Parent - Coppermine

CanadaNorthwest TerritoriesArctic
Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Allan Jacobs
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
Distance: 
527 km
Duration: 
21 days
Loop Trip: 
No
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
5
Total Portage Distance: 
0 m
Longest Portage: 
2 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Advanced
Lake Travel: 
Intermediate
Portaging: 
Difficult
Remoteness: 
Advanced
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Parent River from Grenville Lake, to Rawalpindi Lake, to Redrock Lake and the Coppermine River, through many rapids (several dangerous) to Kugluktuk.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Coppermine River

Copyright: Allan E Jacobs, October 2007. All rights reserved.

Route:
Parent River from the west end of Grenville Lake, through Rawalpindi and Parent Lakes to Redrock Lake, then the Coppermine River to Kugluktuk on Coronation Gulf.

Comment:
A technical version of this report (with for example UTMs for campsites and rapids) is available by emailing allan.jacobs(AT)sympatico.ca ; it will be posted at http://www.myccr.com

Overviews:
Eric Morse: "... the Coppermine ... is the ultimate -- even better than the Thelon. The rapids, scenery, game, and everything put it at the top of my list." (from November 1966 letter to Bob Matteson).
Bob Matteson: "It has everything -- history, clear water, miles and miles of exciting rapids, great fishing, no people, pure air, beautiful scenery, few portages, and few bugs."
The source for both quotations is Matteson's trip report, 1970.

Summary:
An excellent trip, about half in the barrenlands, at the top of the do-again list for some of us; it is moderately tough though and not recommended for a first north-of-60 trip.
We found the rapids more difficult than expected from the information available to us. Depending on what you run and the conditions, in our opinion the rapids are comparable to the rock garden below the Moose Ponds, and tougher than those on the Bonnet Plume, Mara/Burnside, Kazan, Mountain, Thelon and Horton.
We portaged five times. The ones around Rocky Defile, Escape and Bloody Falls are not easy; they are comparable to the ones around the Burnside, Thelon and Horton canyons, but shorter.
The scenery was not as good as on the Horton or the upper Thelon, better than on the Mara/Burnside.
We saw less wildlife than on the Thelon, Mara/Burnside, Back and Kazan.
For me, the main attraction of the Coppermine is the history; to appreciate it though, one has to read Richardson's or Franklin's journal.
The isolation is well up the scale; the river is tough enough to discourage many. We saw only six people; we heard though that tourism was way down that year (2002) after the events of the previous autumn.
We did almost no fishing (100% success rate); others report very good fishing.

Dates:
We landed on Grenville Lake on 16 July 2002 and camped there that night; we reached Kugluktuk (527 km downstream) in the morning of 5 August, for 19 days on the water.

People, boats, logistics:
WCA group: Jayne Beardsmore and Stephen Catlin (16' red), Linda Gordon and Allan Jacobs (17' green), and Enid Weiner and Bob Bignell (18' blue), from Toronto, Flamborough and Mississauga; all three boats were Novacrafts, excellent performers.
Boyd Warner of Bathurst Arctic Developments (bathurst@mail.internorth.com, highly recommended) arranged boats and logistics (flights from Yellowknife to Grenville and from Kugluktuk to Yellowknife).
Boyd's idea to nest the boats (hence the 3 sizes) worked well; the several hours spent installing and removing the seats, thwarts, etc saved us a lot of money in getting the boats back to Yellowknife.
If you don't use Boyd as an outfitter, be careful (Che-Mun, Outfit 125, summer 2006).

Weather:
Most days were sunny with temperatures in the 10s and 20s; it was cooler near the coast. We had only a little rain, only a few cold days, and frost only one night; we were windbound only one day. It seems that we lucked out; most other groups had it tougher, some much tougher. The norm seems to be several cold, rainy days and several windbound.

Water level:
According to Phil on his 4th trip and Faruk on his 11th, both of whom we met on the Coppermine, the level was well below normal. Records from 1967 through 2002 show that water was highest in 2001 and lowest in 2002, a difference of 1.3 m [Source Faruk].
Both we (with very low water) and Layman-Holland (with very high water) found it hard to recognize some rapids from the reports; the water was dangerously high (in the trees!) for the latter's trip, so high that a group ahead of them returned upstream after calling in to be flown out.
The main point of these comments is that the rapids descriptions to follow may be dangerously inaccurate at different levels.
There is supposed to be water-level information at http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/environment/hydrology/current... but the site is very poorly designed. It's easy to get to the box containing information from the site at the outlet from Point Lake; from there, click on "Get Info from Map", but it's anyone's guess where you go from there to get historical information.

