Trail Cafe: Trip report - Nahanni Day 3 Virgina Falls to Flat River


Title: Nahanni Day 3 Virgina Falls to Flat River
Trip type: canoeing
Summary: Paddle through Painted Canyon (or 5 mile Canyon, or 4th Canyon). Through Figure 8 Rapid, Wrigley's whirlpool, and then on to Mosquito island in the Flat river delta.
Author: M. Tanton
Date of Trip: Aug 6
Country: Canada
Province: NWT
County/City/national park/etc: Nahanni National Park
Location Route: Nahanni River
Distance: 24.6km
Weather Conditions:Mixed bag sun clouds and rain.
Directions to Set in or Trail head: Fly in From Ft. simpson on chartered flight.
Directions to Set in or Trail head: Paddle out (multiple day)
Partners: R. Barrow, G. Watson
Group experience level: Intermediate
Author's Experience level: Intermediate
Water Flow Rate: typical Aug (fairly low)
River grade: Grade II+ - Intermediate with higher rapids
Rapids and Hazards:
Hazards indicated, some are described below
Name: Five Mile Canyon Rapids
Grade: II - Novice
Location: in Painted Canyon (aka 5 mile canyon)
Portage: No Porage
Successful run
easyest route: Several rapid sets, pay attention.
Description: Note: run in low water, run was fairly easy on this trip, expect worse in higer water. This is several sets of rapids, for the most part standing waves, 3 or 4 rocks were seen in the entire canyon.. One set could swamp an open canoe if the incorrect line was taken at this water level. But that line was easily avoided. Swimming could be an issue, as it may be a fairly long swim, in a 'rocky mountain cold' river.
Name: Figure 8 (aka Hells gate)
Grade: II - Novice
Location: 18km from set in (see map)
Portage: Portage trail on river right
Successful run
easyest route: Stay river center, do not flush in to right bank, do not cross eddy line on river left.
Description: Based on low water. We did not closely inspect the wave train on center left that preceeds the sharp bend. From the large eddy on River right, the rapid apears not to bad. We simply paddled from our eddy out and down river center of the canyon. Note. the guide indicated that the sandbar/island had been washed out in a flood earlier this year, and the rapid is much changed. In general an easier run than in the past.
Name: wrigley Whirlpool (tricky currents)
Grade: II - Novice
Location: est 2-3 km after Figure 8
Successful run
easyest route: Stay river left, and take shallow channel, if not present drag boats.
Description: Note based on low water. Note 2: this may have changed. We stayed river left for the easy channel, but ended up getting pulled strait into where the whirlpool would be expected to be. Lucky for us it was not there. There is still enough of an eddy line to be interesting. At high water this could be very interesting. We did not realize we were at the rapid, as it was miss marked on our GPS, and we thought it was futher down stream. The river right channel preceeds the whirlpool area with a wave train. we did not inspect this channel.
Name: general statement on rapids
Location: throughout.
Successful run
easyest route:
Description: Just to note there are several class I and I+ wave sets at low water on this section of the river. It is a large fast flowing river. Expect harder conditions with higher water volume.
Boat Type Used: 16ft Prospector (solo);18ft Prospector (tandem)
Authors Trip Rating: V. Good
Trip's Good Points: Remote, fantastic scenery.
Trip's Bad Points: Mosquitoes in evening.
Author's Email: myrlinmungeatshawdotca

The Trip Report:

Today our "early start" ended up being pretty late, a theme we would come to accept on our vacation. We Borrowed the camp canoe and took the rest of the gear down to the portage point. We've got to make two trips down to get all of our gear to the end point of the portage trail. At the end of it all, I try to take some pictures, and find my camera does not work. Changing the batteries does not help. It seems the mist from the falls the night before has put the camera out of order.

Just_about_ready_to_go._ Just_about_ready_to_go._
It is getting pretty late by the time the canoes are loaded and we are in the water, around 2:00. We spend a fair bit of time figuring out the spray skirts for the canoes. The solo Canoe we setup one spray skirt backward, and shift it so that I can fit. the front hole is covered with a garbage bag, held down with bungie, and loops made from good old duct tape. It ends up working well.

Make no mistake, as we enter the water, my nerves are up. This is the point which months of planing
and waiting (mostly waiting) has culmulated in. We've read books, trip report, talk to co-workers that ran the trip. Pat described his trip as "terrifying" he like us ran unguided. Others told us it would be no problem. Now it is time to find out, there is definately no turning back once we enter the current.

