Bolts. Gary did
the butterfly check and we were all on the same page...nervous. Bill didn't even eat any snack, and you should see him eat!
We headed off led by Krystal, Gary, Barb and Bill's canyon rig...minus one spray skirt. They followed the "V" shaped
path and made a nice neat turn into and over the huge standing waves. All they had to worry about was not hitting the awesome
rock wall and all would be well.
Lowell, Rick and I followed them to the tune of The Gambler (Kenny Rogers). The tune
ended quite abruptly as we powered into the huge standing waves. I vividly remember seeing black rock and sky and then suddenly
a water wall with some white on top obscured my view 3 feet above me and I couldn't hear any singing.
it through safely and we stopped briefly to catch our breath, then we were off to Strawberry Island for a quick snack as we
had more paddling to do.
We paddled past Flat River, Vera Creek and into 3rd Canyon. The view of the mountainous rock
was rewarding and changed as we rounded each bend.
We enjoyed seeing Dall Sheep high on the rock above. A bald eagle
was sighted and fields of purple fireweed.
We ended our day at The Gate. A nice camp spot and wonderful view of pulpit
rock in great evening light.
Rick caught 2 more fish (Dolly Vardens he thinks). Paul made burgers we enjoyed with
bacon, mushrooms and swiss cheese. YUM! We were done eating at the early hour of 11:45pm. Long, hot but great day!
July 23, 2001 (The Gate to Dry Canyon Creek)
Needed a little help from Bill to wake up this morning! Had put in a 7:00am wake-up call so I wouldn't miss the hike up The
Gate. Camp was a little quiet, just Bill and I and our over-worked, industrious guides. After a quick bowl of oatmeal and
a brief conversation about the habits of an unexpected visit from a bear overnight, Bill and I, accompanied by Paul set off
on our hike.
We scrambled over fallen rocks, up a steep trail, stopping a few times to look down on the camp.
We got almost to the top and stopped to enjoy the stunning view and take some pictures. (I must tell you that both Paul and
Bill went up and down the slopes like Dall Sheep, while I resorted to scrambling on all fours or sliding on my backside).
Unfortunately we ran out of time and didn't quite make it to the top. So with visions of Lowell's cinnamon buns dancing through
our heads we headed back to camp. We arrived back at 10am just in time for a second breakfast...I had 2 cinnamon buns...2
BIG HORKING BUNS!
Canoes were once again loaded, no canyon-rigs and wet suits today, although Jen and Rick wore
theirs in order to assist our guides in the event of a rescue situation (they are very thoughtful people).
through 3rd Canyon, the Funeral Range with lunch at The Big Bend. The scenery has been fantastic today, sheer cliffs, caves
and a mountain Lowell refers to as "Full Moon Mountain"...doesn't take a great deal of imagination to figure out
After lunch it was on to 2nd Canyon, the Headless Range and Deadman Valley where we got our first look at
the Tlogotsho Plateau. God the landscape is stunning!!
After a brief stop at the "sign-in" station at
Prairie Creek to "sign-in" and explore the cabin filled with paddles we made camp at Dry Canyon Creek.
our day had been rather uneventful our dinner conversation was lively to say the least. A fascinating conversation ensued
regarding the effects of olives on women. This conversation caused a large number of them to be loaded onto one of our parties
plates. Due to the diverse nature of our interests this was followed by a story about labour arbitration caused by flatulence!
To top off the night, Tom posed some brainteasers to the group and a stick game that at least one of our guides found frustrating.
Its been another great day on a great river with a fantastic group of people!
July 24, 2001 (Dry Canyon Creek to Kraus Hotsprings)
It was a dark and stormy night on the Nahanni River. I could not sleep. I lay in my tent looking out the screen at dark
objects in the distance, listening to the wind, wondering when the tarp would fall over. When I did sleep I had strange dreams
about summer camp games involving sticks and numbers.
By the time I get up and get my tent down, Lowell and Paul
are already hard at work; corn bread batter is ready in the dutch oven. I need caffeine and I need it soon. It is still
a little cloudy, so it feels a little somber to me, maybe a little pre-"George Riffle" mood is in the air. Eating
my corn bread still half a sleep on the inside. I watch the group interacting, laughing together. Before I know it boats
are being loaded, everyone is pitching in to carry gear down, wetsuits are on and we head towards "George's".
I am feeling a little more nervous now that Lowell tells me he has dumped there before. Damn. Scouting rapids before
running always feels slightly surreal to me. Walking down the smooth stone beach, the vibrant colours of the canyon walls
ahead seem distant due to the size of those waves. Looking at "George's", however, it is easy to see a route that
will avoid most of the big waves (except for that last set coming off the wall by the ledge, are those sideways? What will
happen to my boat there I wonder?).
As we paddle down from where we pulled out to scout, I test out a bit of The
Gambler to see if it is calming. Not really. Following Lowell and Gary, Jen and Rick, Bill and I ferry right across the
2 channels coming down the right side of the island. With Bill's power in the bow I am able to put the boat exactly where
I want to go, and slide into the calm water above the chute. Tom and Barb follow without any problems but that crazy white
solo boat has a mind of its own. Paul is surfing above "George's", stuck in the eddy line, makes a few attempts
to get across to us but the current keeps pushing him back. Oh Dude, don't dump here is pretty much all I can think.
