View topic - Hay River to Tuktoyaktuk kayak 2005 - paddle report.

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PostPosted: May 8th, 2006, 4:38 pm 

Joined: June 20th, 2005, 3:13 pm
Posts: 8
Gday all, here is some info from my trip last year, hope it can help others plan their trip. it was a great experience - do it!

Everyones experiences are individual – river conditions, weather and people change.

…its these differences that make the journey so unique. So take this information is a guide, not gospel. Make sure you have your own adventure. Find your “happy place”…

In A Nutshell:
Duration of trip, 49 days
Distance covered, 1500+ km
Change in elevation, 175m?
Lacation, Northwest Territories, Canada
Route: north from Great Slave Lake (Hay River) through Ft Providence, Jean Marie, Ft Simpson, Wrigley, Tulita, Norman Wells, Ft Good Hope, Tsigachic, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk on the arctic coast. Included a side trip to Delane on the Great Bear Lake, via the great bear river.
First nations regions passed through, Dehcho, Sahtu, Gwitchen and Inuvialuit
Geographic areas passed through, Canadian Shield, mountain ranges, arctic tundra. (Boreal and taiga forests then arctic barren lands).
Number of soap related encounters, 4.
Number of close bear visits, 3.

Equipment list:
Perception 17ft plastic sea kayak, eco-bezing (?).
Split paddle x 2 (220 & 240 narrow blades)
Touring Pfd, neoprene spray deck, pump and throw line
MSR dragonfly (inc maintenance kit), 1L & .75L fuel bottle, 12L pot with lid.
First aid kit, I’d recommend taking some strong pain killers in case you badly hurt yourself
Satellite radio in dry box with emergency contacts for police in all towns as well as coast guard base in Inuvik and Hay River and individual vessles.
Fly and spin fishing gear.
Laminated 1:250 000 colour maps from Hay River to Tuktoyaktuk, Garmon Vista GPS with basic waypoints downloaded, compass.
MSR Ziod 1.5 tent (inc pole sleeve), thermarest prolite 4 pad, blackdiamond 4 LED head torch, kathmandu 900 rumdoodle down sleeping bag and silk bag liner
MSR dromedary x 2 4l and 6l, 750ml nalgene, msr water filter, water purification solution.

As wood was readily available, I generally cooked with fire. I carried an MSR stove as a back up which I used maybe 5 times.

I bought my food from the towns as I went. This worked well as I always had fresh food and only carried what I immediately needed. Towns without a reliable food supply were Wrigley and Jean Marie. Norman Wells and Inuvik had the best variety. All others had adequate (without being plentiful) supplies, but came at a price. Peppers for example, were between $10-13 per kg.

Fresh fish makes a good protein source. Try to get some dryfish from the fish camps along the way for a tasty treat. I found that eggs worked well too (with out the strong fish smell), assuming you don’t break them. Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) is another option for a meat substitute. You’ll need to buy it before the trip though. Most “health food” stores will have it.

At all times I carried an extra 3 days of (dehydrated) food as an emergency backup.

Relying on towns for food meant that I was committed to reaching the next destination within a given time. If I had my own (ie dehydrated) food I could have taken more time to explore the surrounding areas and would have felt (at times) less rushed.

Although always drinkable, water quality varied through out the trip, as did my treatment methods. I carried an MSR filter, a large (12L) pot and purification solution. Depending on the situation I would generally boil water in the pot (around 10min), let it settle over night then use if for the next day.

The solution and filter (used about 4 times) were mostly used with the clear water from side creeks and rivers or when I needed water immediately.

I carried water from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk as a precaution. Water quality in the Gulf would depend on river flow and weather conditions.

Risk Management:
A solo trip of this type poses inherent risks, as does driving a car, breathing air and listening to Dido. Due to the isolation and size of the river, emergency response times have the potential to be long. Having said that, the most dangerous thing I did on this trip was probably catch the bus from Vancouver to Hay River…

I carried a Satellite Phone with contact numbers for the RCMP in each town, coast guard bases in Hay River & Inuvik as well as individual Coast Guard boats. Phone reception was a bit hit and miss and at times it didn’t work at all. Where possible, friends and family got regular updates as to my location.

I was also registered with the RCPM as part of their wilderness travelers programme.
Flares were going to be used in an emergency to signal for help. I carried 4, 2 of these didn’t work when I set them off after the trip.

