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 Post subject: Thelon River, 1996
PostPosted: December 1st, 2009, 5:25 pm 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 4044
Location: Toronto
I was spurred to write this report of a trip 13 years ago by a request to borrow my maps to plan a trip for 2010. Having found the maps in my “files” (I can’t think of a more accurate term), I decided that I should write some comments to accompany them. In turn, that decision led me to post those comments here. I didn’t have time though to do a good job on either the content (especially the logistics) or the formatting; I hope to come back with something more informative and more presentable.

Year of trip, distance, duration:
~700 km
23 days on the water, at a moderate pace.
We had actually planned for 25 days on the water but lost two at the start. In retrospect, we could have planned for 21.

In your planning, in addition to the several days for travel up and back, add several for travel in and out, plus one or two for bad weather.
And please remember that travel in the north is done on northern time; you are doing very well if you fly in/out on the agreed days.

Allan Jacobs, Anne Snow, Joop Steinfort and Enid Weiner, a WCA group.

Thanks to George Luste, who recommended the Thelon as the easiest introduction to paddling in the barrens.

We got to Yellowknife on scheduled flights; our outfitter picked us up at the airport and drove us to our B and B. A charter flight took us to the northwest end of Whitefish Lake, with a stopover in Reliance to refuel.
We were picked up at the west end of Beverly Lake and flown on two 185 flights back to the Whitefish camp. We were flown back the next day to Yellowknife, from where we returned home on scheduled flights.
The bottom line is that we got to Whitefish Lake on the day arranged and were returned there also on the day arranged, all at the agreed price. The rental canoes were in satisfactory condition and we well treated during our stays at Whitefish, both before and after the paddle.
For many people, that is enough to know.
If that were all there is to the story, I would be pleased to recommend the outfitter (BB for short) to you. But it would be contrary to CCR policy to name the company since I want to tell you about some unpleasant experiences.

Incident 1:
Enid dealt with the finances; she had paid the full cost of the trip when requested to do so. But later she got an angry phone call from BB, demanding the balance ($762) of the payment and threatening to cancel the trip and keep our $8,000 unless the balance were paid within hours. She explained that payment had been sent but he insisted, even more angrily, that it had not been received and he repeated the threat. Figuring that something had gone wrong, and believing the threat, she cancelled an appointment in order to courier the balance a second time. Well, it turned out that an error had been made in BB's office, that the balance had indeed been paid. BB never apologized for his behaviour, even when prompted to do so. The second cheque (voided) was returned to Enid, but she got into considerable trouble for cancelling the appointment. I must say that part of the responsibility for the incident lies with us, in not assigning one person to handle all the transactions with BB, but still ...
Incident 2:
All went well in Yellowknife after our arrival until we prepared to board the Twin Otter for the flight to Whitefish Lake. There were the four of us (with gear and food for 25 days on the river, but no canoes) plus six of BB's guests and their gear. To most people, that is too large a load for a Twin Otter and most of our gear was left behind. Not so to BB, who threw another fit, blaming us for having too much gear. So there we were at Whitefish without supplies to paddle the river; I was the only one with a tent, most of the food was still in Yellowknife, and so on. BB eventually flew back to Yellowknife and brought the rest of our stuff to Whitefish. We started downriver on the Monday, two days late.

Maps, in order of use:
75J14, 75J15, 75J10, 75J7, 75J8, 75I5, 75I6, 75I7, 75I10, 75I15, 75P2, 75P7, 75P10, 75P16, 65M13, 66D4, 66D5, 66D6, 66D7, 66D2, 66D1, 66D8 (1 km of featureless river), 66C5, 66C12 (3 km of featureless river), 66C11, 66C10.

Having almost no notes and yet fewer recollections regarding what we did in the rapids, I have added comments from the Nastwagan article of Peter Verbeek (who seems to have had atypically low water).
Source: Nastawgan, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter 1994, pp 1-4.
Title at source: Thelon ’94. ... LID=185106
By the way, for a list of the many other Thelon articles published in Nastawgan, go to

The UTMs were obtained from the topos, not from a GPS.
The nominal accuracy is 50 m but errors may be larger and often are.
The easting is given first, then the northing, in the form abd/def.

L and R: river left and river right.
P: portage.
Example: P200R means portaged 200 m on river right.
N: night.