Emergency preparedness:
There's no reason these days not to carry a satellite phone, a PLB or some such means of getting help. Do NOT carry an EPRIRB; see articles in Kanawa.
There are only two places on the Parent/Coppermine where you can get help. Max Ward's place is on Redrock Lake (not occupied when we checked). And, in case of emergency only (understandably if true, there's a rumour that the owner wants only paying guests), there's a camp on the south shore of Point Lake, about 25 km upstream from Ward's place.
Check with your outfitter, and maybe the RCMP, to try to find out whether other canoe parties are on, or will be on, the river at the same time.

Comments on gear, etc:
Tent, pfd, sleeping bag, rain gear and clothing must all be of high quality.
Boats: I'm not confident enough to use a wooden, Kevlar or aluminum boat on this river. PakCanoes would be great on the Coppermine but Mark Fels and his group couldn't avoid damaging their rentals on the Parent.
Wet/dry suit: highly desirable, especially on the lower Coppermine; we didn't dump there but would have felt uncomfortable not wearing one.
Helmets: We didn't take them, but Mark Fels's group did.
Spray skirts: almost essential on the lower Coppermine; not needed on the Parent (where they are worse than useless since they hinder getting in an out of the boats at drag time).
Bugs: weren't as bad as on the Kazan and Thelon, but "few bugs" seems inaccurate.
Bug shirts: next to essential; head nets are not so good but your group might carry one as backup.
Bug tent: the greatest idea since the bug shirt; it should have a cover though, for rainy days.
Good ideas: paddling gloves and hand cream (fingers crack); waterproof camera or case; folding plastic food pots (Pak-Bowls from Backpackers Pantry); big carabiners; fungicide (feet got wet and stayed wet too long); a saw (even if you plan to use stoves exclusively; if you need a tree as a pry, I assure you from experience that a Swiss army knife doesn't cut it).
Flashlight was not needed (16 July to 5 August).
Barrels: The big blue guys worked great; olive barrels leaked, as did Seal bags not properly closed.
Bear protection: We carried pepper spray and bangers; we had access to a shotgun but voted not to bring it.
Cooking: We used wood mostly. The upper Parent and the Coppermine below Escape are in the barrenlands but driftwood is usually available; we needed our naphtha stoves at some sites. Next time I might take my Sierra stove.
Wayfinding: A pocket compass is not reliable (the dip is large, the maps are old and the declination is changing rapidly). The GPS was only occasionally useful.
Maps: We had 4 complete sets (copies) of 1:50k topos (all NAD27). In order of traverse, they are 86B15, 86G2, 86G1, 86G8, 86G7, 86G9, 86G16, 86J1, 86J8, 86J7, 86J10, 86J11, 86J14, 86J13, 86K16, 86N1, 86O4, 86O5, 86O12, 86O11 and 86O14.
Cleaning: It is an extremely sensitive area. We used no detergent; we used gravel and sand for cleaning pots except occasionally we used biodegradable soap to cut grease (then rinsed thoroughly and dumped away from river; I've heard horror stories of people getting sick from ingesting soap). We rinsed bodies in river or sponge bathed, using bdg soap occasionally.
Water filters: Some filtered (you're crazy if you don't) and some didn't (you're crazy if you do); I haven't heard of anyone getting sick on the big northern rivers.
Waste: We covered poo and burned toilet paper.

Again, better:
Carry longer ropes and a satellite phone. Take river rescue course. Allow more time (or push harder) in order to hike more.

People encounters:
Phil, Mary, Mary Kay and Katie from Wisconsin, one tough group of pros, travelling fast (3 days to our 4 or so for the same distance); two started at Rae and the others at Mesa Lake; all did the 4 mile portage to the Parent. Thanks for help with the pin.
Fishermen Faruk Ekich ("Flytying Enhancements", fekich@yahoo.ca) from Brampton and Bill Blatch from Bordeaux. Thanks for tips on rapids and campsites. In Bob's words, they "were fly fisher aficionados, so despite being invited to cast a lure where they were fishing I declined. They were the consummate sport fishers and I didn't wish to offend their ideals of what fishing should be. It is rare to see this "class" of fishermen. They probably debate if fishing is an art or science!"