Compressed-air horn and whistle were used to scare away bears and signal for help if needed. The horn worked well but broke on the 2nd day…

The GPS was used as a backup if needed – not a primary navigation tool. It was most useful in the Beaver Lake from Hay River to Ft Providence where the open water and tall reeds made accurate navigation difficult.

No gun, did I need one this time? No, should I have carried one? Maybe, I met others who used theirs to scare away bears.

A trip plan was made based on 40km per day – once I reached Ft Providence – and I found that this was a very achievable. The paddle from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk took 4 days. 5km/hr was a good speed while going through beaver lake.

Bear Awareness Ideas:
• Carry bear spray and do some research into being bear safe.
• Reduce food odors by keeping food storage as airtight as possible.
• Check the surrounding area for signs of bears before deciding to stop in that place.
• Make noise and announce your presence to avoid finding yourself within the comfort zone of a startled bear.
• Bears can and do swim to the river islands.
• I had 2 bear encounters while cooking. When I spoke to them, the bears quickly went away but I still moved to a different campsite.
• If confronted, make sure you give the bear a clear path to move away.
• Try to think, why is the bear here? Have I moved between it and its cubs? Did I cross its path of travel? Am I covered in smelly fish guts and scales? Am I camping at a site where people before me left food /rubbish?
• Above all, be aware of your surroundings at all times and if doubt, move on.

Yes, the locals will try to scare you with their horror bear stories…

“Store” generally means the Northern or Co-Op.
Ft Providence.
- Steep bank
- Fast flow
- Side streams and creeks to explore on the way to Mills Lake. Good if weather is bad
- Lawn on the top of the bank (in town) was good for tenting and locals were friendly, just look out for grazing bison and their land mines.
- There is a store and a pub, as well as a smaller café/diner
- Locals were friendly and keen to hear about the trip, as well as share their knowledge of the land, language, plants and animals.
- Don’t forget to check into the RCMP if your with the wilderness travelers programme.

Jean Marie
- Was very small but interesting to look around. Locals were friendly and keen to share their knowledge of the area.
- No RCMP.
- I stayed at the old sawmill past JM (next to Spence River) which was cool. I slept in the attic and had great views of the river and even a bit of darkness (relative).

Ft Simpson
- RCMP were friendly and helpful (they knew my name and were expecting me)
- Had a store as well as smaller shops and Chinese take out.
- Shore next to town was muddy, camping might be better on the opposite side of the river.
- Water was dirty from Simpson onwards due to the Liard River flowing into the Mackenzie on the town side
- There is a campground in the forest next to the baseball field if you’re after a shower.
- The visitor information centre was worth a look for interesting displays and artifacts from the local area and Nahanni National Park.
- Check the library for free internet.

- From here on there was a lot of burnt forest and smoke, which at times continued for days.
- Good camping and views on the steep bank next to the boat ramp.
- Very limited supplies in the small shop (don’t rely on it) that was open from 1-6pm.
- There were plenty of Pike biting at the mouth of the River-Between-Two-Mountains.
- Generally rivers & streams on river R were clear, while those on river L were dirty.
- No RCMP.
- There was good berry picking and walking in the local bush and mountains.
- Old Wrigley Town – just down stream of the new town – is apparently worth a visit. I didn’t get there though.
- The Blackwater River is a bit further on and has stunning water with good fishing downstream of the mouth. I got a visit from a big bear here.
- Awesome views of the mountains from the town, especially at sunset. A climb to the top of Bear Mountain would be stunning too but I would ask the locals if this appropriate given the cultural significance of the mountain.
- The store carries most supplies – at a price…
- Check out the old wood and mud church made in the 1800’s
- Try not to trip over the broken bikes that seem to be everywhere.
- The locals were great value and the RCMP was very helpful.
- I camped on the beach in front of town and there were toilets a short walk away at the public meeting area, however there were some beach sites near the base of Bear Mountain that would have been good if you didn’t want to be near town.
- If you have the time/money, get someone to take your kayak/canoe up to the Bear Lake in their motor boat. Ask around and see who can give you the best price.
- The clear water flowing out from the Bear River was a refreshing change from the muddy Mackenzie.

