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

Day 11

Weather: hot, smokey, buggy, little wind, poor visibility.
Distance: 14 km, 2 portages with a total of 25 km of walking.
Location: Latitude:63.64800, Longitude:-104.71606 at 07/23/2014 21:33:09 PDT
Map link: Click here

We started the day portaging directly from camp. The portage was around Ford Falls and was 2 km long, but it seemed further. Most of the portage was through undergrowth and light forest, with a few boggy areas. The last part was sandy and rocky. Fortunately, there was a hint of a trail through the thickets, but it was hard to follow in places and was never more than about 6 inches wide. This made it quite difficult to walk on, especially carrying a canoe. The portage took us about 3 hours to complete.

There were lots of berries to eat, both huckleberries and cloud berries. On our last pass with the canoe we saw a fresh grizzly bear track on top of our own footprints from earlier passes through the portage. Since this was a very brushy area with poor visibility, it was a bit unnerving. We were glad it was our last pass!

We took a detour to view Ford Falls, which was spectacular and much like the falls in Dickson Canyon. Definitely not runnable for canoes!

We had lunch on the white sand beach at the end of the portage. This is a beautiful spot with lots of dwarf fireweed growing among the boulders. The rocks, white sand, flowers, crystal clear water and falls made for a lovely setting. Unfortunately, we had very poor visibility and air quality again, due to smoke. It was hot, muggy and buggy too, so the bug suits were limiting our visibility too.

After lunch we did a 9 km paddle down to Helen Falls, which was the last portage on the Hanbury River. The paddle was through a very scenic stretch of eskers and spruce groves, but the visibility was terrible, the heat was sweltering and the bugs were very active.

Helen Falls is a short but dramatic waterfall. One might expect the portage around it to be short, but the falls is in a canyon section that makes it very hard to get off the river in the last 1 km before the falls or the 1 km after it. Then there is an additional smaller drop down stream. So the portage is a very long feeling 2km which is rugged and rocky under foot and quite brushy in places as it cuts through groves of spruce. In the sweltering heat and bugs it was a killer, especially after doing the Ford Falls portage in the morning. We were completely soaked in sweat and were really stuffed by the end of this one. I had some painful blisters. It took us 5.5 hours of really hard labor to complete this second portage of the day. We felt that this was the second hardest portage after Dickson Canyon (a distant second, though), with Ford Falls being the third hardest. We were glad that the portages were over. Between all the portages on the Hanbury River we spent 31 hours portaging and walked almost 100 km, much of it with extremely heavy loads. We are looking forward to a lazy float down the Thelon with some current assist!

We signed the log book which is stored in a dry box in the middle of Morse Cairn at the view point for Helen Falls. Only one party had signed it before us this year. They were about 10 days ahead of us. On average, about 3 groups per year seem to make entries in this log.

Fortunately, there was a lovely camp of flat rock immediately after the lower falls at the end of the portage. Again, we took a dip in the river before retiring.