Trail Cafe: Trip report - Nahanni Day 6-7 Deadmen's Valley and 4 Star


Title: Nahanni Day 6-7 Deadmen's Valley and 4 Star
Trip type: canoeing
Summary: Canoeing out of 2nd Canyon, through deadmen's Valley. Then a stay over at 4-Star campsite. Just after George's Riffle.
Author: M. Tanton
Date of Trip: Aug 9 and 10, 2006
Country: Canada
Province: NWT
County/City/national park/etc: Nahanni National Park
Location Route: Nahanni River
Distance: 84.4km in 4 hrs.
Weather Conditions:Rain, lots of drizzily rain. Camp day was mostly sunny
Directions to Set in or Trail head: See Day 1
Directions to Set in or Trail head: keep on going.
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: Georges Riffle
Grade: III - Intermediate
Location: entrance to first canyon (see map)
Portage: No Portage avaiable.
Successful run
easyest route: depends, at this water level, river center seemed optimum.
Description: George's Riffle is just inside the first canyon. The water noticeably speeds up and flows into a bend in the river. There is an island with a small channel on river right, this avoids the upper portion of the rapid, we did not run this channel. The water pushes to the river right, where large standing waves are found. There is a large rock at the start of the standing rapid on river right. A large standing hole/standing wave is found near the start of the wave train. After about 50m (a guess). the river constricts and turns to the right. At this point the standing waves transition to mixed chop, that span the river. The point created where the river changes direction has many rocks, which were above water level when we went through. The waves are capable of swamping an open canoe, thus the class III suggestion. We did not run the 'sneak' path on the river left of the island that is located at the rapids. A river guide recommended against it. This is contrary to advice in Neil Hartings book. If you stop at the top of the island, it should be possible to walk down and scout the rapid, from there decide which route you wish to run. There is no portage route.
Authors Trip Rating: V. Good
Author's Email: myrlinmungeatshawdotca

The Trip Report:

Clouded in, rain, but still very nice. Clouded in, rain, but still very nice.
Today packing up we get out the earliest ever... 10:30. It started to rain as we packed up which got things packed up faster, haveing the canoes right next to the tents helped too. Once it started raining, it seemed like it did not want to let up. It was still very nice, Rain is not to much a bother when you are sitting in a canoe dressed for rain on a cool day.

Rich and I tke out the fishing rods and resolve to determine if there are fish in this river or not. The silty water make fishing unlucky.

Coming out into Deadmen valley Coming out into Deadmen valley
Spent alot of time drifting and watching the rain hit the river, cause little water balls that would jump along the top of the surface for a second or two, before mergin with the silty water of the river. It rained all the way through 2nd Canyon, and to Meilleur R. The river seems to slow here, as we float through some splits of deadmans valley, where the Meilleur River flows in. The river is slow if you are not on the main channel. We were not, and with the rain, being hungry for lunch made it a bit less enjoyable than it could have been, but not unenjoyable. .

Pairie creek flowing into the Nahanni. Pairie creek flowing into the Nahanni.
As we came to Prarie Creek however the Rain cleared up and out came the sun. The rafting group we've been playing leap from with was camped here for the night. They were all gone on a hike, execept one guy (Tom) who was fishing, and our favorite guide. After we went to the cabin to register, we then paddeled across. She Imediately came over to chat.

She tells us that she really prefers the canoing to the rafting. Tells us about how crazy her previous canoe trip was, and how busy here summer has been. She only got 4 hrs rest between her last trip and this one. She gives us some chocolate chip cookies, which we inhale. She laughs at us when we start cooking soup for lunch. Most importantly she tells us of "four start" the campsite just after Georges Riffle. It's past George's Riffle, just after the island, pull off at the gravel flats there. It comes complete with a small slow side channel (no water from the river), A creek flows in, then slowly makes its way to the river. During which it warms a bit, there is a 'soaker pool' built up just before it flows into the river. Expect fantastic views of the canyon, knowing our schedule, she recommneds staying an extra day at 4 star to and just relax.

She also tells us what to expect from Georges riffle, and does not recommend taking the sneak route on river left, due to mixed waters going into the main channel, rather telling us to stay river center. For those that want a wilder ride (read Glen) stay center right.

The lunch break is great, it is dry and sunny. Rich and I stop to do some fishing from shore, where the clean water runs in from prairie creek flows into the river, hoping that the fish may be there. No luck. Then with rain coming back in, we head out to run down past Georges Riffle. Glen is in front of the tandem with Rich in the back, once again I'm solo.

George's Riffle:

George's Riffle is just inside the start of the 1st canyon. I'd always assumed a "riffle" meant small mixed waves, usually caused by a speed up in water. Small being a big part of the description, such that a riffle is what you get when as a class just below a class I rapid. I guess that is because I usually paddle on small rivers, like the Bow river in Calary. Georges Riffel was the biggest rapid we ran the whole trip. There may have been biggers wave sets, but I avoided them, there is no Portage route for George's Riffle, and you must run at least through part of it.

Rich and Glen went first. They ran river center/right. (The guide suggested staying away from the far right due to rocks). I watched as the Canoe droped down behinde a wave and disapear for a instant, before popping back up. popped back up. After that I had to pay attention for my self. I was running more river center, so I missed the first wave that they hit, which was 'huge', according to Glen later. It hit him in the chest, it looked to be 4-5ft tall, which is over your head as you aproach it when seated in a canoe.
After that there are a few more waves in a wave train, before the reflections from the walls turn it into confused chop, at around 3-3.5ft tall, which span the entire river.