Wildlife:
10 muskoxen (all in one herd), 5 moose, 2 caribou (maybe same one twice), 2 wolves, 3 bears (mom & 2 cubs), a few Arctic ground squirrels, many peregrines, bald eagles, tundra swans, arctic terns and gulls.

Information sources, publicly available:

Richardson, John: "Arctic Ordeal". Journal of John Richardson, McGill-Queen's University Press, edited by C S Houston (University of Saskatchewan), 1984. A must read.

Douglas, George M: "Lands Forlorn", NY Putnam 1914. A must read, if it were not so rare and expensive. Fascinating account with many photographs; Michael Peake has spoken of reprinting it (Hurrah Michael!).

Simpson, Thomas: Narrative of the Discoveries on the North Coast of North America …, Bentley, London, 1843. The book contains little on the Coppermine proper; it is of interest mostly for its description of the western part of the Passage, and for Simpson’s attitudes with respect to the native people.

McCreadie, Mary: "Canoeing Canada's Northwest Territories, A Paddler's Guide", Canadian Recreational Canoeing Association, 1995. No home should be without this one. Informative and gives good background.

Hodgins, Bruce W and Gwyneth Hoyle: "Canoeing North into the Unknown", Natural Heritage / Natural History Inc 1994. Lists early travellers and further sources. I wish that the "Morse files", referred to many times, were readily available.

Franklin, John: "Journey to the Polar Sea". Conway Maritime Press, 2000. His journal for 1821 (which describes the Coppermine) was lost on 14 September 1821 and he used Richardson's notes.

Verbeek, Peter (1993): Lac de Gras to Kugluktuk. Spring 1994 issue of Nastawgan (Volume 21, No.1). Also, first part of http://www.myccr.com/canoedb/routeDetails.php?routeid=317

Layman, Bill and Lynda Holland (1999): Lac de Gras to Kugluktuk. Second part of http://www.myccr.com/canoedb/routeDetails.php?routeid=317

National Parks Service report "A Wild Rivers Survey" (1972).

Waldron, Levi (2002): Parent/Coppermine from Grenville Lake to Fairy Lake River and on to the Hood. http://www.myccr.com/canoedb/routeDetails.php?routeid=456 .

NWT report on the Coppermine: http://www.explorenwt.com/resources/northern-library/PDF/copriver.pdf

Information on Kugluk Territorial Park at Bloody Falls: http://www.nunavutparks.com/parks-special-places/kugluk-bloody-falls-ter...

Private information sources:
Trip reports of Jack Goering (1966), Bob Matteson (1970), Wendy Grater (1977), Peter Verbeek (1993) and Bill Hosford (1996); Eric Morse's abridged version (1970) of Franklin's journal; conversations with Herb Pohl and Peter Verbeek.

Thanks:
Herb Pohl (kind, highly knowledgable, eager to help, showed us his slides and gave suggestions about the river, sorely missed); Peter Verbeek (lots of helpful information on rapids and campsites); Glenn Spence and Maureen Bretz (reports otherwise not accessible); Bill Hosford (trip report); George Luste, Faruk Ekich and Bill Blatch (information on rapids).

Locating Franklin's sites from the old journals:
Richardson (and so Franklin) reports observed coordinates (from sextant and chronometers) and also values obtained by dead reckoning from previous positions. His coordinates for latitudes and longitudes of positions on the Coppermine can differ from modern values by a few km and by up to 20 km respectively. For example, page 71 of Richardson gives the farthest west as 116d39', about 13 km west of the map value 116d21'.
Locating Franklin's campsites, etc seems to require a lot of pre-trip analysis; my one attempt en route (to fix the campsite of 11 July 1821 using relative data for it and Larrigan Creek from page 72 of Richardson) gave nonsense. According to Houston, surprisingly many people have tried to locate the sites and he suggests that they have been largely successful; I don't know whether the results are generally available.

