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

Day 10

Weather: Warm, moderately buggy, then warmer and really buggy.
Distance: 2 km paddling, 25 km walking.
Location: Latitude:63.71921, Longitude:-104.71524 at 07/22/2014 20:17:57 PDT
Map link: Click here

This was an exhausting day. After a very short paddle of about 600 meters we stopped on river right above the entrance to Dickson Canyon. In fact, we really just paddled across a large pool in the river from our launch on river left after the McDonald Falls portage to our landing on river right before Dickson Canyon. The river narrowed and accelerated as it dropped into a narrow chasm. Clearly this was the start of the feared Dickson Canyon portage.

Dickson Canyon is the longest and hardest portage on the Hanbury River. At this low water level it is close to 5 km long and ends right where the next portage around Ford Falls begins. Dickson Canyon is very narrow and tortuous with many spectacular falls. Its a churning cauldron of whitewater. Definitely not good for canoeing, but a great spectacle. The portage climbs up and over a rocky ridge and then follows undulating high ground across boggy areas, ridges, thickets and small forests of spruce before descending down to a sandy area that used to be the river bed, but at low water is just a huge sand bank. The portage is a long way from the river and navigation is quite tricky. There are some cairns to mark the way, but in the smokey, low visibility, weather we had they were sometimes difficult to see, even with binoculars. We would struggle to the top of a ridge and then gaze out over a vast expanse of tundra, bogs and rocky terrain with no sign of the river this side of the horizon. It felt like a really long way and was extremely exhausting. We had to portage our load in three passes, with two return journeys, for a total of 5 passes over the 5 km route. Each pass seemed like a long, arduous hike in its own right, made worse by the need to wear the full bug suit with the hood and face shield up in the sweltering heat. 25km over rough ground with no trail and 70 lb packs (or worse, a canoe!) was a real killer. I'd hate to admit that we are too old and feeble for this kind of thing, but ... Well, we made it, so I guess we still have it in us, but we were pretty whipped by the end. The first few journeys had us worried it might kill us. Later, we were worried that it might not!

Even though it involved a long, rugged, detour, and we were exhausted from hauling all our gear, we decided that we should go and explore the canyon itself. After all, few people ever get to see it, and who knows if we will ever be here again. It was worth it. The turbulent water in the canyon was spectacular, even with the dull, smokey weather we had. You definitely would not want to try running that in a canoe (or in anything else, if you ask me)! It was long, continuous and really gnarly!

During the portage and on our detour we enjoyed eating huckleberries and cloud berries which were abundant. These kept us going.

It took us 8 hours of back-breaking work to complete the portage. Once the canoe was repacked (losely) we paddled and dragged it about 1 km to the start of Ford Falls and decided to camp there for the night before attempting the next long portage tomorrow. This is a beautiful location, with huge white sand eskers, groves of black spruce, meadows of tundra, exposed pink rock (granite?) and spectacular water falls. While shuttling our gear from the canoe to the camp spot we noticed a set of fresh wolf tracks on top of our own foot prints. The wolf must have been within 100 meters of us.

Before crawling into the tent we even braved the bugs and went for a dip in the river. Lovely.