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MacKenzie River Watershed - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Extended Trip Report
Trip Dates: June 2002
Nearest City: Yellowknife, NT, Canada
Difficulty: Moderate
Submitted by: cominco View Profile

Description:

Paddlers for Parts 2001 Transplanted Kayakers

Paddle For Parts is a very successful and on going story. My name is Greg Loftus and I am a transplant recipient that would like to share a small tale with our readers. Paddle for Parts is the second event in what started as a three part mission to raise Organ and Tissue donor awareness and a little cash for the Kidney Foundation. This began with a "Pedal for Parts" in May of 2000 when Corey Elliot and myself rode to Edmonton on our bicycles over a twelve day period. We were very pleased with the results, having managed to raise 1680.00 dollars in only three days of fund raising. With the great response from Yellowknifers, I decided to move to step two, which brings us to our second thousand mile journey. Paddling the Mackenize River from Fort Providence to Inuvik NT.

Having decided on the trip and method of travel, sea kayaks, I began planning the trip. I had hoped to start with four fund raising Paddlers, but due to time commitments and other factors two would have to do. I contacted Vashti Thompson of Valleyview AB., and asked if she would care to come out and play. Much to my surprise, a week later I received a call from Vashti telling me to "count her in." Now having arranged for the most charming kayaking partner, I began planning the trip.

We bought the maps from Terry at Tiget the Map Place and Terry was most helpful. Many Thanks. I sent the maps to Vashti who turned them into 8.5" by 11" laminated books for the journey. I took the time to way point the entire route into my old but faithful GPS unit and was satisfied that we would arrive in the right place hopefully at the right time. Being devoted fans of camping and hiking, we owned all of the necessary equipment to make the trip. My next step was fuelling the Paddlers for the trip.

I contacted Margaret Woodley of the Yellowknife Direct Charge Coop and asked for partial sponsorship. Many thanks to the Yes vote from the board. Next we contacted Canadian North and with much assistance from Petrina McDaniel, we again received sponsorship that made the entire trip closer to being a done deal. With much help from Northern News Services, we had advertisements and posters. Yes we were going! The Kidney Foundation of Northern Alberta and the NWT set up a web site and were world wide and going strong. Visit the site at any time, www.kidney.ab.ca, click on paddle for parts and you will be in for a pleasant surprise.

Spring went by and Vashti arrived on my doorstep on the second of June. We spend the second and third doing trial runs with loaded kayaks and on June fourth, we headed for Fort Providence. My neighbour Ollie decided to act as the return driver, so we loaded Vahti's truck and left.

We arrived in Ft. Providence and filed our Wilderness trip Report with the RCMP by hanging it on their door as no one was home. The current on the Mackenize River at the Providence boat ramp was pretty stiff (12+ knots) and there was a fair amount of ice streaming down. It took a couple of hours to load and check every thing. Ollie documented everything for history's sake, we shoved off.

The ice flow crossing was easier than I thought. We were traveling a little faster than the ice and could move around it. We made the opposite shore, which is the north shore of a large island, turned downstream and were off to Mills Lake. We paddled till midnight or so, as we had a late start and found ourselves twenty or so miles from where we had started. This was enough for one day. We spent the next four and a half days with warm weather, headwinds and a lack of current that can be discouraging to say the least.

Mills Lake, Head of the Line, Jean Marie River and Ft.Simpson cover the first one hundred and sixty miles of the trip. Once past Head of the Line , where the river begins to narrow and the current increases, you can encounter a variety of conditions depending on wind direction and water levels. The biggest problem that Vashti and I found was the lack of flood plain which made camping spots few and far between. Steep banks, thick bush and current speed at times made camp site selection a matter of there is no where else rather than choice.

Day Five Ft. Simpson was within sight, but due to three days of north winds the junction of the Liard and Mackenize was a mess of standing waves 1.5 metres high. Not the spot for us to be paddling even on our best day. We headed up the Liard to ferry across to the Simpson side. Ferry is a kayaking term for crossing the flow at an angle, which allows you to move side ways across a fast moving strech of water without moving up or down stream. We ferried for what seemed the longest time in some Class 3 type water or to put it in laymans terms we crossed too early. Vashti enjoyed the crossing, so I think she's hooked on this new sport. We pulled in at the boat ramp at Ft. Simpson. With kayaks safely stored on shore we went in search of our friend

Monika Pandke at the local hospital. The ladies at the Ft.Simpson health centre treated us very well, tending to all our minor wounds, paddling blisters and sunburn. We spend the night dining on some fine cuisine that didn't come from plastic bags. We retired early to Monika's for a night of showers, laundry and well deserved rest.

Ft. Simpson to Ft. Wrigley. Our Wilderness trip plan included a stop in every town and hamlet along the river for the sake of safety. We would check in with the RCMP and give details of our next section of river. Current flow here is good and the paddling went well. We were starting to get our paddling muscles into shape and our routine down. Life was becoming easier and things were going great. This section of river is very nice as you paddle straight towards the mountains. We spend the night at an old homestead, high on a bluff about 16 kilometres this side of the Wrigley road ferry crossing.