- VERY COLD, but nice camping on the beach at the west end of town near
- Interesting seeing the change in the forest as you get closer to the Lake
- Remember to buy your special Bear Lake fishing license from the store
- Free internet at the community centre near the RCMP
- The Bear River was fast flowing and had a few rapids that were about GR 1 – mostly small standing waves in shallow water and water boiling over small rocks. There were also some large chunks of ice on the bank in places.
- The Greyling and Lake Trout had to be seen to be believed and the water was like liquid glass

Norman Wells
- This is the biggest town until Inuvik
- The multiple grocery stores had some refreshing variety as well as a take-out store.
- There is even a nightclub if your so inclined, a cold beer at the Legion is another option for the less “adventurous”
- The visitor information centre has some great exhibits about the local area and history including the Canol Train.
- I camped on the beach next to town with no problems from the locals, just some hungry dogs.
- The surrounding mountains would make a great hike if you have the means or time, search for fossils and if you’re lucky see a griz.
- Check the library for internet

Ft Good Hope, San Sault and Ramparts
- Saw the first aurora about 2 days before FGH, also saw 11 bears (2 sets of a mother with 3 cubs) and dancing Sandhill Cranes – awesome!
- Before the San Sault Rapids there is a white metal tipi on river left. It’s a memorial to a traveler who died in the rapids and contains a journal with entries from the 1960’s. Add an entry and read about the travels of others over the last 40 years.
- I went left at the rapids and was quite let down. I’m sure this was the safer option but it wasn’t very exciting.
- Stay river right well before the mouth of the ramparts to avoid the limestone reefs (follow the channel markers).
- Once in them, take your time and make sure you either stop for lunch or scramble to the top for great views – keep an eye out for fossils and the statue of the Virgin Mary.
- FGH had a Store and the river bank was very high and steep. There was a lawn near the church that would fit a tent or two of you’re going to stay the night.
- Check out the church and ask the pastor for a guided tour. It’s been recently restored.
- The RCPM were very helpful.
- I saw large flocks of Ptarmigan on the river-bank just before the town. I could get within 3-4m of them before they would even look at me. Very cool to be so close to wild animals. Great photo opportunity too.
- The water became shallow in places from here on with lots of sandbanks.

- The river bank was a bit muddy near the water but got better further up the bank.
- Try to get some dry-fish from the smoke house next to the boat ramp.
- Ask about the local history and look out for the scattered information signs.
- There was a good view from the church & the “Hollywood” style TSIGACHIC sign.
- Look around in the bush for Labrador Tea, Cranberries, Blackberries and Blueberries.
- Road access meant slightly greater variety in the Store.
- No RCMP (Ft McPherson is the closest)

- All facilities of a “large” town.
- Internet in the library, RCMP.
- Hardware, grocery, take-out and liquor stores as well as a cool visitor information centre, hotel and a pub with “character”
- I camped on the river bank opposite the boat ramp which was a bit noisy but free of the “foot traffic” I later endured at the camp ground, which was a short walk from town. If your looking for a ride back down the Dempster, asking around at the campground could save you some “thumb time.”
- Keep an ear/eye out for community events as it’s a great way to meet the locals and other travelers (and there is often a good feed and entertainment to be had).
- Check out the indoor pool for a hot tub or sauna.
- I used 1:250 000 maps of the delta, which had sufficient detail but you had to pay attention after Point Separation (PS). I spoke to a boater who used only his GPS, got lost, ran out of fuel and had to make a call to the RCMP for help.
- There was still some flow – not fast though – in the delta and some paddlers had the idea to bypass Inuvik and go straight through to Tuktoyaktuk via the middle channel.
- I went to Inuvik first as I had sent supplies to myself from Hay River with the NTCL.

- I had snow and flurries for 2 out of the 4 days it took me to get to Tuk and neoprene gloves would have made things a lot more comfortable.
- The pingos and tundra were stunning in their autumn colors. The aurora was pretty spectacular too.
- There was a small motel with big prices, a store and an RCMP unit.
- Once out of the delta, the water either side of the channel was quite shallow for a while. Watch for waves in the open water if you paddle to Tuk as the crow flies, otherwise check out the fishing camps along the shore.
- The water in the gulf was a bit brackish and I carried drinking water from Inuvik. It was OK to drink up to the mouth, this will depend on conditions at the time though.
- Try some muktuk (whale meat) or muskox if it’s available.
- The flight from Tuk to Inuvik provided some great views of the delta.
- Check out the work of the local carvers.
- I camped on the pebble beach near town but there were plenty of sandy beaches within a few hours paddle of the town if you’d rather.