I've real sense of setting off into the unknown, and have a bit of the jitters that go with that. We are completely alone at the start, just the three of us. None of us have been on a canoe trip of this length, or this remoteness. For the first day, Glen and Rich are in "Big Red" an 18ft tandem, I'm in "little Blue" a 16ft prospector running solo.

The 'big wave' that we watched the previous group just miss from up on the ridge of Sunblood Mtn, is nothing to worry about. It is litte more than a 1.ft back wash wave from a small rock deep enough that you will not hit it. We set off at the same point as the previous group, and to run the canyon more or less in the center. The water is not the clear Rocky Mtn water I'm used to, rather it is loaded with silt.

The canyon itself is awesome. It is a real shame that my camera does not work. Rich and Glen take a few pictures for me. One of the names for the canyon, is painted canyon, this seems aptly named. The Canyon has lots of yellow and Red in the rocks. The cliffs rising strait up from the river make it a spectacular site. They are not the tallest cliffs on the trip (not even close) but the colours made them the nicest in my mind. The current is really moving through here we are traveling at around 15km with very light paddling. The canyon quickly flies by.

Me_working_my_way_down_Painted_canyon Me_working_my_way_down_Painted_canyon
One other name for the Canyon is 5 mile canyon, and in 5 mile canyon, is the 5 mile canyon rapids. We are in typical water levels for August, which is to say reasonably low. I'm solo today, only the second time in a fully loaded canoe, and one I've never paddled before. I run a cautious route through the waves, avoiding the largest sets of them. The rapids were easily avoided for me, execept one bit towards the end. As always, I wish I'd have two chances at the rapid, once to take a running 'scout', and then to take a more exciting line. Even so, it was fun, the sceanary was beautiful, the 5 miles seemed to pass by in a flash.

We stopped for lunch at Marengo (SP?) Creek confluence. We were having way to much fun, to stop and explore, and we got right back on the river.

Sitting_in_the_eddy_river_right_of_Figure_8_Rapid Sitting_in_the_eddy_river_right_of_Figure_8_Rapid
The Next major feature is the Figure 8 Rapid, named due to the two twisting eddies that form, one nice one at the portage trail, and one not nice one in the "boils". This rapid is also known as "Hell's Gate". Well, It seems this is not the same "Hell's Gate" that it used to be. There was a island/gravel bar that has been washed away in the spring flood. The rapid is now easily run river center. However keep in mind the water levels were not high when we went through it. It did not seem nearly as imposing as the description in Neil's book. Just as the guide from the other group had indicated.

Wriggly Whirl pool, this nearly caused me some grief. I'd tried to mark it's location based on the description in Neil's book, and a map I had. However I missed the mark by a lot. Looking at the Map afterwards, it is clear miss marking it was my mistake. I figured out where it was, as I went through it. I've updated the GPS location so it should be much closer. I did not have an issue in the whirlpool, as the water level was fairly low, and it was not present. The mixed currents were however intense enough to worry. The line taken was what could have been the correct 'sneak' line for low water, but I ended up running down just right of the 'eddy line/whirlpool zone' , and into the waves, instead cutting over to the left side of it.

We managed to miss the Flat River Campsite... we should have clued in with the other group being camped there as we went by. We went past a few hundred meters and setup our first camp on the river. It was a late setup, it was raining, it was on sand, and there were lots of mosquitoes. Glen christened it “Mosquito Island”. However, talking to the other group later, they indicated the the site further up was also bad for mosquitoes. However, being hungry, wet, tired, and eaten while cooking and setting up camp made it the least enjoyable campsite of the trip. We all agreed that the qty of mosquitoes was completely unreasonable. After a late supper, it was time to crawl into bed.

The nerves at the start of the day were unfounded. Richard's comment at the start seems appropreate. 'The Nahanni river is to canoing, as the West Coast Trial is to hiking'. It is is nice, but has a massive reputation. Rich is dissapointed it is not more challanging, I like it just fine so far. The analogy seems accurate though.


Virgina falls from the portage trail.

Looking down Painted Canyon from the portage trail

Looking goofy in painted canyon.

He he, and I thought I looked gooffy in the previous picture.

That bit of a rapid seen behind me in the & 39 goofy& 39 shot earlier.

Final pic of Painted canyon, looking back as I canoe out of it.

Rich and Glen in Big Red

final pic sitting in the figure 8 eddy

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Content Copyright M. Tanton 2006

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