Rapids:
Believe no map; trust no trip report, including this one. In the final analysis, you have to rely on your own judgement.
The following describes what we did; there is no suggestion that you should do the same. The ratings are inexpert and are not adjusted for remoteness or run-out. The difficulties may be significantly different in different conditions.
The Parent is a small, pool-and-drop river with many boulder fields unrunnable at 2002 water levels; higher water will mean less dragging but may cause other difficulties. I counted 26 rapids and many swifts.
The Coppermine is a big river, not to be paddled lightly. Paddlers have died on it; this is no place for someone with something to prove. Intermediate skills are necessary for those travelling without a guide; guides have to be very good to get ww rookies down this one. Some rapids can be scouted from shore, but most have to be scouted from the boat, often in fast water with hazards. Some rapids are long with no easy exit; a dump could mean a long, cold, dangerous swim (and has meant it for some). It has been said that no one ever drowned on a portage. The standard count, from Richard Martin's 1962 trip, is 34 rapids, some very dangerous.
Tip: In big water, go to the inside of the curves.
Tip: In slow shallow water, go to the outside of the curves.

Background on the Parent:
We had little information on the Parent (Grenville to Redrock Lakes), other than it had been paddled (for example by Herb Pohl) and that we would be scrambling some (as was obvious from the maps). We chose this route for a number of reasons: little was known of it, the trip duration fitted our schedules, it is the road less travelled, we thought that Point Lake might be blowy and monotonous, we didn't want to chance seeing what the diamond mine is doing to the area, and it looked like fun to paddle a small river as well as a big one.
The Parent, starting from Grenville, was paddled the same year by Levi Waldron's group, on their way to the Hood! The Ross Hodgetts party of six intended to start at Grenville a week ahead of us but started at Redrock because of the low water.

Day-by-day report:

Abbreviations: L, R : river left, river right. Ped: portaged.

16 July, 2002:
Boyd flew us from Yellowknife in to the west end of Grenville Lake, in two flights. We assembled the boats and camped at the base of the esker; we walked around in the evening.

17 July:
We paddled down Grenville Lake, then entered the Parent River. We ran the upper part of the creek and dragged the rest to Rawalpindi Lake. After another 15 km or so, we saw a likely campsite at an esker and went for it, not knowing whether we would find anything better. We camped at the top, up a steep hill.

18 July:
Rawalpindi is actually two lakes; the creek between the upper and lower parts was a bump, grind and drag show. A series of rapids starts at the end of Rawalpindi, with ponds between, as follows: a CI, a CII drop (can be Ped R), a CI, a CI+, 500 m of dragging through a boulder field, a CII, and then 500 m of CII with boulders. We stopped for lunch just before the marked rapid upstream from the P in Parent; sure wish we had scouted the rapid, but it looked OK from upstream, and it was really only a CI+.
After lunch, red boat went down first and got hung up on the centre rocks near the end; it turned, filled with water and got pinned, open side upstream. Green and blue Ped (150 m R), in a hurry. After several hours trying to free the boat, we put the tents up at a buggy spot up the hill (not so nice, but we were very fortunate it was there); after supper, we returned to the boat and pulled some more, without success.

19 July:
More pulling. Bound paddles together and used them as a pry. Went to the other side of the river and cut down a tree for another pry, using a Swiss army knife; sure wish we had packed a saw. Nothing worked. We had lunch. Linda suggested filling the river upstream from the boat with rocks (the river could be waded there), to lessen the force of the water. Rather than do so immediately, we pulled and pried some more. After 24 hours or so there, we were getting rather discouraged and about to try Linda's idea.
Deliverance!
Four pros from Wisconsin suddenly appeared on the hill. Phil smiled and took charge. He attached a rope to a thwart and wrapped it around the boat so that, when the rope was pulled from upstream, the boat turned bottom up and the water spilled out. More pulling and prying, from all ten of us I recall, freed the boat. After accepting our profuse thanks (Bob secretly gave them some hooch), the Badgers took off downstream. We decided to stay put. At home, I checked my Cliff Jacobson; it doesn't mention Phil's trick.

20 July:
Once again on the water, we lined a rapid, dragged for a long while through a boulder field and passed an esker with good campsites below it. We ran a CI-, dragged through another boulder field and ran a CI-. We ran the upper part of the last rapid before Parent Lake; being a bit spooked from the pin, we Ped the middle part (CII+, 70 m L), then ran the rest on the L. That was the end of the rapids for the day, but not the end of the dragging; after pulling the boats through the sandbars at the entrance to Parent Lake, we paddled another hour, then camped at a beach on the R side. The flies (Jayne called them bulldogs) made washing up unpleasant.