Passing the ferry a couple of hours after breakfast we paddled towards Campsell Bend and this took all day. I am convinced that this is the World's longest corner, a combination of headwinds, slow current and the sheer size of the Nahanni Mountains we were approaching combine to give this illusion. We camped on the shore about 24 kilometres downstream from Campsell Bend. In the morning we paddled by 27-mile island as the locals call it. After a solid day of paddling in good weather, we put in at Ft.Wrigley. We headed into town about a fifteen-minute walk, to discover everything was closed as it was Treaty Day.

Next morning we were at the local Coop for the ten o'clock opening, looking for sunglasses and a few basics. FortWrigley is a very nice place and we were well treated by all whom we met. We we're informed that there was good camping to be had on the Blackstone River and with this goal in mind we were off. The weather was good and the current here is very fast. We stopped for lunch and took a GPS shot and found that we were almost fifty kilometres downstream. Shocked but happy, we continued and reached the Blackstone River by early evening. When traveling with the current you don't always realize how fast you are going until you decide to put into shore. Many times while sitting on shore you are surprised, to see how fast the water moves by, as you don't feel this while paddling.

The Blackstone River is great for camping as the road crosses here creating a level, wide open spaces with lots of breeze. That day at least the breeze was enough to hold off the bugs. The water is clear and cold and promises good fishing should you be so inclined We were now well over half way to Tulita. We shoved off early, planning to arrive with lots of time to explore the town. Four nor five hours of good paddling and we were hauling the yaks ashore. The boat launch here is a good hike into town, however the local police offered us a ride. This resulted in a complete tour of the town and all the assistance that we could hope for. We checked out some of the oldest buildings in the north and headed off for some computer time at the Aurora College campus. We updated the Web Site and made some phone calls before heading back to the river.

Nice paddling and we passed the Great Bear River and Bear Mountain, bound for the Halfway islands. These islands are very special in that they are the half way point to Norman Wells and are halfway between Hay river and Tuktoyaktuk. Next week we'll journey to Norman Wells and Inuvik. We spend a night on the river between Tulita and

Our kayaks were hauled ashore, getting easier to do as we ate the load. We headed for town to locate some friends. Little did we know that the "Moccassin Telegraph" was way ahead of us and things were in motion. Harley's Hardrock Saloon, one of our sponsors had contacted Rick Muyres of the Wells and he was airborne looking for us. As things go we were already on the dock when Rick took off and so he missed us. Vashti and I were on the road to town when a pick up truck full of supporters, our host among them, pulled to a stop. Greetings and introductions went all around and we were headed back to the river for a jet boat ride. Heading downstream without having to paddle was a treat beyond compare after the hours spend so far in the kayaks.

Shortly after heading out the weather started to close in and we retreated back to town. This turned out to be a good call as the storm closed this section of river for the next two days. Among friends in the Wells, boats safe and secure, it was time for some whooping up. Dinner was compliments of Big John McLean and the wild Cowgirl Moe. Fine dining followed by dancing up a storm in the local saloon. As luck would have it there was live entertainment.

John escaped early, but the rest of us carried on until we were thrown out at closing time. Needless to say a good time was had by all and our legs got a little workout for the first time in days. The next day the storm was gone and we had to load up and move on. We would have liked to stay, but the the trip was now on the small half. Our thanks to Rick,John and Moe. Liz for the computer time and Bob and Sheila and Daryll for transporting us and the kayaks. Norman Wells is well worth the trip as it is a friendly spot.

Our first stop after the Wells was with Wilfred MacDonald at Ogilive River. Wilfred is one of the last two people who live full time on the river and he is well worth the visit. Many thanks for is donation which was totally unexpected and a truly meaningful gesture. Thanks for the tea and may this find all well with you. Ft. Good Hope was next on our list, about three days paddling away. This is a very scenic area passing by the Mountain River, San Sous Rapids and the famous Ramparts. We made Fort Good Hope in two days of paddling.

The second day was 12 of 14 hours of paddling. The first day we shore camped under a cliff face a little ways upstream of the Mountian River. The second day we ran the San Sous Rapids which are just around the bend from the Mountian / MacKenzie junction. The high water level acted in our favour and by staying on the left bank of the river, we ran a very easy Class two rapid. You could however spice up your trip and run the rapid in the marked shipping lane, there's a lot of hidden power there. The current in the lane actually pulls down the bouys and they pop up fast with great amounts of noise. As you approach the San Sous Rapids you hear them long before you see them, due to the river bend. The noise is caused by the water rushing by the bouys. They are shaped like the bow of a ship and the bow waves are over three feet high. Stay left stay dry that was our plan. We carried on until the wind pick up and then headed for shore. Now however the high water was working against us by eliminating the flood plain and leaving very few places to pull out and camp. We ended up on a muddy shore, facing the possibility of perhaps a few days stay.

