View topic - Headwaters: Abitau, Dubawnt, Thoa, Marten. Part 1

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PostPosted: September 22nd, 2013, 11:09 pm 
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Joined: September 29th, 2005, 5:57 pm
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The following is a short trip report on my travels in the NWT this summer. As it is rather photo intensive, I have posted it in two parts. I hope you enjoy it.

This summer I had an enjoyable, though sometimes strenuous, solo trip in the south-central NWT. I travelled through the headwaters of the Abitau, Dubawnt, Thoa, and Marten rivers. The map illustrates the route taken. I flew in, and out, with NWAL air from Ft. Smith, NWT, which has a Cessna 185 certified for external loads – a boon to the solo canoe traveller.

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This seems, presently, to be a fairly obscure section of the NWT as far as recreational travel goes. Historically, Guy Blanchet had travelled the first part of my route – from Abitau Lake through Insula Lake and on down the Dubawnt on route to Black Lake – in 1926. Samuel Hearne travelled through the Thoa country in 1771-2 on his way to and from the Coppermine: scholars still debate which of the lakes in the area might be Hearne’s “Thelewey-aza-yeth”. Interest in recreational travel in this area seems to have declined since major fires swept through it, beginning in the late 1970s. Previously, the area was principally an open spruce / lichen forest, an important caribou wintering ground known as “The Caribou Range”. The burns have not only destroyed much caribou grazing territory, but made portaging a challenging task in many places, through thick regrowth and over windfallen old burn. One thing that might make this area more popular again is the continued improvement of the road north to Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan: this probably offers the most direct and economical access to the south-central NWT, if you and your vehicle can cope with the drive.

The route began in the Abitau Uplands, an area covered with glacial till, marked with drumlins and with relatively little bedrock exposure. Although relatively flat, this is the highest elevation area in the taiga shield region of the NWT, and the sources of many rivers can be found here. The Abitau, Tazin, and Ena rivers flow south to Tazin Lake. Just east of Abitau Lake are the headwater streams of the Dubawnt River. A little to the north are the Thoa headwaters, which parallel those of the Dubawnt before swinging north and west to the Mackenzie watershed rather than following the Dubawnt to Hudson Bay. Only a little further north are the headwaters of the Elk and Taltson rivers. Further down the Thoa, and on the Marten, the country becomes hillier and bedrock exposure more common.

Arriving at Abitau Lake with pilot Michael. The aluminum boat is from Scott Lake Lodge in Saskatchewan, which occasionally (not in 2013 apparently) flies fishermen into Abitau.

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The first couple of days were mostly bushwhacking between small ponds towards Insula Lake.

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Insula Lake.

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The drainage from Insula had a couple of problem spots – the first where the stream broke into many tiny channels:

The view behind.

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The view ahead.

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Even after getting itself back together, the stream spread itself too thinly over its rocky bed, requiring another kilometer of wading and dragging.

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It was nice to reach the open, lake-like section of river from which I would portage north towards the Thoa.

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Unfortunately, the north end of the first carry was floating bog: too thick to paddle, too thin to walk on. Dragging was the only way forward.

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The upper Thoa was very low volume as well, but travel went surprisingly well. Frequent shallow lake expansions gave easy paddling. Boulders rising above these shallow waters provide secure nesting platforms for ospreys: this area is supposedly the prime osprey nesting area in the NWT.

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Despite the low terrain and limited bedrock exposure, I was able to find esker fragments or lichen-covered sand and gravel benches which offered good camping – and good sunset views, helped by the smoke of distant fires.

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The Thoa gained volume gradually was it flowed west to Spitfire Lake

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Passing through some attractive sandy areas.

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In Spitfire Lake, this wing is the only remnant of an RCAF Canso which crashed there in 1950, while on a geomagnetic survey. Much of the plane was apparently salvaged, and all of the crew safely rescued.

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Below Spitfire, two rapids and portages take you to Hurricane Lake – an attractive place with lots of sandy beaches and good camping.

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Augmented by tributaries joining it in Spitfire and Hurricane, the Thoa is now a larger river.

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Moose are common along the upper Thoa, and most are more curious than frightened. This cow actually swam across the lake after me to try and satisfy her curiosity about the strange floating creature.

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The occasional runnable rapid was a pleasant change.


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The high land north of Sorenson Lake is attractive, despite recent burns.

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Continued in Part 2. http://www.myccr.com/phpbbforum/viewtop ... 24&t=42003


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PostPosted: September 23rd, 2013, 3:51 pm 
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Joined: September 28th, 2008, 8:46 pm
Posts: 63
Awesome thanks for sharing.


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PostPosted: September 28th, 2013, 10:45 am 
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Joined: August 19th, 2001, 7:00 pm
Posts: 1879
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada
Beautiful country JMC! I love that open taiga sandy spruce - lichen landscape. Pity its mostly burned over and in a young state now within our tripping life time, but its part of the fire return cycle, has to happen at some point. I can easily imagine the post-fire blowdown and thick in-growth! :(

Bushwhacking with no trails is a character builder for sure! :D

On to part 2.........................

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