The sneak channel is very small, and I agree with the guide, it should be avoided by canoests that are not very experienced. It would be a very intense and confused eddy turn into the current. Just below the confluence of the channel, there has been a rock fall along the shore that needs to be avoided. After fighting the eddy turn you need to quickly get out into the main current, which is to say into the meat of the riffle. Note this advices is contrary to what is in our guide book, written by a very experineced guide on the Nahanni River, Neil Harting.

setting up to enter Georges Riffle. Setting up to enter Georges Riffle.
We have no problems with the rapid, although Glen gets his adrenalin rush with the frist bit, and is pretty excitited about it afterwards. Early in the wave train, there is a large rock, generating a bit of a whole (a couple feet deep), with a large standing wave behind it. For Glen, watching the wave come at him, over the Stern of the canoe, and hit him in the chest with considerable force was the best part. Keep in mind Rich out weighs glen by 50lbs or so... Glen goes over most waves in the canoe, not through them.

Nice Shoulder Nice Shoulder
With our two canoes we were fine, they are increadably stable, The chop I went through had much less effect than I was expecting. The other canoe group, when through after us, but we did not see them at the time. They tell us that one of the canoes tipped in the rapid, and had a cold 16 minute swim. They went through two days later, after a day long drizzle, the rapid was likely running higher, and may have been more intense.

comin' in to land at 4-Star comin' in to land at 4-Star
The 4 star campsite is great, it is at the end of an island. where the right channel is not flowing from the river, and is from a stream. the flow has a small pond, and the sun warms it a bit. The out flow into the river has been damed to make a small pool for washing. pratically a sauna. We did not use it though.
Looking down stream from 4-star campsite. Looking down stream from 4-star campsite.

We setup our fire box for the first time and light a fire. We watch the rafting group go by that day.


Day 7: Thursday: Stay over at four star campsite.

Looking down stream from 4-star campsite. Looking down stream from 4-star campsite.
Today we decided to take the guides advice and stay at 4 star. The scenary is amazing. Surounded on three sides by shear cliff faces. Only where the river flows in is there a gap in the cliffs, even there it is rising walls, along with Georges riffle.

After breakfast (another fairly late one), we decide to paddle/walk back to Georges Riffle. We begin the paddle, initially the current is not to bad along the island and we are able to make ground. When we get to the head of the island the current combined with the shallow water makes progress impossible by paddle only. We push and line our canoes past the top. there is a bit of a bay at the top, and we are able to take to the water again. At the edge of the bay the there is a very tight set of eddies we work up. The shore is made of rock wall, about 8-12 feet tall, with some large bolders down in the water. It makes for comming in tight between rocks, shooting up through and eddy with speed out into the current and around the rock. Eventually it becomes to much and we need to hausl our canoes out up an 8ft bank of rock, can continue on foot.

Hmm... it rained all day yesterday Hmm... it rained all day yesterday
Once we are foot it is very clear that not to many people bother to walk back up to the rapid. The only tracks we see are some distirbingly fresh bear tracks. He is definatly in the area. We chew some wild onions growning in the area as we walk along the shore, scrabling over bolders 20ft in diameter, bush wacking through trees. All with the Nahanni flowing beside, the current getting faster and faster as we approach the Georges riffle.
Looking back to our campsite as we hike to Georges Riffle. Looking back to our campsite as we hike to Georges Riffle.

Looking at the lower portion of George's Riffle as  we hike to it. Looking at the lower portion of George's Riffle as we hike to it.

We make it to the rocks at the point right in the middle of the rapids, Sitting out on the rock as the rapid that put George and his boat in the water is very nice place for lunch. By the time I was 6 yrs old I knew Peanut buttter and jam sandwich was the best lunch. 30 years later sitting in the middle of the rapid, it good to re-confirm that fact. We hope one of the other two groups will go by so we can get some pictures as they run the rapid... no such luck.

Around 4:00 the weather looks like it is starting to go a bit sour with the threat of rain. Glen wants to scramble up one of the mountain, but we agree to head back to camp. The rain starts a bit, but does not really materialize. by 6:00 as we are getting back to camp the sky is clear again. Back at camp Glen decides to scrable up one of the cliffs on the river right side. Rich and I stay back and each just read a book. I kind of think that we should have gone, but it is nice to just relax once in a while. When Glen gets back, I'm glad I did not go with him. It turns out he set of a large enough rock slide that it would have been dangerous. He was rewarded with a very nice view of the valley on the other side of the cliffs to the South, but a bit shaken with the story of the ledge that fell out below as he was desending... good thing he had a solid hand hold.

Rich and I both tried fishing again, but still no luck. None of us try the 'hot tub' created by the water that pools and then warms in the sun prior to flowing into the Nahanni.
Looking down river, when you can atually see. Looking down river, when you can atually see.

I was really happy to get the chance to let my sleeping bag stay out to dry a bit. (my tent leaked a bit the 3rd night, and it got a wee bit damp). Unfortunately I left it out to long and the dew made it much more wet. hmmph, that nights sleep I put on some synthetic long johns, and a shirt which made the dampness barely noticeable. By the end of the night I kicked them off as I was to hot, the sleep was fine.



A small set of waves.


One of the cliffs of the Headless Range on the Nahanni

Inside pattersons cabin.

Dry Canyon from the Nahanni

Entering the first canyon

River above Georges riffle.

Looking upstream from 4-Star

The rafters go by 4-Star

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Content Copyright M. Tanton 2006

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