Jonathan and Kirti Walpole's 950 km canoe journey across Northwest Territories and Nunavut in July and August of 2014

Beasts of Burden

Portaging is the art of carrying a canoe and gear around a section of river you don't want to run. There are several portages on the Hanbury river section of our route where the river drops over waterfalls or goes through gorges with unrunnable rapids. Altogether, there are 7 or 8 of these, with the longest, around Dickson Canyon, being about 3 miles. Portaging is hard work, and there may be no way to do it with style or comfort. However, we have put some thought and effort into improving our chances. First, we have all our gear stowed in a small number of large waterproof dry bags, which are not too large or heavy to carry. Inside these bags everything is stored in smaller dry bags, so we have double protection from the elements. The bags can be strapped onto an external pack frame using harnesses we designed and sewed ourselves. Using an external pack frame allows the weight to be distributed comfortably on the hips, with little weight on the shoulders. These frames make a huge difference in comfort over longer distances and are well worth the minimal cost of space and weight.
We have three large gear bags which stow cleanly and easily in the canoe. They occupy all the space below the gunwales/spray deck and provide good support for the canoe frame as well as good floatation. The portage pack frames lie on top of the bags and the whole load is strapped down to the canoe frame's keel using a couple of loop straps. An additional smaller dry bag contains the things we need during the day and is easily accessible from the stern cockpit area. With all our gear stowed this way, the ends of the canoe can be left light and filled with floatation bags.
Each portage in the early part of our journey will require 3 passes with load - one with a big orange bag each, one with the blue bag, day bag and all the canoe gear, paddles, etc, and one with the canoe. With the walk back between each pass, that means traveling 5 times the portage distance, so a 3 mile portage becomes a 15 mile hike with load. This will not be easy, but we can do it. Later in the journey when we have consumed some of the food we should be able to portage in two passes with load, or three total. Unfortunately, nearly all the portaging is in the early part of our trip. We have been training for the portages by doing 2+ mile hilly hikes around our local nature park. We go most evenings and have gradually increased the load in our packs to the point where we are now doing it fairly comfortably with 50 lbs. The route has a 400 ft climb, so in terms of its elevation gain at least, its probably harder than what we will encounter on the Hanbury. The prospect of these portages is still a little daunting, but not nearly as daunting as it was before.