Canoeing Thelon River

Lynx lake to Baker Lake

Northern paddling Adventure #5

24 days, 575 miles, Jul 1997

Ray & Jenny Jardine

The Thelon River page 1 of 1

Arriving at the headwaters by float plane

1997 journey part 3

The Thelon River

575 miles in 24 days

Ray Jardine

At Inuvik we went to the library and found a book detailing the major rivers of the Northwest Territory. Studying it carefully, we decided on the Thelon River. This river takes a grand sweep generally eastward across the infamous Barrenlands. It was reputed to be very wild, remote and pristine.

With the decision made, we arranged to air cargo the kayak to Yellowknife, from where we would float-plane it to the start of the Thelon. Then we boarded a jet plane for Yellowknife.

The air cargo transshipment kept delaying, forcing us to wait in Yellowknife day after day. We stayed in one of the campgrounds, and did a lot of hiking

After 7 days of waiting for the kayak, we finally admitted defeat and arranged for a trucking company to send the kayak home. The problem was, most of our gear was in the kayak as well.

We walked to the Wal-mart store and bought a Coleman 17' canoe for $365 U.S., $10 paddles, cheap life jackets & rubber boots, and a couple of plastic bins to carry most of our food. While I watched the canoe Jenny rushed through the isles of a nearby grocery store just before closing time, buying a month's provisions.

Down at the float plane dock, the pilot took one look at our mound of cheap gear and rolled his eyes. "You're taking THIS down the Thelon?" We told him about forfeiting our kayak and gear and he insisted that we inform the newspaper.

When the newspaper editors learned that the local airfreight company had forced us to send home our home-built kayak, and buy a cheap canoe from Wal-mart for a major river expedition, they sent a reporter to get the full story. It seemed the community had been waging a campaign against this particular airline for its propensity to discourage tourism.

July 26 we loaded the Cessna 210 and enjoyed a spectacular 3 hour flight over the Barrenlands, canoe strapped to one of the pontoons. Bucking fierce and turbulent headwinds, the pilot had to fly quite low to the ground.

1997 Jardine, Lynx Lake headwaters of the Thelon River

We landed in the outlet of Lynx Lake in headwaters of the Thelon River. What followed was an incredible 3 weeks of paddling in some of the most beautiful country we had ever seen.

1997 Jardine, the upper Thelon River

1997 Jardine, Camp on the Thelon

1997 Jardine, Caribou

Caribou were a regular part of the landscape, but one morning we paddled into this group of several thousand, part of the Beverley herd.

1997 Jardine, Caribou

The animals were so numerous that they didn't mind our presence.

1997 Jardine, Tundra camp

A typical camp on the tundra overlooking the river.

1997 Jardine, Muskox

The central part of the Thelon passes through a musk ox sanctuary, and we saw dozens of these interesting animals at close range. How close depended on how brave we were feeling at the moment.

1997 Jardine, Thelon Canion rapids

Rapids were frequent and often quite tricky.

1997 Jardine, herd of muskox

We paddled up to investigate a muskox calf, and suddenly this herd stood up in the willow. We counted 17 of them.

We saw only one grizzly, and it was at a safe distance. The symphonies of birds were ever-enlivening - the snow geese, tundra swans, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, loons, and so on.

1997 Jardine, portage

1997 Jardine, easy going

Geographically, the Thelon can be divided roughly in thirds. The first third is mainly lakes interspersed with sections of rapids. The middle third, shown here, is a swift but gently flowing river. The lower third is a series of huge lakes, finishing off with a long, quick sluice into Baker Lake.

1997 Jardine, rare day of calm on large lake

A day of rare calm on Schultz Lake. Sometimes we would look down down into the crystal clear water and see fish swimming beneath the canoe. They were mostly lake trout which looked to be up to 24" long, and pike to 36" long. The world record trout was caught in Great Bear Lake, also in the NWT. It was 52" long and estimated to be 125 years old. The fisherman took a few photos and released it.

1997 Jardine, blackfly heaven

And lest we forget - blackflies, guardians of the far north.

Arriving at the native village of Baker Lake on August 18, Not far from Hudson Bay, we sold the canoe, life jackets and paddles to a local outfitter, then boarded a plane for home.

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