Mara/Burnside 2

Submitter & Author Information
Route submitted by: 
Allan Jacobs
Trip Date : 
Additional Route Information
265 km
11 days
Loop Trip: 
Portage Information
No. of portages: 
Total Portage Distance: 
5000 m
Longest Portage: 
5000 m
Difficulty Ratings
River Travel: 
Lake Travel: 
Not applicable
Background Trip Info
Water Levels: 
Route Description
Technical Guide: 

Nose Lake (by float plane from Yellowknife)to Bathurst Inlet and return flight to Yellowknife.
Backpacking trip to Wilberforce Falls possible.

Trip Journal/Log/Report/Diary: 

Mara/Burnside 1998

A barrenlands river, not as scenic as the others I’ve paddled, and rather short given the considerable expense.
A visit to Wilberforce is recommended; the lodge will help with this.
The portage around Burnside Falls is long, but easy except near the end.
Expect significant delays due to wind.
The Mara above the confluence has several bony sections that we had to drag through even early in the season, but only one serious rapid.
There are several serious rapids below the confluence, plus several sections with big waves. This is no river for a group with lots of ww rookies.
Spray covers, bear bangers, bear spray and flares, a tarp or other shelter, and bug shirts are recommended.
Boyd Warner (Bathurst Inlet Developments) gave the usual excellent service.

Linda Gordon, Enid Weiner, Bob Burleigh, Doug Rhude, Glen Carter & Allan Jacobs.

This was Mara/Burnside year for WCA people. Daniela Kosch, Doug Bell, Bill Stevenson, John Campbell, Cathy Gallately and Hans Grim followed about a week later, then Bob Bignell, Mike Jones and their group.

Information sources:
Thanks to George Drought for pre-trip information. We had also the reports of James Raffan and Alex Kleider; the latter’s was posted recently at CCR:
Other reports have appeared since our trip:
Jones, Mike: “A Mara-Burnside Canoe Trip”, Nastawgan, v 26, No 2, pp 18-22 (1999). Asfeldt, Morten: “River Dreams: Burnside River”, Nastawgan, v 34, No 4, pp 11-17 (2007).
To view them. go to (that’s right, no n), click on “Nastawagan Archive here”, then on “Browse”. Forget about trying either of the Searches. To view the Index of Nastawgan articles, click on “Index here” (rather than “Nastawgan Archive here”).

Distance and duration:
265 km (start of first rapid below Nose Lake to Bathurst Inlet Lodge); 11 days.

We used the 1:50k topo set.
Coordinates are given as UTMs, as read from the topos (not a GPS), in the format easting/northing, NAD27; the nominal accuracy is 50 m.
Please note that northing errors (200 or 300 m) like those reported by Alex can occur in this region unless one sets the GPS for the correct NAD (27 or 83).
Distances, measured to Bathurst Inlet Lodge (BIL) were wheeled on copies and so there’s a systematic of error of 1% in addition to other errors.

Day 0: 27 June 1998:
We flew in from Yellowknife with Bathurst Inlet Developments and landed at 9:20 pm in a light drizzle. Nose Lake was still frozen so the pilot used the small lake 5-10 km below. My pre-trip note says that the first rapid below Nose Lake is shallow, so maybe good thing we missed it. The pilot flew over the lake at low level several times, blowing away the fog with prop wash. Glenn Warner was already there waiting for us to transfer a Lodge guest who had to get back to Yellowknife for some reason. We unloaded and camped on the tundra (river left).
N0: 76F10: 055/684 . 256 km to BIL.

Day 1: 28 June
In the night and morning, the tinkle of candle ice was a new experience. It took me (at least) some time to figure out which way was downstream.
We started in unappealing weather but the sun came out later. We scrambled through the first rapid (the ledge at 077/706, I believe), lining some; the other rapids that day were nothing special. The north wind arrived as we turned north, and we struggled against it on several long, open stretches; Enid and Glen drafted behind Linda and me. We passed an abandoned camp on the lake with a sand beach. Tired from battling the wind, and not wanting to run in that condition the many rapids immediately ahead, we camped at an ancient site (dozens of tent sites) on river left between two rapids. The bugs were very bad; we saw two caribou.
N1: 76F10: 117/829 . 240 km to BIL.

Day 2: 29 June
We started in sunshine and ran some shallow rapids. But then the north wind came up and we were getting blown from side to side, grounding out because we couldn’t control the boats. We saw more caribou though.
After an excess of dragging through a rock garden, we turned the corner to the NW where the wind hit us full force. There was no way we could move against it so we pulled over to the right shore. We hiked some, hoping that the wind would relent, but …
I was setting up for a nap when we saw a grizzly walking toward the river on the other side, about 70 m downstream. It came as far as the river, spinned around like a dog and flopped down. Every half hour or so for the next four hours, it got up, stretched, spinned and flopped. Then it got up for good and started to cross the river. Of course the wind was still up and we couldn’t move. At the time, I was 2ing up the hill, away from shore. Linda yelled at me, asking where I had put the bangers and spray but I had them with me. The bear crossed, looked over at us for a while (for likely not as long at it seemed at the time; we were downwind from it), then turned and walked inland. We watched until it was over the rise, then checked to make sure it was continuing away from us.
We still couldn’t move because of the wind but fortunately could camp where we had stopped. The tarp and poles gave enough shelter that we could cook.
N2: 76F10: 092/898 . 228 km to BIL.