I wheeled out copies of the topos before the trip, at home; I recorded distances at map junctions only. Knowing neither the start nor the finish point then, I measured upstream from Hoare Point; our actual take-out point was downstream from there. Distances are missing from the early part of the trip. I may get around to tidying things up when the people to whom I loaned the maps get them back to me. And I may wheel out the maps again, to provide distances from campsites, etc.

Rapids and portages:

Above the canyon:
Lots of C2 and C3 rapids. One mandatory portage (that around Muskox Falls) plus several that are highly advisable.

The canyon:
Pretty well a mandatory portage.
Best not imitate at least one party (I believe there are two such cases known) that tried to line down it but lost a boat and spent a miserable, long time, without much in the way of supplies or shelter, waiting for someone to notice that they were overdue.

Below the canyon:
Lots of fast water but only one significant rapid (scouting advised), that at Thelon Bluffs.
Please note though that very high water may change things drastically.
Please note also that this advice applies only to the segment above Beverly Lake.
No mandatory portages, likely not even an advisable one.

This was my first trip to the barrens.
Standing on that esker on Whitefish Lake, staring out over the blue, gemlike water, with the clear blue sky, with the muskox herd grazing in the distance, with the feeling that I could see almost forever, these are memories that will stay in my mind as long as I have one.
With apologies to Sir Walter Scott:
Breathes there the Canadian with soul so dead,
Who on seeing the barrens has not said,
"This is my own, my native land!"
The full text of Patriotism is available, for example, at ... 110213278/

The worst in my experience except on the Kazan (2003).

Clear and beautiful, except for a few days. Anne once jumped into the water in her dry suit to cool off.
No snow, no hail, not once frost at night.
Considerable wind though.

People encounters:
A youth group seen three times at a distance plus a couple seen twice (chatted with them) .

One grizzly, several caribou (explicitly, no herd) and several dozen muskoxen.

Better (many eskers) above the canyon.

I shot hundreds but they are all slides. My scanner does a bad job on such (witness the photos I posted for my Back report) so I think it inadvisable to post them here or anywhere else.

Day by day journal:
I would like to be able to claim that the following is incomplete because I have more pressing demands on my time.
The real reason is that it is written entirely from memory, 13 years later; as you will see from the poverty of my commentary, most of that source is irretrievably lost.
Honestly, I have little to offer you but locations of our campsites, some distances, and Peter Verbeek's rapids notes.

I arrived in Yellowknife on Wednesday 10 July; Anne had routed me through Winnipeg and Rankin Inlet, so I got to see part of the country that most people flying between Toronto and Yellowknife don't see. I believe that the other three arrived the same day. We saw the sites (likely got to the Wildcat), then flew to Whitefish Lake on Friday 12 July.
We spent three nights at BB's camp on Whitefish Lake, waiting for the rest of our gear to arrive. BB and staff gave us lots of tips on the river, especially the rapids. One day we tried to paddle in the area but the wind was too strong. We visited a wolf den (no one home), saw the white spruce (we were told that new trees grow from roots, not from cones), failed in an attempt to sneak up on a muskox herd, watched a moose (yes!) through binoculars, were shown a collection of spear and arrow heads, and chatted with BB's guests. A photographer among them was after an albino muskox that BB had spotted somewhere up north, maybe near the Ellice. Another was a writer for Field and Stream.
We started paddling on Monday, 15 July.

N0: near 75J14; 934/633?; beach at the outfitter’s camp, near the northwest end of Whitefish Lake.

15 July (Monday)
We left camp, paddling east.
Cross to map 75J15.
We passed the narrows (marked “Gordon’s esker” on my map), stopping for lunch by a muskox skeleton, then turned south.
Cross to map 75J10.
The wind came up and we wallowed along; we entered LaRoque Bay, crossed to the east shore and camped in a small bay.
N1: 75J10; 046/368; edge of tundra.

16 July
We exited Whitefish Lake and entered the river (fast water only).
Cross to map 75J7; 636 km to Hoare Point.
We entered Lynx Lake and travelled east; a stiff wind came up.
Cross to map 75J8; 617 km.
Joop spotted a spit off our route; we pulled in and camped in moderate shelter.
BTW, Lynx Lake Lodge is about 5 km east of our campsite. My rather shaky memory has it that we saw the lodge; for sure we saw no boats.
N2: 75J8; 283/254; sandy area, hilly enough to get out of the wind.

