Trail Cafe: Trip report - Nahanni Day 2 Sunblood and Portage


Title: Nahanni Day 2 Sunblood and Portage
Trip type: canoeing
Summary: A Day off Canoing, hiking up Sunblood Mtn, and portaging some of the gear around Virginia falls
Author: M. Tanton
Date of Trip: Aug 2006
Country: Canada
Province: NWT
County/City/national park/etc: Nahanni National Park
Location Route: Sunblood Mtn, Virgina Falls
Distance: Hike 8-10km, portage 1-2km
Weather Conditions:good, cloudy with sunny periods, occasional light rain
Directions to Set in or Trail head: See Day 1
Directions to Set in or Trail head: See Day 1
Partners: R. Barrow, G. Wattson, Lizzy
Group experience level: Intermediate
Author's Experience level: Intermediate
Water Flow Rate: Typical Aug
River grade: Grade V - Extreme
Rapids and Hazards:
All hazards described from authors point of view.
Name: sluice box / Virgina Falls
Grade: Not Runnable
Location: few hundered meters from VF campsite
Portage: canoe from campsite down, stay river right obvious boardwalk. (do not start portage at campsite)
Not run.
easyest route: Must Portage.
Description: Sluice box starts our from glass like water, once past Last Chance Island, it quickly speeds up, and is soon a roaring torrent, as it screams out over Virginia Falls. The falls, and rapids combined drop more about 2x the height of Niagara falls.
Boat Type Used: Prospectors 16ft, and 18ft
Authors Trip Rating: yuck
Trip's Good Points: It was not raining during the portage
Trip's Bad Points: it was a portage
Author's Email: myrlinmungeatshawdotca

The Trip Report:

We sleep in, our camp is well shaded, and we must have needed the sleep from the long flying day the day before. The other two groups in the camp are already packed up, fed, and gone. Only one guide from the rafting group is around by the time I get up, She is just returning the campsite canoe after taking some of the packs to the portage start point. She looks very good in a canoe... Later Rich tells me that she had the canoe absolutely filled several feet above the gunwales as she took the gear down. I ask her about the painted canyon what to expect. She tells me that at these water levels it is pretty easy (typical Aug levels, which is to say fairly low), and that the waves are around 3-5 feet tall. Oh boy, sounds pretty big to me, the good old fear of the unknown sets in just a bit. She is confident that we will have not trouble at all, I guess we look like we know what we are doing or something. She quickly returns the canoe to the 'canoe rack', and is gone.

We now pretty much have the campsite to our selves. There is a plane at the doc and a few people who flew into the falls for a couple hours getting ready to head out. Other than that Rachelle the warden in charge of the campsite and Lizzy A., a student in taking surveys of the people that fly in just to view the falls. She tells us most like it, but one person complained about the board walk taking away from the nature experience. We tell Lizzy that we will be crossing the river to hike up Sunblood Mtn later in the day. We have an open spot in the canoe. She accepts our invitation to join us on the hike.

Sunblood Mtn is the mountain just across the Nahanni river from the Virginia Falls campsite. It is one of the recommended hikes in our guide book "Nahanni river guide - 3rd ed", by Neil Harting, and Peter Jowett . Rachelle tells us that guided tours take anywhere from 3 to 6 hrs return time to hike Sunblood Mtn. Hike is covered in it's own trip report Entry, in the hiking section of Trail cafe here (Sunblood Mtn.). From up on the mountain we watch the Canoe group put in to the river to start the canoe trip. We are amazed to see them set in just above what looks like (from about 10-15km away) a very large rock/wave. One canoe nearly being swept over it. We finish the hike in about 4 hours, what I would have called an easy hike 10 years ago has really tired me out.

A single canoe pulled in to camp as while we are out on our hike. After getting back I briefly talk to the young couple. The tell me they have hiked in from the Canol Hwy in the Yukon. A over land trip of about 80 km, then worked their way down from Moose Ponds. I'm more than slightly impressed. They ask about the mosquitoes telling me that they have been bad up until this point. I'm happy to report that we have not had to break out the Deet yet.

For supper I try for the first time one of my fancy pre-cooked-just-add-boiled-water supper things. Lasagna, it is not to horrible. It sure is easy and fast to cook up, and light to carry. I know they are not necessary for canoe trips given the load that a canoe can carry, but that is the way we ended up going for this trip. The main reason for the dried food was the air flight out and the weight restrictions. We could/should have bought a cooler in Ft. Simpson, and loaded up with more fresh food. the steak from the night before was awesome.

That morning we had agreed that it would be a good idea to portage the canoes down this evening. In the morning it seemed like a good idea, but now after the hike and supper, it seemed less appealing. We did manage to get our butts in gear, and portage the canoes down. We also take the food barrel, for which we were too cheep to rent the carry harness for. As we were setting up to haul the gear down, I was regretting that, but Rich came up with the obvious solution. So with our food barrel in one of the Boundary packs (big dry bag with shoulder straps), we set off to canoe to the portage start site.

Myrl Portaging Little Blue, the 16ft prospector Myrl Portaging Little Blue, the 16ft prospector

This was my first ever real portage (other than a dam in Calgary). I distinctly remember someone, either my sister in law, or Rich's wife telling me they always wanted to do a portage. It seemed a really odd thought to me at the time, their justification was something about being a truly Canadian experience. Having now completed the portage, I can say I disagree. That is based on a relatively short portage, on a trail that consisted of a well maintained boardwalk, followed by a well trodden path. This portage trail aslo includes 'rest bars' along the portage, where a 2x4 has been nailed between two trees about 7 ft up or so. I guess the idea is to put one end of the canoe up there and leave the other end on the ground, take a break, when you head out again you only slip under the canoe and off you go. No hosting the canoe back up from the ground. Even so, it the portage was a bit of a slog.
Rich portaging Big Red Rich portaging Big Red

The guided group had a wheel barrow, we could see the tracks when we got to the end of the board walk. That would have been nice for the packs, but we did not find where it was stashed. Tomorrow we'd be carrying the rest of the gear down.

Rich and Glen at the base of the falls Rich and Glen at the base of the falls
Virgina Falls from below Virgina Falls from below

By the time we arrived at the bottom of the portage trail, it was once again getting semi-late. But we took the time to walk up to the base of the falls. The wind coming down off them is in itself some what impressive. The water cascading of the left side was nothing short of mesmerizing. I was happy to have my fleece along as the spray is quite cool, and it did not take much time to drench us.

Looking down painted canyon Looking down painted canyon
I was happy to have the canoes down the night before we are to set out, thinking it should make for an early start to the following day. From the bottom of the falls what part of the river we can see looks pretty tame. The large rock/wave seen from the ridge up on Sunblood Mtn is nothing at all to worry about. From up close, about 15ft from shore you can see it is a small wave. The whole perspective thing again.

There is another food stash tower at the end of the portage trial which worked out great. By the time we get back, and get into bed it is another late night sometime just past midnight, and a fairly exhausting day


part of campsite from day before

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Content Copyright M. Tanton 2006

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