Day 3: 30 June
The wind let up a bit and we took off. We went R at the island (76F10: 075/915), did a few mild rapids and then stopped to scout a ledge (76F10: 063/927) which we ran L. Another rock garden (about 1 km) started just before map 76F15 (entered with 222 km to BIL); then came a sharp left turn and some swifts. We pulled in and camped at the abandoned Inuit camp mentioned by Raffan, by the esker.
N3: 76F15: 032/986 . 215 km to BIL.

Day 4: 1 July
Guess what? The wind was still up but we were able to make progress for a while. We worked our way through two more rock gardens and another mild rapid, but then could make no headway, so we dragged the boats along the left shore for maybe 2 km until we got to the east-west stretch and were able to paddle again.
Having had enough, we pulled in and camped on the south shore, at the first esker. Again the shelter was a blessing.
We decided to celebrate the day. Having no fireworks, we got out the bangers. I tried twice but got only clicks. Hmm: something seems wrong. So I tried one of my cartridges in Enid’s launcher, with the same result. I had bought both launcher and cartridges in Yellowknife a few days before; I think the cartridges were old and tired. Then we tried Enid’s launcher and cartridges; all worked, but only on the third try. Anyway, good thing we didn’t need them two days before. Then Bob got out his shotgun (we didn’t know until then that he had brought it) and fired off a round.
We had covered 62 km in 4 days and were getting a mite concerned with our progress.
N4: 76F15 007/150 . 194 km to BIL.

Day 5: 2 July
We exited the small lake and ran 5 km of easy rapids, with though some big waves; we saw the first muskox of the trip right after. There followed two rapids more menacing on the topo than on the river (115/180 and 127/178), then a ledge (134/188) which we ran L. After crossing from 76F16 to 76K1 (176 km to BIL), we ran two mild rapids, 3 or 4 km of swifts, the U-turn, an open stretch, more swifts and then a serious ledge (113/403) which we ran L.
We pulled in and camped at the base of the esker, relieved at having a last got some distance in. Two caribou and a fawn wandered around behind the site; sik-siks chattered away by Doug’s tent.
N5: 76K2: 115/410 . 149 km to BIL.

Day 6: 3 July
We ran into another party (2 from Idaho, 1 from Oregon, 2 from Boston and one from Toronto, Anne Wohnan (sp?) of Five Winds) camped on the R. They had started two days before (I don’t know where) and had had a bad experience with a bear. They were taking their time; I recall vaguely that Daniela and Doug’s group ran into them.
After more swifts, we ran a ledge (082/487) easily on the R. Crossed to map 76K7 (138 km to BIL) and ran lots more easy stuff, but then came to a serious rapid near 76K8: 121/665. Bob and Doug (both ww instructors) ran their boat without trouble, then did Linda’s and mine. Glen and Enid portaged their gear R, over bad terrain, then Doug and Glen ran the boat down. My pre-trip note says that the rapid can be lined L.
We paddled a bit more, crossing to map 76K7 (117 km to BIL), then pulled in L at a spot that Linda had figured, correctly, would offer us a home for the night.
N6: 76K7: 093/685 . 114 km to BIL.

Day 7: 4 July
The river was getting big; we ran more fast water, some big waves at 036/705 (but none at 001/728, contrary to my pre-trip note), then more swifts. We crossed to map 76K10 (94 km to BIL) and stopped for lunch just above the confluence. We saw no significant ww at the confluence (contrary to Raffan’s report). We passed about 20 muskoxen on the R; Doug saw a wolf near the last one. We camped about 6 km above the cabin, a sandy spot but otherwise OK. The sun came out after a brief rain. Linda, Glen and Doug went for a hike at 8:30; lots of thunder, lightning and rain arrived at 9 and they got wet.
N7: 76K10: 949/984 . 67 km to BIL.