17 July
We turned east again, then south, then east before the cairn and entered the river again. For what it is worth, I believe that the exit from Lynx Lake marks the official start of the Thelon.
Cross to map 75I5; 583 km.
We pulled in and camped on the south shore. A caribou wandered past camp; on a short hike to the south, I found a magnificent stone structure of apparently religious significance.
N3: 75I5; 496/128; beach site.

18 July
We paddled down a fast, easy stretch of water.
Rapid at 614/165: My notes: “go left”. Verbeek: “easy”.
Rapid at 674/182: Verbeek: “This rapid is just past a left turn in the river and the shore is guarded by numerous boulders making it difficult to get to shore. Due to the low water level, it was a challenging run, at least class III. It required fast manoeuvering in order to avoid the many rocks.”
Rapid at 676/204: My notes: “care; inspect from left”. Verbeek: “can be run but scout from left”.
N4: 75I5; 726/213.

19 July:
Cross to map 75I6; 550 km.
Rapid at 760/217: We scouted it from the extreme left, explicitly to the left of the island.
On the scout I came across some toilet paper that someone had left. Hey you jerk: It's bad enough leaving such in southern Ontario; up here it doesn't decay: Look at those trees at the Hornby cabin.
After considering running or lining the left channel, we decided to portage right of the right channel, over the hill (in a stiff wind that made Ping the canoe a fun job); I believe that the P is shorter than indicated on the topo. Verbeek may have lined this one.
Rapid at 818/193: Verbeek did P500R; he says it is shorter than indicated on the topo.
Rapid at 831/195: Verbeek did P600R.
N5: 75I6; 853/205; I think that we camped on the tundra.

20 July
A lazy paddle on small open stretches.
Cross to map 75I7; 518 km.
More easy paddling, followed by a portage around Muskox Falls (scenic; water crashes into large centre rock).
Falls at 052/224: We Ped R, about 600m, as did Verbeek; I was unable to control the canoe down the steep hill so I just let it find its way. After a few km comes the Elk River confluence. Here we encountered undocumented obstacles, a few caribou swimming over to the south shore.
N6: 75I7; 110/213; beach site.

21 July
Lazy paddling; past the outlet of Jim Lake. The turn north leads to ~15 km of very fast water, past High Island, and into the east part of what is known to some as Double Barrel Lake.
Cross to map 75I10 after ~3 km of fast water; 485 km.
I recall a huge sand dune but it may have been on the second lake; there’s a cabin near (past?) the west end of the first lake. We camped on the island just past the turn north.
N7: 75I10; 086/367.

22 July
Another lengthy stretch of fast water, with some obstacles.
Cross to map 75I15; 430 km.
More of the same.
N8: 75I15; 135/762; beach site.

23 July
More fast water with some obstacles.
Cross to map 75P2; 387 km.
More of the same, Mary Frances River confluence, then a slow, unattractive stretch to Eyeberry Lake. We had set up the tents but we saw a nasty storm approaching and so moved to the shelter of some bushes.
N9: 75P2; near 113/015.

24 July
The wind was up so we stayed put for quite a while. Eventually we got going but stopped after a very short day.
Verbeek: “Past Eyeberry Lake there are many class II and a couple of class III rapids. With scouting and due caution, all can be run.”
N10: 75P2; near 175/110.

25 July
Cross to map 75P7; 352 km.
My map is marked “tight left” at 150/151.
Near 149/190, we took the right channel.
Rapid near 154/200: After a scout, we took the right channel; it was an OK run but required rock dodging.
We passed the Bear Creek confluence, then paddled some open stretches.
Cross to map 75P10; 320 km.
Rapid at 218/419: Verbeek: “can be run right with due caution”.
Rapid at 230/441: My notes: “killer ledge at bottom; scout, run left?” Verbeek: “you should take the time to scout the river. I sneaked by on the left of this class II/III rapid.”
Marked rapid at 262/492: We saw nothing but fast water.
N11: 75P9; near 264/503; on the rocks.

