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“THE OTHER BOATS FOLLOWED US


DUCKY STYLE, MORE OR LESS OBLIVIOUS TO THE CHAOTIC CANOE THAT LED THEM DOWNRIVER.”


There are two main ways into Nááts’ihch’oh


National Park Reserve, either a floatplane from Fort Simpson, or a six-hour drive from the near- est gas station in Watson Lake, Yukon. Those who choose the latter route must bring extra fuel for the trip back. Catching a lull in between storm cells, we de-


scend under a steely sky to Flat Lakes and the Little Nahanni River valley. None of our party of six saw a thing however—the pilot had to fly high above an oncoming storm for visibility and the oxygen level in the unpressurized plane dropped enough to cause all of us passengers to fall unconscious. The resulting headache was unbearable, and I went straight to bed that eve- ning while the rest of the team feasted on cel- ebratory steaks—including mine.


The remoteness of this river means there’s no


easy way out. I was especially aware of this on our first morning in camp as I received a lesson on how to prep the canoes and we discussed safety. With us Lyn had brought a copy of Baer’s 1972 trip report. Paddling downriver in fiber- glass boats, Baer’s journal details the extensive repairs required after one boat cracked its keel


in a set of rapids. The team repairs it enough so it could limp along, but had to pull off the river to fire up a stove, melt resin and stage repairs. The group is lucky that they had already paddled through the most difficult section of the river.


The third day on the water we reached the


Little Nahanni. The weather hadn’t been in our favor so far. Rain and hail pelted our faces and helmets, as well as the spruce trees around us. Droplets bounced high off the water. The spray from the class III rapids we navigated was frigid. I paddled in the lead boat with Ken MacDiar-


mid, our best paddler. The arrangement suited me just fine. At a lunch break one afternoon, fel- low photographer on this trip, David Lee, turned to me. “That was pretty intense, eh?” he asked about


the previous set. I looked at him in surprise. “It was? I don’t know. I have nothing to com-


pare to this,” I replied. Being in the lead boat I never knew what was coming, had little under- standing of what was required and just did what- ever Ken yelled at me. The other boats followed ducky style, more or less oblivious to the chaotic canoe that led them downriver.


Most nights we camped on rocky shores. On


the odd day we were lucky to find huge sand bars to rest our heads. Each evening, Lyn tran- scribed her notes from the day, noting the class of rapids, obstructions and tips for navigation, as well as marking GPS waypoints on a series of topographical maps. Then she’d pull out Baer’s notes to see what the following day might have in store.


By day seven, the rain had seldom stopped for


more than a few minutes at a time. It was late in the afternoon when the shoreline peeled away sharply into a high rock face, the water sped up, and the river darkened and disappeared as it dog-legged around a canyon wall. Ken eddied out. “We’re here,” he told me. With constant class III and IV rapids through-


out the two-and-a-half kilometers, Crooked Canyon is considered the most challenging sec- tion of the river and was the only area Lyn wor- ried we would have to portage around. We had heard about the brutal portage and none of us were keen to repeat that suffer-fest.


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