21 July:
We passed many good campsites on Parent Lake; there's a really good one up a hill on the R. At the end of the lake is a CI+; there followed two swifts, a CI+, an open stretch, a swift, a CI- followed by a long boulder field and finally lake 393. We camped toward the end of the lake, on a sand spit on the L. From here on, most white stuff on the Parent is marked on the maps.

22 July:
Another day of rapids. The CI+ at the end of the lake is followed immediately by a boulder garden, a pond, another boulder garden, another pond, swifts, then boulders, a stretch where my notes are bad (probably ran, can P or track, then ran L), a CI-, and then an open stretch with an esker on the right. After lunch there and a short hike, we ran a long CII- and two swifts. Then came an ugly stretch, several km long, chock full of swifts and boulder fields, requiring much dragging. A quiet stretch brought us to Redrock Lake and the Coppermine. The first sandspit on the L was barely above water and we camped at the second, a good spot with protection from both the W and E wind (easy carry from one side to the other). The wind came up during the night and Bob got up to take down the bug tent.

23 July:
We started out; blue boat headed over toward Max Ward's place and went far enough to see there was no one there. The turn left down the Coppermine is, believe it or not, easy to miss. On the lakey section below the turn, wondering what the noise was, I looked over to see a gull struggling on the surface; it went under, came up, flapped about but couldn't get out of the water, squawked more and then disappeared for good. That must have been some fish!
We ran a big swift at the first constriction; we didn't see the second rapid mentioned in some reports. We entered Rocknest Lake (well named) to a stiff wind, struggled to the end of the EW stretch and camped at an esker beach site on the L shore. I reflected on the struggle Franklin's party had to find the exit.

24 July:
After about 7 km, we came to the first major rapid, about 1.5 km below the Napaktolik. Still spooked from the pin on the Parent, we Ped some packs on the L side (600 m?); the takeout is rocky, with no trail worth the name. Returning from the first carry, we saw that we could run it and did so. The waves were fair-sized but we saw no rocks; there's an eddy on the L near the end.
A few km more got us to the second rapid. With many boulders, a bad diagonal ledge, etc, it was not runnable that day, not by us anyway; we Ped L about 600 m. The takeout is very rocky; the first half of the trail is indistinct, the second well trodden. Green and red boats put in down a steep slope, above a point on L, and ran close to the point through fair-sized waves; blue put in about 100 m farther, down a steeper slope below the point. The portage on R side looked easier, but we saw it only from the L side.
The third was just a short stretch of big waves, but we Ped it anyway (60m R).
The fourth was a very long (about 2 km) stretch of fast shallow water with many boulders. Red and green boats got through OK, but blue hit a rock, dumped and wrapped. Fortunately, the water was shallow enough that blue paddlers could stay at the boat; red and green paddlers put in at a handy gravel bar and most were able to wade upstream and help free blue. Portaging this one is not an option; wading looks tough as well as unnecessary.
We pulled in on the R shore at the S end of lake 342 and camped at a popular site (no firewood) with beach & tundra; much of Bob's stuff got wet in the dump, including his camera.

25 July:
The next day was quiet in comparison. Three bouldery swifts below the Hepburn were run without incident. Shortly after the third, just before the opening, we came to the next rapid; the L side of the island looked very shallow, so we went down the R side to the bay, then continued R.
After another bouldery swift, we came upon an immense boulder fan, several km long. We went R of the island and stayed more or less in the centre; we didn't see the extreme L where Verbeek says there's a chute. The rapid ends in a high boulder dam that seems to run all the way across. At the dam, green sideswiped a rock and almost swamped; red followed but adjusted and got through cleanly; blue swallowed pride, ran aground on the R and waded. If you don't fancy a blind probe at speed through a boulder jungle, do as blue.
After green bailed, we paddled a km or two and camped at a beach site on the L.

26 July:
About 5 km on the water got us to another rapid; we went R of the island, L of centre, then drifted to the centre through fair-sized waves at the confluence of wash from R and L. We paused to inspect a wrecked canoe on the L shore at the start of the lake where the White Sandy River (well named) joins the Coppermine. After another swift at the end of the lake, we came to a major rapid above the confluence of the Fairy Lake River. We stopped at the tip of the island and scouted both sides. We decided to go R of the island, snaking down little channels. Next time, I'd seriously consider going L of the island, after a good scout. Below the island, green crossed to the far L to avoid the gravel bars; red and blue stayed R, grounded and waded. You must go R of the island if you want to fish at the mouth of the Fairy Lk; this is where Levi Waldon's group left the Coppermine, on their way to the Hood! Below the gravel bars, Bob caught a 5 lb lake trout (first cast) and cleaned it on the spot. The Fairy Lake rapid is the last one for some time.
A quiet 15 km of paddling got us to our next campsite, a sand strip on the L. We cooked the trout fillets in foil in the fire and ate them as a "mega hors d'ouevre" that evening.

27 July:
We ran a swift, then crossed 66d30', initiating Jayne and Stephen appropriately. A long gentle paddle got us to another sand strip on the L.

28 July:
On the EW stretch, we passed oil drums, remnants of a cabin and assorted junk on R side. This stuff was followed in a km by two abandoned plywood cabins. Paddlers write their names on the walls of one; I saw George Luste's and those of other well-known adventurers. The wind came up and we were soon struggling to make headway. We pulled into a bay on the L and managed to find places for the tents; it was a desperation site but not so bad.

29 July:
The wind was still up in the morning but we headed out anyway. All too soon, we were getting blown from side to side, making little headway. After 12 km of struggling, we gave up and pulled in at a muddy spot on the R where we could shelter behind some willows; it was a very cramped site, but otherwise not so bad for a desperation site.

30 July:
We woke up to find a thick layer of frost on the tents. After drying out a bit, we headed downstream again; just after the sharp L turn, we passed a cabin built into the side of the hill but didn't stop to investigate. At the R turn to the NW, we saw a herd of 10 muskoxen, the only ones on our trip. The canyon there looks dangerous but it was just fast water until near the end where we entered a very long bouldery swift. There was another bouldery swift after the open section. The walls close in, a sign that Rocky Defile Rapids is not far ahead.
Suggestion: stop early, just below the fan on the R; you can track the boats down later. Some people run Rocky Defile; most of them survive. But some don't; at the midpoint of the portage trail is a memorial cairn to Carol and David Jones who drowned here in 1972. And Guy Honold perished here in 1974 [Source Hodgins-Hoyle]. George Luste portages; we had decided before the trip to do the same. The takeout (on the R) is very rocky and requires careful footwork. The trail goes up a steep hill at the start; we used four people to get each boat up. The trail (listed at 600m; seems longer) is steep also at the lower end.
We camped at a sandy spot at the end of the portage; it was cramped but otherwise OK.

31 July:
The next morning we entered what Faruk calls The Splits, a shallow area from Rocky Defile to below the Mouse. We were soon scrambling from side to side to avoid, in no particular order, a line of rocks passable on the L, a rocky swift and a gravel bar. We went R of the island just upstream from the mouth of the Kendall.
Faruk recommends visiting the mouth of the Kendall River on your journey through The Splits. He says that the area is a caribou crossing; there is an abandoned camp at the mouth, and a majestic red sandstone canyon with lots of falcon nests. The Kendall is part of the ancient route connecting Great Bear Lake and the Arctic; George Douglas went this way.
After the Kendall, we entered a jungle of gravel bars several km long; it was very difficult to spot the current. Most reports recommend the far R channel, past Mouse River (rule is to go outside early in shallow water). We looked for the passage, but dodging gravel bars got us too far L and we missed it. We took the second channel from the L and danced and wriggled through somehow; the channel on the far L looked unnavigable.
The river becomes easier as you approach the September Mountains and the big right turn. We were looking for a campsite reported near Copper Creek, but pulled in 2 km too early. The site was a sandy bank, not so good. As was her wont, Enid went for a hike, this time downstream.
Suddenly, a bear roared very loudly. Looking downstream, we saw Enid scrambling back to us and two moving blobs, one dirty white and the other dark brown. At first we thought it was a bear attacking a muskox, but then as they raced toward us realized that it was a mother and two cubs. Some of us got the boats ready for a quick exit, but Jayne cooly banged pots together and the bears took off into the bush. We kept a watch for some time.