26 July
We paddled to the start of the portage on river left. In the distance, we saw a group portaging the canyon on the right, the first people we had seen for 11 days. The portage took all day; I don’t think that we used the same route twice, in either direction.
One vivid recollection is the pitter-patter, like rain on the tent at night, of bugs blown against my bug shirt by the stiff wind.
Aside: The barrenland bugs are bad enough for a man; women who go on trips there are made of rather tough material.
We camped at the end of the P, about 1 km below the Clarke River confluence, high on the bank.
N12: 75P9; near 263/538.

27 July
We went right of the both the first (small) and second islands. My notes for the latter say “run right”. It was either for this one or (more likely) for the marked rapid at 226/547 (also marked “run right” in my notes) that we pulled over and scouted. We had been told to run it very hard right but we couldn’t see the passage from above. Joop spotted a clear run about 2/3 of the way to the left shore so that’s where we went.
N13: 75P9; near 258/590.

28 July
We pulled in at Warden’s Grove. After inspecting the site (the highlight was the armoured outhouse), we went for a hike up the hill; we didn’t get to the top though. We returned to the river and paddled through The Gap.
Cross to map 75P16; 283 km.
We passed Grassy Island and the Cosmos 954 monument (didn’t stop to inspect it, didn't even see it from the river) and entered the Thelon Oasis.
N14: 75P16; 456/816; an ugly site on a mud bank, but the only game in town.

29 July
We saw nothing at the marked rapid (458/818).
Cross to map 65M13; 254 km.
We passed the falls (near 515/880) without stopping.
Cross to map 66D4; 240 km.
We saw a youth group, likely the group we saw portaging the canyon (some wearing shorts on the barrens!), ahead of us at the Hornby site so we had lunch and waited for them to clear out. Unlike some other parties, we had no trouble finding the cabin, thanks to the other group.
The crosses were askew; someone had tried to tie at least one together. The stumps of the trees that had been cut to build the cabin were still standing, 70 years later, testifying both to the durability of organic material in that environment and to the fragility of the barrens. All in all, a moving experience.
We continued downstream and camped up a creek on the left.
N15: 66D4; 613/118.

30 July
Cross to map 66D5; 204 km.
Cross to map 66D6; 190 km.
I believe it was around mid day that we ran into the other group, as they were being picked up to go home.
N16: 66D6; 850/346.

31 July
Cross to map 66D7; 160 km.
We took the left channel at 032/324; the current in the right channel looked very slow, if indeed there was any. We turned left after the island and sruggled upstream to find a campsite with easy access to the pingo (which is not visible from the river).
N17: 66D7; 083/333. On the tundra.

1 August
We hiked to the pingo; it is at 132/ 346, not as indicated on the topo. The visit is well worth a stopover.
N18: Same site as on N17.

2 August
Cross to map 66D2; 138 km.
We did not see the cabin reported to be near 171/179.
We pulled in at Lookout Point, looked at the remains of what had been a small community, if perhaps only a seasonal one, then continued downstream. I read somewhere that the Inuit paddled up the Finnie to get wood for various purposes.
Cross to map 66D1; 122 km.
N19: 66D1; 395/242.

3 August
Cross to map 66D8; 94 km.
Cross to map 66C5; 93 km.
I recall this stretch (past the Ursus Islands) as fast, clear water with rocks and fish skidding by beneath the boats.
N20: 66C5; 700/499; huge sand field.

4 August
Cross to map 66C12; 51 km.
Cross to map 66C11; 48 km.
We passed the Ursus Islands and the Kigarvi River confluence, ran some fast water and pulled in at the water survey cabin and camped (Enid and Anne inside, Joop and I outside). We signed the book and looked at the tent circles and other remains of the Inuit community that had once inhabited the barrenlands.
N21: 66C11; 867/581.

5 August
We saw nothing special at the marked rapid (899/571). After pulling out on the right to scout the rapid at Thelon Bluffs, we did a sneak right, then ferried over to the other shore against a stiff current. We had one of those barrenlands headwinds to fight and wanted to have a look downstream; besides, it was time for another hike. We had a long one; a muskox not so far away ignored us. The river below us was churned up by the wind but we had no choice but to continue against it. And a light rain started.
It was today, I believe that it was after the bluffs, that we met a couple from Montreal; they had passed us when we were camped at the water survey cabin.
We passed the falls near 970/570 (without stopping) and struggled on.
Cross to map 66C10; 18 km.
We pulled in and camped in the mud.
N22: 66C10; 119/583; mud city.