After a serious discussion on our location, we decided to push on to Ft. Good Hope, about 25 kilometres away, if the wind dropped at all. The river being shallow most of the way, it builds up waves fast with the wind blowing against the current. As the wind drops, so do the waves. Unsure of what to expect at the Ramparts we were a little leery to commit. The Ramparts are about five miles of canyon that allows no place to pull out until you are through. We were worried that the storm could return and cause us problems in the canyon.

The wind dropped and we were off, full speed ahead. Once again the high water was in our favour as we entered the canyon. There was a current, but not a ripple. We breezed through in light showers and landed at Ft. Good Hope, 2 hours and 20 minutes after we started. This proved to be just in time to feed the horde of mosquitoes that call the boat ramp home. We headed off in search of Glenda and Ken and managed to discover that they lived further than we felt like hiking that night. We returned to the boat ramp, where we met Thomas and his son, Loren who offered to drive our yaks to the grass lot at the top of the hill. We had discovered this site on our walk and were wondering how we could get there and if anyone would mind. Thanks to Thomas and Loren the puzzle was solved and we were settled for the night. Morning came early and I completed the check in routine with the local force and with their help was talking to Glenda.

Ken arrived and we loaded up and were off to a beautiful home with showers, laundry and all the friendship that could be offered. Next day we were well rested but wind and weather had come up again. We decided to hang for the day and visit the local sights as well as spending time with Glenda and Ken. We stocked up on torillas and apples and had a pleasant and laid back day. Inuvik was now not that far away average time for paddlers six to nine days.

Loaded and ready the next day Ken and Glenda dropped us at the boat ramp. We were ready to leave Ft. Good Hope and after a quick photo shoot, we were off to Arctic Red River now known as Tsiigehtchic.

This is the oldest Church in the NWT located in Ft.Good Hope, our photographer Ken is doing a fine job. This Church has the most incredible hand painted interior that has been maintained to perfection.

Glenda's digital camera soon had photos off our take off posted on our web site. Our first stop was at Grand View or just upstream of it. We spend the night in a small cabin that had been offered by a gentleman that we passed on the river. He was camping at his new home site and offered the use of the smaller of two cabins at his other camp. I think that this was the Sorensen camp but I'm not sure. Once again many thanks for the helping hand. The wind was really up at about 04:00 hours and I thought that we might be staying a little longer. At a more sensible hour the weather had improved and so we shoved off. This proved to be a mistake, rounding the point brought us into stiff headwinds which we battled for awhile before giving up and making camp. The following day we moved on and things went well until late afternoon. Once again the winds were up and we were forced to camp just shy of our goal.

Two more days of paddling and put us in Tsiigehtchik and we were feeling pretty good. We were introduced to Cullen and his Friend Sheila who treated us to a home cooked meal,showersand a s Cullen would say"a truly Irish Welcome." We were given access to the computer and updated the web site. Phone calls were made and all checked in we decided to paddle a few miles downstream and camp.

Next day found us approaching the Mackenize Delta, our first waypoint that could not be missed. The entrance to the East Channel is however well marked and easy to find. there were now less than ninety kilometres to go and the weather was great. Our second right hand corner is also in this stretch and easy to find. Tsiigehtchik in the distance, this is where the Peel and Mackenize rivers meet. Warm welcome by Cullen and Sheila.

The next morning we were off on the last and what seemed the longest day yet. The Channel twist and turns, the current is slow and we had fifty kilometres to go. The paddling took all of eighth hours and we were hauling our yaks for the last time around five P.M.. This my friend, brought paddling for Parts 2001 to a very happy ending.

From Vashti and myself, to all those who helped either morally or finacially we give our thanks. Once again we showed that those of the North can dig deep when it counts the most. Your efforts to date have raised over thirteen thousanddollars, which will be used to to create a fund for students living with Kidney Disease. The Paddling for Parts fund is now up and handed it's first bursary out on September 26th. 2001, were pleased to say.

Donations may still be made at Sutherlands Drugs,Wild Cat Cafe,After Eight Billards,Hairrada,Weaver and Devore,Johnsons Building Suppies,The Gallery,Harley's Hard rock Saloon andForty Below Golf. Donations may be sent directly to the Kidney foundation of Northern Alberta and the NWT at #307-10335-172nd. Street, Edmonton, Ab, T5S-1K9 1-800-461-9063. Please mark them "Paddling for Parts Fund" to ensure they arrive at the right spot.

To all our sponsors Canadian North,YK Direct Charge Co-op, Northern News Services and Harley's Hard Rock Saloon, we are looking forward to working with you all again. Thanks Gang !!! See you on the next one. Adios for now Vashti and Greg "Paddler's for Parts"


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