Stuff to do differently / general comments:
 Get off the river more and explore.
 Go fishing more.
 Take longer and be more experience orientated than focused on km (there were reasons for this – the amount of food carried was a factor),
 Go earlier in the year and see 24hrs sun up north.
 Research more into what’s happening at towns along the way (I missed a number of events and community gatherings only by days).
 Get up earlier (earliest on the water was about 10am while average was more like 12pm. Take more dehydrated food (less weight, more days food, less need to get to towns), stop at more fishing camps and eat more dry fish (yum).
 Take more photos (battery life was a problem, possibly take a film camera as well as digital). More zoom would have been great, especially for birds!
 Colour photocopy maps in a university library. Mine were laminated – they all got wet – so maybe try a map holder. You could scan them too (or buy the software) and paste them together in Fugawi or equivalent to get a smaller sized map of a more precise area (cut out the areas you don’t need) I used 1:250000 which were great.
 Pay close attention to your map once you turn off onto the east channel. If your not you’ll go the wrong way and it could get embarrassing – I met a guy who relied solely on his GPS to get to Inuvik and ended up getting lost. The navigation isn’t extremely difficult, but it’s not easy either.
 Up to burnt point, good camp sites were hard to find so get some advice.

Not too much though…personal discovery is a wonderful thing too….

have a great summer.


learn by doing.

hear my actions.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: May 8th, 2006, 5:54 pm 
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Joined: December 5th, 2002, 7:00 pm
Posts: 325
Location: Sutton, Ontario Canada
Hi Dave
That sounds like a fabulous trip. Awsome actually. Thanks for sharing so much usefull information.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: May 8th, 2006, 6:18 pm 
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Joined: June 22nd, 2004, 4:45 pm
Posts: 1218
Location: Canmore AB
Great info Dave. thanks very much.

49 days, long time.
What was your start date?
What did you do with your kayak? Sell it /ship it back? How did you get it up North to start with?


"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

 Post subject:
PostPosted: May 8th, 2006, 11:26 pm 
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Joined: October 16th, 2004, 7:30 am
Posts: 226
Location: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

We communicated in early June but never hooked up on the river. I took 36 +/- days to go from Ft Simpson to Inuvik.

Here is a picture of the rig I used. I carried all of my food but next year I will probably try to go the way you did - with just one boat. Mind you I'm crippled and this was my second trip. Each year I try to cut down on "stuff" as to the difficulty of getting out from Inuvik. (Cheap and/or easy)


The catamarran rig has done me well - going solo. All I have to do is replenish the Wanaigan when convenient, every 30 days or so. Theoretically I can go out for the entire season with this rig. Portageing is a drag but not impossible owing to the PakBoats.

I have added spray covers to both boats and can now conceivably travel - crippled or not, anywhere across Canada. Add to that it is very stable, safe and efficient. 90% of the time I paddle and use the small outboard for rough conditions to replace a bowman. Solo is a different thing as I am sure you learned.

The other nice thing about the PakCanoe system is that it fits nicely on any plane - bush or commercial.

I've written a guide book on the Mackenzie - available at my web site that describes the trip and river. It is available on CD format with maps, pictures, mileage and a description of the trip. I wish something like it was available when I took my first trip of the 1000 mile trip.

It's a great river. It's a great trip. It's the perfect "solo." I wish others could experience it!

Greg Allen

 Post subject:
PostPosted: May 9th, 2006, 10:22 pm 

Joined: June 20th, 2005, 3:13 pm
Posts: 8
Yeh i think i mised you by about 2-3 weeks GREG, was keen to catch up with you but just didnt get there in time. It sounds as though you had another successful trip - nice 1.

Hi there HUGH, I got a bus from Vancouver (36hrs), hired a boat in Hay River for about $700, then shipped it back via NTCL at a cost of around $60 i think. I saw some boats that people had sold in Tuk and others trying to sell their in Inuvik.

One group hired a van from Inuvik to Whitehorse which cost upwards of $1100, others sent their van up on the barge for about $1000. Also met a guy who hitched back through the Yukon.

I ended up riding my bike back down the Dempster to Dawson but thats another story...

have a good 1 lads,


learn by doing.

hear my actions.

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