6 August
The rain came down and the wind blew hard enough to make travel too painful to undertake. We sat it out most of the day. We went for a walk upriver, meeting the Montreal couple who were waiting for their plane to land and take them out; I learned later that other parties have been picked up here also. The plane came in despite the weather and they left.
Toward evening, Joop called to me that the wind had gone down some. I crawled out of my tent, had a look and yelled let’s go! After some grumbling, we packed up and headed out.
We continued past Hoare Point, against the wind of course, went around the next point (forgoing the portage across the peninsula, to some discontent), turned into the bay and camped. It was one of the best sunsets ever.
N23: 66C10; 205/630. OK spot up the hill, on the tundra.

7 August
We cleaned up and sorted out our gear. We placed the boats where we had to told to put them (open side up, weighed down with big rocks; they would be Zodiaced up to Warden’s Grove, then flown to the camp on Whitefish). Enid went for a hike; Anne started out a few minutes later, on a different route. Enid came running back, shouting that she had run into a bear. I chased after Anne, running as best I could over the rocks, shouting stop but she thought I was shouting go. She stopped after a while and we returned to camp.
The four of us walked around, staying close to camp though. A ground squirrel and I chatted for a while. I found a lot of driftwood near the point at the east end of the bay; I expect that it comes down the Dubawnt and is blown east.
N24: Same place.

8 August
We got up, put everything together and waited for our flights back. It was well into the afternoon before the 185 (think that’s what it was) arrived. Joop and I had the tightest schedules so we went out on the first flight. It was a great one. I recall a small lake that was still frozen; the pilot explained that it froze right to the bottom. And I recall also the polygons, the canyon (with its rapids) and other features from our trip.
It was unclear whether there was enough time for Enid and Anne to get back before dark, so we had made arrangements for them and the pilot to camp at Beverly, but they got back in time.
N25: Back at the base camp on Whitefish.

9 August
The flight for the four of us and our stuff came in from Yellowknife. It was a warm day though and the air was too thin for us to get off the water. We pulled leftover food from our packs and waited till evening. Eventually, the pilot decided to try again, so we went out for the third time, I believe. He gunned the engine and bounced the plane on the waves; of course we did not have the airspeed to take off but I guess those few moments without water friction helped some. We got off, rather too close to land for comfort, and headed west, working our way around thunderstorms. He informed us casually that he had returned to flying not long before, having spent a few months in hospital after a crash. We landed on Back Bay, with the needles on both fuel gauges pegged.

10 August
My friend Jean Stewart in Yellowknife, who worked for the CBC there and then, invited us over to her place for a grand meal with some friends. And we ate also at the restaurants.


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

 Post subject: Re: Thelon River, 1996
PostPosted: December 2nd, 2009, 2:26 pm 
CCR Assistant Administrator
User avatar

Joined: January 20th, 2003, 7:00 pm
Posts: 12099
Location: Simcoe County, Ontario

Now, I know how you are, so let me say, in all seriousness....this is a great trip report. Plenty of information and observations to keep anyone happy.

I'll add something about the first few days, before we hit the water, but otherwise what you see now is all you'll get.

Oh, I guess I could torment you and ask "any photos?". :lol:

Here we encountered undocumented obstacles, a few caribou swimming over to the south shore.

The four of us walked around, staying close to camp though. A ground squirrel and I chatted for a while.



I'm out of bed and I made it to the keyboard....what more do you want?

 Post subject: Re: Thelon River, 1996
PostPosted: December 2nd, 2009, 4:14 pm 

Joined: January 22nd, 2005, 12:16 pm
Posts: 4044
Location: Toronto
Alas, I took slides only.
I have added a relevant comment to the post.


A literal mind is a little mind. If it's not worth doing to excess, it's not worth doing at all. Good enough isn't.  None are so blind as those who choose not to see. (AJ)

 Post subject: Re: Thelon River, 1996
PostPosted: May 26th, 2010, 8:49 pm 
User avatar

Joined: October 18th, 2006, 9:39 am
Posts: 334
Location: Vermont
Wonderful trip and great report. I wonder who BB is? Hmmmm.



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