1 August:
About 10 km downstream, we came upon an abandoned camp. One source says that it belonged to a survey team, another to Plummer's, another to Frontier Lodge. It's a real eysore, so whoever owns it please clean it up (fat chance). While walking around exploring, Stephen stepped on a nail which pushed through his boot, almost into his foot. We made the big left turn and ran into Faruk Ekich and Bill Blatch, the fishermen. Concerned about the quaility of the information we had about rapids on the lower Coppermine, I spoke to Faruk; he was very helpful. After more chatting, we took off again; soon we were dodging gravel bars on the straight stretch heading NW.
Everyone but the cartographer agrees that Muskox Rapids is located incorrectly on the topo; the stretch marked Muskox Rapids is just some rocky swifts.
Muskox is actually two rapids. Most reports agree on this, but we were still surprised.
The first part is about 5 km downstream from the topo position, near the last E in Coppermine; we got out maybe 100 m upstream, scouted, then ran the ledge on the far L, through fair-sized waves. After the ledge, the river curves to the R; the cliff on the L blocks the view downstream so we worked over to near the R shore to peek around the bend. In higher water, maybe do a full shore scout to make sure that you can get into the next bay on the L, in order to scout the second part of Muskox.
The second part is a narrow passage with big waves in the centre. We landed at the upstream end of the bay on the L (as advised by Faruk), climbed to the top and scouted. Reports say to sneak L, but the gap was closed for us due to low water. Green and red ran, backpaddling hard. Red dumped at the end on crossing an eddy line, and washed R into an eddy. Blue tracked L in no time. We dug our colleagues out and headed downstream, to the R of the larger island, through a bouldery swift.
Jayne was getting cold, so we headed over to the smaller island and got her changed. We then dropped down to the tip of the island and camped on a sandy, grassy spot just before the wall closes in on the L; from there we could see the sandstone walls that form the precursor to Sandstone Rapids.

2 August:
In 5 km, after going R of the island, we were at the Gate to Sandstone Rapids; it consists of basalt rocks, an impressive sight. If memory serves me right, Douglas has a photo of it. Faruk advised the middle of the three passages. Being on the R, and seeing no trouble, we took the R gap rather than cross in front; the passage was bumpy with fair-sized waves but we saw no serious obstacles.
Sandstone Rapids: One might think from the topo that there's an island just above Sandstone but there isn't (the L "channel" is bone dry). We landed on the R side of the "island" about halfway down and scouted to the tip. We returned, paddled to the tip, went up the bay and over to the far side, climbed the steep hill to the top and scouted; there's a well-worn path close to the cliff. We decided to run it. We went out hard below the froth on the R, over nearly to the R shore, paused on a gravel bar, worked back to the centre and then went L; this plan requires crossing in front of lots of boulders, so it may be a bad idea in faster (higher?) water. Other parties have used different routes, as reported in the technical version. Faruk has run Sandstone every time but one, that in very high water.
We kept to the inside of the bend at the next rapid (1 km below), no problem.
Serious rapids start at the beginning of map 86O12, before the hard bend to the R. It was dangerous in 2002 and a dump would have meant big trouble. We ran into an almost continuous stretch of CII+: 2 km of fast water, fair-sized waves, ledges, boulders and holes. We ran the insides of curves where possible, but still had to make frequent course changes. The gravel banks on the insides of the bends were useful mostly as rest spots; scouting from them didn't help much. Other paddlers didn't find this stretch so difficult. The three rapids after the R turn were easy runs. We camped R on the second sandy beach on the NS stretch.