Day 8: 5 July
We rolled down the river, stopping I recall to look at the cabin with its bear welcome mats. Crossed to map 76K15 (57 km to BIL) and began a ww stretch.
999/080: swifts.
009/109: started long stretch of continuous ww.
046/152; scout marked rapids
070/148; start 4 km stretch of big waves; we stayed R, backpaddled and braced.
052/190; bad corner; right channel dry? Back ferry hard, keep to inside of curve & dodge holes. Don't get washed into the wall on the L; Enid and Glen got over there and I got ready to pick them out of the river. Rapids continue without let-up.
087/226; scout if possible.
Crossed to map 76K16 (28 km to BIL).
Map is not accurate; looks like the river cut a new channel. There's an island starting near the left side of the map (near 096/226); we took the right channel.
Where the two channels meet at the lower end of the island is a CIII+ (near 109/208); we were into it before we realized what was going on. The right side is huge splashing waves with maybe rocks. The left channel dives under the right one creating a huge curler; Linda and I got too far left and almost dumped in the curler (gunwale went below the surface but hip toss pulled us out). I suggest scouting from the island. I can’t recommend the L channel without having run it. If you take the R channel, try to cut between the splashes on the right and the curler on the left.
134/198: more big waves.
151/193: pull out here, on river left at the downstream end of the big sandy area. We camped here, on the sand. Ignore instructions to go farther, to the inuksut; two boats went past the sandy area and had to line back up.
N8: 76K16: 152/195 (19 km to BIL).

Day 9: 6 July
Portaged 2 canoes and some packs. There’s a nice view of Bathurst Inlet and the buildings once you get about half way. We paddled the pond near the end, got everything down a very steep bank and crossed the ice field. We visited the falls on the return trip.
Sometimes it’s better to have no advice; we misinterpreted ours (stay away from the river) and went way too far inland. We lost so much time (not to mention expended a lot of energy) that we gave up the plan to carry more that day.
Portage: The best route is a line almost due east over the sand dunes, but bending a bit to the north before turning back south; the end of the portage is near 198/195, about 200 north of the left falls.
N9: Same place.

Day 10: 7 July
Closed up camp and started double carry. Since we couldn’t make the lodge that day without pushing really hard, we stopped about 2/3 the way along and camped by a brown pond (sure glad we had filters). Visited upper Kapolak Falls in the evening.
N10: 76K16: 184/198 (15 km to BIL).

Day 11: 8 July
We finished the portage at 11:30, paddled over to the R side of the falls, lunched, dipped and took lots of photos. We left at about 2. Fortunately, the tide was in, but even then we had to work our way through the sand bars (just enough clearance); at low tide, it would have been a long trip, and a nasty one in the wind.
We arrived at BIL at 4 to a great welcome (coffee, etc). The lodge has kindly set up a camping area 100 m or so south, complete with john. Bushed from the portaging and having lost a lot of time, we decided to give up the trip to Wilberforce.
N11: 76K16: 306/163.

Day 12: 9 July
We started the hike to the Nose with a guide kindly provided by the lodge. We stopped for lunch about half an hour from the top. Then the weather closed in; we wouldn’t have been able to see anything because of the fog and rain so we returned to the lodge. We spent the afternoon with the guests, then returned to our campsite.
I think it was this day that Bill Hosford arrived on a Burnside trip with BlackFeather; he had spoken with me earlier about our trip but we had already filled it.

Days 13 & 14: 10 & 11 July
We puttered around, hiking to the Nose, paddling the snye, etc. The lodge invited us in for several of the sessions for their paying guests, who BTW pay a bundle! We could not have asked for kinder, more generous treatment.

Day 15: 12 July
Exciting landing; exciting take-off. Return to Yellowknife.

Linda was so impressed with the BIL people that she wrote to them for some stuff to display at WCS 2000. In turn, they were so impressed with her that they invited her up to the lodge to look after the canoe parties and to help with other chores. She was there for maybe 5 summers, and I lost a great partner for those years.
Bill met Mary and Jan Edick on the BlackFeather trip. They, Bill, Enid, Bob Bignell and I paddled the Horton the next year (2000). Bill, Enid and I (together with Stephen Catlin) paddled the Bloodvein in 2001.
Bob came to the WCS for several years afterward. I didn’t see Doug again. Glen comes to the WCS most years, as does Enid (who paddled the Coppermine with Bob Bignell, Linda and me in 2002).
Glen left his camera and binoculars somewhere on the river. Bob Bignell found a camera; we told him that Glen had lost his. Bob returned it as follows: at WCS 2000, he met Glen, said he was sorry that Glen had lost the camera and offered to show him his (Bob’s) photos of the Mara/Burnside; Glen said yes, so Bob showed him the photos from the camera he found. Imagine Glen’s surprise when he recognized them! His immediate response though was to ask whether Bob had found the binoculars.

76F7, 76F10, 76F15, 76F16, 76K1, 76K2, 76K7, 76K8, 76K10, 75K15, 76K16. For Wilberforce, 76N1 and 76 N2 also.

Maps Required
Topo Maps (1:50,000): 
76F7, 76F10, 76F15, 76F16, 76K1, 76K2, 76K7, 76K8, 76K10, 75K15, 76K16. For Wilberforce, 76N1 and 76 N2 also.
Topo Maps (1:250,000): 
Other Maps: