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Nahanni (NWT) - River of Quest and Legend. ~~ Big Honking Dial-up Warning ~~ [View All]

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MattSh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-10-09 01:44 PM
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Nahanni (NWT) - River of Quest and Legend. ~~ Big Honking Dial-up Warning ~~
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Nahanni (NWT) - River of Quest and Legend.

Nahanni River Canoe Trip, August 13-26, 1999. Ten years after...

The river courses through a spectacular reach of canyon walls -- and an equally towering scale of legend. Every paddler who has moved into the Nahanni's vast and exalted solitude has felt the river's enduring claim on his or her soul: a sense that this river is not just a rushing of whitewater through a channel of rock, but the very expression, in rock and river foam, of an ancient and abiding quest.

Legend has hewn that quest in the form of gold. The story is so often told it feels like ancient echoes trapped between these canyon walls: of two prospectors very early in the century who are said to have explored the upper reaches of the Nahanni and -- some believe to this day -- discovered an incredible lode of gold, then took all the gold they could carry and haul, down the "Dark River of Fear" until it led them to "the Valley of Vanishing Men" -- the site where they were later found, headless, a site known to this day as Deadmens Valley. Join us on this unparalleled adventure -- what filmmaker and veteran canoeist Bill Mason described in his journal in 1985 as "Still the greatest canoe trip in the world -- the Nahanni."

Black Feather Wilderness Adventures, circa 1995.

So how does a boy born and raised in NJ end up making a canoeing trip on one of the most scenic, yet most remote rivers on the planet? Someone who's experience with boats as a child was limited to ferries between Jersey City and Manhattan, and an occasional foray for fishing on the Atlantic? Like all defining journeys, they often begin years or decades earlier. And so it was for me.

What really changed directions in my life was a rather innocuous family event, a family reunion at my elder sister's place in New Hampshire, in 1991. This sister's existence epitomizes the slow-motion car wreck. Everyone else seemingly can see the wreck about to occur, but not her. So out of sheer curiosity, we all attended. My father, mother, and all eight brothers and sisters. And my sister, true to form, did not disappoint.

Realizing that some of us would not have attended if we knew her true plans, she called it a reunion. In reality, she was getting married. For the third time, or was it the fourth? But I considered myself lucky, since I had planned only to spend two nights at the reunion/wedding before moving on to Eastern Canada, the Maritime provinces for a week. But before moving on by car, there was enough time to have a major blowup with my father. But I moved on, driving east through Maine, into New Brunswick, then the eastern end of Nova Scotia.

It was somewhere during the course of this trip reality struck. Why am I doing this? I never liked this type of vacation when my father took us on long odysseys exploring the interstate highways of the eastern US. Why now am I driving all day, stopping only to eat and sleep, then repeating this insanity the next day? I vowed I must do something else, anything else, at least occasionally, but what? I never was a fan of a DisneyWorld vacation, a cruise, or staying in one hotel or on one boat for a week. What to do?

The answer came from a colleague's Outward Bound catalog. Yes, this was it. I could go rafting or bicycling or hiking or climbing. Or, or, or... Or what? I finally settled on canoeing the Rio Grande, in far west Texas, in October 1993. I had only spent a few hours ever in a canoe, but no matter. It was an easy river, and they would teach me what I needed to know. The trip was a joy. I was hooked. Fast forward to February 1996, and kayaking the Sea of Cortez. Another pleasure. But what next? The was still something about the Nahanni. It still called to me.

The Nahanni is a dream river, one of the most scenic rivers on the planet. Situated in a remote corner of the Northwest Territories, Canada, it flows through a landscape of legendary scale and beauty. The Nahanni has been called Canada's Grand Canyon, but that is a bit deceptive. The terrain is more like Yosemite Valley, with crested hills and massive granite rock faces. There is also far less activity on the Nahanni than on the Colorado, and never any competition for a campsite.

It takes three weeks to navigate the full length of the Nahanni, which flows southeast from the Continental Divide, cutting it's way through the 150-mile long Nahanni National Park. Even within the park's boundaries, the Nahanni is truly wild. You are always very far from civilization, at least 100 miles from the nearest real town. The upper half of the river, outside the park, is the whitewater section, best suited for experienced paddlers. Starting at Moose Ponds, the Nahanni's source, the river runs approximately 100 miles to the park boundary. Over this stretch, paddlers pass through the Rock Gardens, a long section of continuous Class II and III whitewater.

As it nears the northern end of the National Park, the Nahanni flattens out, and the voyage becomes a peaceful float through impressive granite canyons, home to moose, elk, and many large bird species. The section of the Nahanni within the park offers riverside hot springs and good fishing, although the scenery is certainly the main attraction, particularly Virginia Falls. At twice the height of Niagara, Virginia Falls is the most spectacular cascade in North America.

The Itinerary...

Travel Day.

  1. Flight from Newark NJ to Toronto CA.
  2. Flight from Toronto CA to Edmunton CA.
  3. Overnight stay in Edmunton.

Day 1.

  1. Flight from Edmunton CA to Yellowknife, NWT.
  2. Flight from Yellowknife, NWT to Fort Simpson, NWT.
  3. Gather at starting point in and prepare for flight to the park.
  4. Flight from Fort Simpson, NWT to Rabbitkettle Lake, Nahanni National Park, NWT.

Day 2 - Rabbitkettle Hot Springs and Tufa Mounds.

Hike to Rabbitkettle Hot Springs, Emerald Lake, and Tufa Mounds.

Days 3 & 4 - Mountain Peaks.

On the River. Brush up on skills and learn new skills on this easier section of river.

Days 5 & 6 - Virginia Falls and vicinity.

Semi-civilization for two evenings. Virginia Falls, twice the height of Niagara. The only section of park where you are likely to meet people that are not a part of your trip. Day hikes up Sunblood Mountain or to the Sluice Box Rapids and Last Chance Harbor.

Day 7 - Painted Canyon.

Portage around Virginia Falls and navigate the rapids below the falls.

Day 8 - The Gate.

The Gate, Pulpit Rock, and Third Canyon.

Day 9 - Deadman Valley.

Second Canyon and Headless Creek.

Day 10 - Prairie Creek.

Prairie Creek, Deadman Valley, to First Canyon.

Day 11 - First Canyon.

George's Riffle, Lafferty's Riffle, and White Spray Spring to Kraus' Hot Springs.

Day 12 - Nahanni Butte.

The Splits, Twisted Mountain, and Nahanni Butte, population 80 to "Mosquito Beach".

Day 13 - Liard River & Lindberg's Landing.

Liard River to Lindberg's Landing.

Day 14.

  1. Return to Fort Simpson by van.
  2. Flight from Fort Simpson to Yellowknife, NWT.
  3. Flight from Yellowknife, NWT to Edmunton, CA.
  4. Overnight at Edmunton.

Travel Day.

  1. Flight from Edmunton CA to Toronto CA.
  2. Flight from Toronto CA to Newark, NY.
  3. Home


The Fort Simpson airport and the meeting of strangers. Beautiful downtown Fort Simpson. South Nahanni Air, Rabbitkettle Lake, Emerald Lake, the Tufa Mounds hike, the Ragged Range, and Ranger Carl. The first portage, and the Rabbitkettle campsite. Storing the "smelly stuff". Ferrying the Nahanni for the first time (gee, this river is swifter than I expected). Rain and sun and rain and sun. Repeat. Hell-Roaring Creek. Jill and Curly (Diane) and Mo. (and Kathy too). Deadheads and strainers and sweepers (oh my). Dall sheep and bald eagles in the distance. Anyone seen the "Northern Lights" yet? (I think I did, but I'm not sure).

Oxbow Lake, the roar of the falls, Virginia Falls (bring your own firewood) and the brief encounters with civilization. "Nahanni" Neil Hartling and his homemade libations. The pesky camp critters. More food than we knew what to do with (anyone for thirds)? The Honeymooners (James & Lillian). John's unmistakable laugh. The sluice box hike, and the hikes up Sunblood Mountain or to Last Chance Harbor. The portage around Virginia Falls (there's more up there?) Outfit of the day: Polypro, wetsuits, and raingear. Painted Canyon (Fourth Canyon) and Matt and Duke in the canoe that refused to float, with Jed and Diane's fate tied to ours. The legend of the "cursed white canoe". (aka the canoe that refused to float). Third Canyon and the Figure Eight Rapids.

The crowd at Pulpit Rock. Sunset high above the Rock. "Father Abraham" and "Barbie Girl", a match made who knows where. "Wally's World", maybe? Nope, not there. The Funeral Range, the Burial Range, Second Canyon and Deadmen Valley. Jill's perfect pancakes. The carved paddles in the Ranger's Station. George's Riffle, and the moose in the rapids. Other occasional wildlife sightings, but none of the elusive narwhal. Yet. A slow drift through First Canyon and the long lunch at the springs (no filtering needed). Our guides haven't moved in over an hour. OH NO, we've overworked them. One last rapids called Lafferty's.

Kraus' Hot Springs (let's stay in all night), the "price of admission", the Northern Lights watch, and Mo's hole. The "Splits", Twisted Mountain, and leaving the park behind. "Mosquito Beach". Lunch on the river (grilled ham & cheese), a short trip to Nahanni Butte, and the first real civilization (sort of) in a week and a half. The weather goes really bad, for the first time on the trip. Rain and wind. Leave the Nahanni behind for the Liard River. Our last lunch on the river at Blackstone, where we try to finish off our food. We fail this task again.

The final leg to Lindberg's (Edwin, Sue, and Anna too). Group pictures in full river regalia. A HOT shower and home made dinner. Jim on piano and guitar. The first beer in two weeks (one to a customer, please). Trade the sleeping bag for a mattress. The last breakfast, and the long drive back to Fort Simpson. Arrival at the airport (where is everybody)? and the return to civilization. There are no strangers here this time.

The Nahanni Wilderness Experience !

Moose Ponds * Mount Wilson * Rock Gardens
Island Lakes * Moore's Hot Springs * Broken Skull River
Cirque of the Unclimbables * Glacier Lake * Ragged Range
Rabbitkettle Lake * Tufa Mounds * Sunblood Range
Virginia Falls * Painted Canyon * Hell's Gate
Third Canyon * The Gate * Pulpit Rock
Funeral Range * Second Canyon * Deadmen Valley
Headless Range * Prairie Creek * Dry Canyon
George's Riffle * First Canyon * Lafferty Canyon
Kraus Hot Springs * The Splits * Nahanni Butte

** Moose Ponds, Mount Wilson, Rock Gardens, Island Lakes, Moore's Hot Springs, Broken Skull River, Cirque of the Unclimables, Glacier Lake, and Ragged Range are not visited on the two week trip.
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