Paul is on his way through "George's", solo, bobbing like a cork, riding the waves. Amazingly he manages to
keep the boat upright, so the rest of us follow. I am in position to go first, and although my heart feels like it is on
fire, and although part of me a few minutes ago couldn't wait to be safely on the other side, when I point my boat down stream
I feel completely and totally alive and immersed in the moment. I couldn't tell you any thoughts that go through my head
or explain any plan or intent I have about where I want my boat to go, I only know how my paddle feels in the water, how I
am surrounded by waves, rock, and motion.
Once Bill and I are through, I look back and see 3 more boats behind
me dwarfed by the waves. When everyone is through right side up, Bill and I turn to follow Paul downstream. His canoe is
half way under water in the back and his progress towards shore is slow, but he is still upright. I am so impressed. After
some bailing and laughing and changing out of wet suits, we start our float through 1st Canyon. Lowell makes a suggestion
for a lunch spot but I ask if we can stop sooner, because I want to stay in this canyon as long as possible. Each second I
am trying to absorb as much as I can, scanning each rock wall, watching the water rush past the bases of the cliffs.
We stop for lunch on a bit of a boulder field which offers minimal bathroom facilities, but I hope that the group has
bonded enough that they can deal with this. Judging by the sound nap that Gary takes after lunch spread out on a pile of
rock, I think everyone seems to be pretty relaxed.
Our next hour and a half is spent looking up at shear walls,
cliff faces and blue sky beyond. We reach "White Spray Spring" that offers the world's best and perhaps coldest
water gushing out of the side of a cliff. Rick tries his hand at some fishing and everyone fills up on water. All too soon
we are at "Lafferty's" where we stop to get wood and have a brief visit with another Nahanni River Adventures group.
A few mosquitoes greet us at "Krauses", after we skirt the big waves of "Lafferty's Riffle".
A huge supper of roast beef, potatoes, carrots, Waldorf salad comes together with help from Jen. It is fun to visit and
joke with everyone while we are working and a slight breeze makes the mosquitoes more tolerable. After triffle for dessert,
and Barb's help with dishes, we hit the hot springs, which feel great.
After seeing that none of us are really
turning green or keeling over, Gary decides to join us, thankfully with swim trunks on. A dip in the river to clean off and
everyone quickly disappears into tents. As I am writing, the sound of the river is all I can hear, except for Tom complaining
about his pillow. There are so many more things I wish to write about. As we were paddling towards "George's"
this morning, Bill said to me that he didn't think that there were words in the English language to describe the canyon around
us. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to paddle through this amazing place, and it is also very satisfying to me
to watch the group enjoy such an amazing place, and have fun together.
July 25, 2001 (Kraus Hotsprings to The Splits)
"Sounds of The Nahanni"
Silence of a calm Nahanni morning
Water rippling past Krauss Hotsprings
Sleeping bags swishing
Tent zippers zipping
Dutch Oven banging
Cloth home stuffing
Paddle cabin door creaking
Canoe freight bumping
ABS scraping rock.
Rain gear slipping against itself
Pasta salad stirring
Scrape of metal utensils on
hard plastic bowls
Hard rain crashing
Cheers in the rain
Water dripping off the brim of
Our hearts silent good-byes to Nahanni National Park.
Shoes on a gravel flat
zips to a bug free head
Tent poles snapping
Whisking in a metal bowl
Off pelting ones gluteus
Tent zippers zipping
Small pops of blood filled dipterans
Sleeping bags swishing
Silence of a
calm Nahanni evening.
July 26, 2001 (The Splits to Blackstone Territorial Park)
Morning breaks to the sound of a million tiny bodies crashing against my tent. These mosquitoes belong to a violent tribe
"The Nahitoes", Dene for mosquitoes of the Naha Deh.
It's time to make breaky; Mosquito Peppered Eggs with toast,
fruit and granola. And as swiftly as we had eaten, we were packed up and paddling our canoes.
(Announcer) AND THEY'RE
OFF!! Folks, it looks like it's a four-way tie, and Paul in the solo boat is eating their dust!!
So for most of the
day we paddled in this formation. From The Splits to Blackstone, some 60km, the 4 canoes appeared as red and green dots on
the horizon. It was as though I was paddling Nahanni and Liard alone and I quite enjoyed it.
I once learned that the
average meander is six times the length of its width. In my solo canoe, I had lively discussions on this topic and had calculated
at least one meander to be approximately 13,794km long. At one point, I swore that I heard the Butte laughing and it wasn't
from the silty applause on the bottom of my boat, (my paddle dips and swings --- stroke, stroke, stroke).
after 4pm. That snack in Nahanni Butte is long gone, but finally we're eating lunch!
Rick just about snapped !!
was inhaled, and we're back on the Liard. Blackstone should be just around the corner. The brown, foamy scum that floats on
the surface reminds me of the mighty Detroit River and I wonder if this substance is natural?
Rick and Jen played
sink the scum all the way to Blackstone and became so involved that they were swept downstream of the park. But they made
it; we all made it, and lasagna dinner was served at midnight.
July 27, 2001 (Blackstone Territorial Park to Lindberg's Landing)
There wasn't a group entry for this day due to the "grueling" paddle everyone was too exhausted to write. We were, however,
grateful for the showers that greated us after such a long day. High fives all round at the completion of our Nahanni journey.
Tomorrow its back to Fort Simpson for goodbyes!
There's a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There's a land -- oh it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back -- and I will.
Robert Service "The Spell of the Yukon"