Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fort Simpson to Inuvik: 900 miles of paddling

by Taylor Fredin and Nick Peterson

Deh Cho Canoe Expedition

Taylor Fredin and Nick Peterson are paddling 1,500 miles across the Mackenzie River watershed.  The canoe trip will take them down the Slave River, around the South Shore of Great Slave Lake, and down Canada’s longest river: the Mackenzie.  They will be exploring northern culture and environmental issues in and around the watershed.

Fort Simpson to Norman Wells: July 7- July 16

Nahanni Mountains 
This section of our trip was characterized by beautiful mountains, excellent wildlife viewing, and fast paddling.

A few days after leaving Fort Simpson, Taylor and I rounded Camsell Bend, the point where the Mackenzie begins flowing almost due North.  Here, with the smoky fires behind us, we could see the Nahanni and Camsell mountain ranges.  As two Midwest "flatlanders" we were awed by the incredible scenery.  The mountainous scenery continued all the way to Norman Wells.

On July 14, 36 days into our trip, we awoke at 2:45 am to the sound of plastic hitting rock.  "Is that the bear barrel?" Taylor said.  I poked my head out of the tent to look around.  Sure enough, the smallest of our three bear barrels was lying on the ground.  A moment later a black bear sauntered past the tent.  Only 20 feet away!  Taylor yelled at the bear, while I fumbled with the camera and failed to get a photo.  The bear left camp.  An approaching storm and a stiff north wind made leaving camp an unappealing choice.  We opted to stay.  We sang a very loud version of "Big Rock Candy Mountain", hoping that our mediocre singing voices would keep the bear away.  The next morning, from our canoe, we saw another black bear, a moose, and a lynx.  We dubbed the day our wildlife safari.

Two days later we reached Norman Wells.  This marked the beginning of the last section of our journey across the Northwest Territories.

Hike to the top of Bear Rock near Norman Wells

Norman Wells to Inuvik: July 17- August 1

Cooking at the Arctic Circle
We stayed in Norman Wells a day longer than planned because of a strong north wind. As we left town, we passed several oils wells on the river nearby and paddled through a sheen of oil covering the Mackenzie.  We decide to drink water from tributaries for the rest of the trip.

Strong wind and slow current make paddling difficult for the next week. We finally had calm for a few hours as we entered The Ramparts- an area where the river narrows from 3 miles across to a quarter mile. The Ramparts are lined by 100 foot sandstone cliffs where Peregrine Falcons nest.

Entering the Ramparts

After The Ramparts the wind died down a bit. We paddled with another couple from Alberta for a few days. 30 miles from Tsiigehtchic we stopped at Danny Andre's fish camp. He shared home made dry fish strips. He makes dry fish in August and September, netting 40 whitefish a day. The fish is cut into thin strips, smoked and dried. The end result is a fish jerky that is very tasty. We are treated to muskeg (labrador) tea and deep-fried fish and bannock doughnuts for dinner.

Drying Fish

After Tsiigehtchic, we entered the Mackenzie delta. The current slows significantly and the river splits into small channels. We moved slowly, watching for wildlife. We reached Inuvik in the late afternoon. It is bittersweet, as we only have 110 miles left to paddle to get to Tuktoyaktuk.

Fry Bread!

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