3 August:
We did two easy rapids, the second at the R turn, but then ran into a stretch that was dangerous in 2002; again, a dump would have been very serious.
The trouble starts well upstream from the most southerly point of the U turn and continues to the bend to the N. There are five or so ledges, at least one of them a CIII, running almost all the way across. Whether it was a case of having incomplete or misleading information, or just plain carlessness, green boat (in the lead) went R at the first ledge, realized where we were and signalled to the others; we couldn't work fully L before the next ledge and so we stayed near the centre, found gaps in the ledges (thanks Linda), lined up, charged and braced. Red saw the signal to bail out L and front ferried, missing the worst. Blue missed the signal and followed green; they did most of the bad stuff (went R of one ledge). We had no dumps, didn't even get much water in the boats, but things were a bit tense. After pulling in at the end, I looked downstream and thought there but for the brace of God go I.
Advice: scout where possible, push hard L as soon as possible and hug the L shore.
The next rapid, 15 or so ledges and half-ledges, starts past the bottom of the U turn; it can be scouted from the gravel bar on the L. We had an easy run on the L.
After passing a neat waterfall on the R, we came to Escape Rapids, which we had decided before the trip to portage. Some groups run it; all reports say it's tougher than Sandstone. The portage, listed as 2400 m, is on the R; it goes up a steep hill from the start and we needed four people on each boat. By the way, the trees on L at the takeout are the last on the river. The trail is indistinct until about half way. Go L of the pond and look for an early down, checking for the trail near the cliffs.
We camped on a sandy spot at the end of the portage.

4 August:
We went R of the island just below the campsite. At the next rapid, we kept L, on the inside of the turn. There followed a long stretch of gravel bars and boulders; we got too far L avoiding them and had to work hard to get R, through lots of fair-sized stuff, to stay away from the wall on the L.
And then we reached the "delta", a huge maze of gravel bars; the current is difficult to spot and channels split and rejoin beyond reason. Green went l and the others R; all three did a lot of dragging.
A few km of decent river got us to the mandatory portage (listed as 1200 m) around Bloody Falls. The takeout is on the L, before the wall closes in. The trail starts up a steep, narrow, winding path (we needed five of us on each boat), goes over a flat area, down to some rocks, up to the ATV trails and right to a beachy area where we camped.
Lots of people ATV in from town or boat in from lower down to fish at the falls, primarily for char; the people we spoke to were catching only pike. Some camp here; it's very busy well into the night. We tried to hire a lift to the village but were told that ATVs couldn't handle the boats. We missed the cairn at the site of the 1771 events. We gave our stoves and fuel to a couple for use by the Kugluktuk Girl Guides.

5 August:
We got up early, in case a head wind came up; rather than a head wind though, we had a strong tail wind, uncomfortably strong in fact. Route note: We goofed and went L of the island at the beginning of map 86O14. The houses of the native people built below the falls were the first we had seen for almost three weeks, save Max Ward's place. To get shelter from the wind, we went L of the island about 5 km from the mouth. This stretch would be a real grind in a head wind; the main navigation problem is to spot the huge sand bars in time. We pulled out at TANKS road rather than risk being blown out into the Gulf. Most groups take out at the beach at the N end of town; I see no reason to do so unless you plan to stay at the campsite (or want to "finish the trip"). It was not nice to see the smashed windshields.
All stores were closed (civic holiday) so we couldn't contribute to the local economy. Then we found out that the hotel requires reservations for meals. Alas, the weather was too cold to clean up at the beach. With nothing else to do, we wandered around, bumped into geological survey guys and registered with the RCMP after a wait. Linda looked up people she knows from her stays at Bathurst Inlet Lodge and their relatives. We hired the taxi ($100) to take us and our gear to the airport. We cleaned up a bit there while waiting for our 4 pm flight to Yellowknife, but I still felt uncomfortable presenting myself to the general public. Linda chatted up the airport supervisor; she, an Inuit, had no idea what a black fly is. Her main job was to check the runway for caribou when the radio announced that a plane was coming in to land.

Epilogue:
The flight back to Yellowknife paralleled the Coppermine for a long time, then the lower Parent; the eskers were even more beautiful from the air. It was great to see them, the rapids and campsites like the sandspit on Redrock again, but really sad to leave the north. Crammed into the aircraft after three weeks outside, I thought again how terrible a punishment it must be to imprison people who live mostly outdoors.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
In order of traverse: 86B15, 86G2, 86G1, 86G8, 86G7, 86G9, 86G16, 86J1, 86J8, 86J7, 86J10, 86J11, 86J14, 86J13, 86K16, 86N1, 86O4, 86O5, 86O12, 86O11 & 86O14.
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
86B, 86G, 86J, 86K & 86O

Comments

Post date: Sun, 11/04/2007 - 15:20

Comments: 

The above report is a test version only. It will be removed soon.
Regards, Allan