Canoeing Coppermine River & Pikes Portage

Yellowknife to Arctic Ocean

Northern Paddling Adventure #8

39 days, 960 miles, Jul-Aug 2005

Ray & Jenny Jardine

2005-08-11 page 37 of 40

Day 37 - Muskox Rapids

The sky was very dark, with low hanging clouds, light wind and quite cold. We set off at 5 am. We followed the narrow channel and in about 3/4 mile we came to some canoeists camped on the right shore. It was a very low-lying and exposed area to camp. We stopped to talk. They said they had been here 2 nights, all day yesterday. It was a Blackfeather guided group. Very nice folks, we talked for about 10 minutes. They had all run Rocky Defile.

Continuing down the river was easy going as the river made a long bend to the right around the September Mountains and then headed east for a good 10 miles. The current was swift and we made excellent time.

Where the map shows marked rapids at the end of the eastward arm, we didn't find any. We saw a Brandts goose with three goslings. They let us get quite close. They climbed up onto the bank and waddled up onto the land a ways as we glided by.

A while later we saw two moose, a mother and a calf, then later a loner, a young one.

The northwest stretch seemed a little slower and then the north stretch had quite a number of gravel bars and shallows out in the river which required continual navigating around.

At the mouth of the Melville River we saw another group of canoeists camped on the bluff, overlooking both rivers. We had heard about them from the first group. They were just breaking camp. We were on the opposite shore, the river was very wide here, so we didn't get to talk to them.

Reaching Muskox Rapids we pulled out on the right. The first one was a 50 yard portage over really sharp, extremely angular, gnarly rocks.

Sandstone Rapids was a bit of a quandary. We stopped much too soon on the left bank and I climbed 200 feet up a steep, muddy, dirt, slippery slope and hiked along the edge a quarter mile from where I could see it was safe to proceed a ways ahead.

I also watched the previous group paddle past us. They were out in the middle of the river in the larger waves. They made it look easy and relaxing and fun. These were waves that we would try very hard to avoid.

We paddled along the left bank, passed the island on the left, and at the end of the island was a narrow slot which I scouted. A pair of Peregrine falcons had a nest on the sandstone cliff and they both gave me a very hard time, squealing and squawking and diving at me.

This is a very small rapid with a tongue between two rocks and a couple of three-foot standing waves. We lined up on it and glided through. Surprisingly, one greenie washed entirely over the deck. We thought we were through Sandstone Rapids, but this was not the case. A ways further we spotted the party of four out scouting the real Sandstone Rapids.

We pulled out on the cove on the left and enjoyed a 15 minute chat with these four from Alberta. Two men in solo canoes with kayak paddles, and a couple in a double canoe. They had started at Rocknest Lake and had been on the river 11 days.

We watched them paddle through the upper rapids and they it look very easy, but we were not about to follow them. So for the second time today we loaded our packs, then carried up the 100 foot rise to the flat tundra topped bluffs, and gradually down to the bottom of the rapids. Up high on the tundra, the huckleberries were ripe. Lots of them.

Back on the water, we saw 11 or 12 muskox, very close on shore on the right bank. Unfortunately I had to get out and scout, and spooked them. They ran about 10 yards, then meandered downriver. They were on a large gravel bar with some grasses and willows.

In a couple of miles we came to the first rapid in a long series. We landed on river right. To our dismay it was more than we were willing to tackle. So we loaded our packs again and carried up the slope 150 feet, along the tundra top edge for 1/8 mile to the next ravine. Above us on the hill was a camp. A yellow pyramid teepee tent. It looked like they were going to portage the entire ridge, at least a couple of miles.

We dropped down the ravine to the water's edge, reloaded the canoe and ferried across the wide, rushing river at full tilt. Round the left bend carefully, along the shore, we were presented with a dilemma. We could go no further on the left side because of cliffs and between us and the left side portage looked like quite an ordeal. And so did crossing the river here, because of large waves and whitewater everywhere.

After studying it carefully we decided to give it a try. So we soon found ourselves in quite large waves, 3 feet and sometimes more, confused and coming at us from all directions. We kept going across, it was a bit frightening.

Unfortunately we were not able to traverse above one of the areas of large whitewater waves. So I called a halt, hoping to pass short of them, but this didn't work, and we went right through them sideways. It wasn't dangerous but it was unnerving with the 4-foot breaking waves tossing us around.

We kept going and eventually made the far side and calmer water, though still swift against the cliff face.

The rest of the day was for us, difficult paddling in and among big rapids. We were starting to get used to it a little bit, always keeping to the inside of every bend, then crossing to the next inside bend, in 2-foot waves. At one point we came to a very imposing gap which the river ran through and to our delight, almost unbelievably, the water was calm through it.

All along the way the river and surroundings is very beautiful. Canyon walls, red sandstone, lots of expansive rock bars, lots of places to pull out. We saw a lone caribou high up on the bank, very regal and beautiful.

We were extremely tired and looking for camp. The place we intended to land, the 4 canoeists from Alberta were camped. We didn't want to impose, so we gave them hearty waves and crossed the river to the next inside bend. We rounded that bend along the gravel bar and pulled out, at 6 pm, and made camp on the gravel bar a short ways up from the water.

Looking up-river.

Looking down-river, tomorrow We will cross to river right.

Jenny cooks a pot of corn spaghetti while I scouted the river.

Because of all the rain, the terrain is very wet except for the gravel bars. The afternoon had warmed with lifting clouds. The evening was warm, no wind. We pitched the tent, then sat outside to cook and eat a large pot of corn spaghetti. Across the way is a waterfall that plunges 100feet into the river. Also across the river from us is a Peregrine falcon nest. An ideal spot half way up the cliff face.

52 miles, 13 hours. Camp #37: UTM 11W 0560530 7492054 Map 86O (86 oh)

The story has 40 pages. This is page 37.
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