Trail Cafe: Trip report - Nahanni Day 8 the splits and Liard River


Title: canoeing Nahanni Day 8 the splits and Liard River
Trip type: canoeing Summary: Short 1/2 day run, got to float with some spanyards, Massive canyon, white spray spring, and a hike up Lafferty creek
Author: M. Tanton
Date of Trip: Aug 2006
Country: Canada
Province: NWT
County/City/national park/etc: Nahanni National Park
Location Route: Nahanni River
Distance: 20.5km in 3hrs 45mins
Weather Conditions:Very nice, mostly sunny mid 20's
Directions to Set in or Trail head: See Day 1
Directions to Set in or Trail head: keep paddlin
Partners: R. Barrow, and G. Watson
Group experience level: Intermediate
Author's Experience level: Intermediate
Water Flow Rate: typical Aug (fairly low)
River grade: Grade I+ - Novice With some obsticles or grade II rapids.
Rapids and Hazards: Author indicates no Hazards
Boat Type Used: 16 and 18ft prospectors
Authors Trip Rating: V. Good
Author's Email: myrlinmungeatshawdotca (remove 'munge', convert 'at' and 'dot' accordingly

Map is © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, Department of Natural Resources. All rights reserved.
map from the website

The Trip Report:

We set off in the massive cliffs of the first canyon. Glen runs solo, Rich and I are tandem with myself in the stern. The Sun is out today in all it's glory. This trip is nice in the rain, but fantastic in the Sun.
Leaving 4 star campsite Leaving 4 star campsite

The cliff absolutely tower over us as we set out away from 4-star. The canoe is noticeably off center... Rich and Glen have been packing the metal firebox along the side of the gunwales. Being heavy to one side bugs me so much that I make Rich pull over so we can even out the load. yeah yeah being fussy.
Glen along the side of another cliff. Glen along the side of another cliff.

Spaniard Piarates on the Nahanni. Spaniard Pirates on the Nahanni?
We set off again after the brief stop and almost immediately notice we are being over taken by a raft, oh the shame of it all, and worse it's flying the Jolly Roger. This is the first time we've seen this group. They are running for all the little wave sets. Floating with them a bit, we find it is a group of young (20ish) Spaniards, who decided to take a big raft down the Nahanni on there own. I'm impressed, who knew someone outside of Canada even heard of the Nahanni. Seems they were short on smokes, and tried to bum some off us. None of us smoke, so no luck. Their English is not to good, and our Spanish is worse, so communications are difficult.

I'm not sure what they thought of us, floating along feet up on the gunwales laying back. Once in a while getting up to paddle when we hear the waves of the rapids. Probably thought we were extremely lazy... which was accurate. Awhh but the Sun was so nice. We float past each other several times over the next hour or so as we move along.

Glen sitting at the edge of white spray spring Glen sitting at the edge of white spray spring
We see a stream, with ribbon tied along the bank, and realize it is the White spray spring. The water flowing out is crystal clear. We paddle in and fill up some water bottles. Which is surprisingly hard to do due to the current pushing the canoe back out. But it is good to get some clear drinkable water. The Spaniards get out and fill some large water bottles, as we drift off. By the way, your not supposed to get out at this time, due to excessive erosion at the site. Saw a beaver just after white spray, it was the biggest critter so far, other than goats in the far off distance while hiking.

Stop for lunch at Lafferty Creek... liked it so much we stayed to nights Stop for lunch at Lafferty Creek... liked it so much we stayed to nights
Shortly after white spray, is Lafferty creek. The Rafting group has setup here. We did not have a set location for lunch, and decide to pull in. We talk to one of the guides, Mike, and he again suggests that we should stay the night here, in fact he suggest we should stay to nights. After that spend a long day paddling through the splits. Telling us that it should not be a problem in a canoe. He's adamant that we do not want to be camping in the splits if we do not need to be, the reason being the mosquitoes. We're told that here is the last campsite where they are not completely unreasonable. I

The problem with staying is that we've been getting on the water very late, and our longest day to date as been around 40km. Glen is concerned we'll miss our flights out. We convince Glen that we will stay the one night, although it obviously seems to cause him a bit of distress. Inside I know that we'll be staying the next two nights as well.

The Rafting group has setup camp on the South-East(?) side of the creek, which I assume is the best location. Later that night I suspect I know what the reason is, that that site is out on the gravel, and likely has less of those little blood sucking bugs. Talking to one of the rafting group, who won the trip from a draw by CPAWS, he tells us the hike back up the creek is very nice. That there are some cool pools that you need to swim through, but the Sun is shining down into the canyon after that. This is where most of the group are. Sounds great, we decide we want lunch first, and to setup camp.

We are told the second best place to camp is on the other side of the creek bolder field. So off we go, and setup, not on the rocks/gravel of the creek bed, but in the trees. This requires first getting there. The creek bed is quite wide, 100m or so, and we paddle with maximum exertion we make about 1/2 an inch a stroke on average. Rich and I in the tandem more or less make it. Glen being solo does not really have a hope, but gives it a good effort. Mike the guide helps line him back upstream.

As we are eating lunch, the visitors from Spain go floating buy, and run through Lafferty Rapid which is just across and down stream from our campsite. It's far enough away that we do not get a great view, bit it's obvious, there's a pretty good wave or two in that set. With Lunch out of the way, and camp quickly setup we head off to check out the creek canyon. Part way up Glen realized he forgot something (his towel?), and went back to get it. Rich and I continued on without.

Hiking up the creek, worlds whites rock hiking up the creek bed... the worlds whitest rock?
The walk up is pleasant enough, you can see the caves up in the cliffs all around. the canyon slowly constricts from a couple 100m across, to a couple meters across. Most of the walk is on the bank on the side of the creek, or on boulders of the creek bottom. There is no water at the start, but eventually there are some pools that form in the creek bottom, small, several feet long and a few wide. But that does not stop fish from living in them. As you near the constriction in the canyon, it is almost like going through a tunnel as you are surrounded by rock. There is now continuous water pools, much of the bottom is washed clear of loose rocks, as the force of water in spring must wash them out. The fish are still in these pools ranging from a couple inches to 6-8 inches.

Canyon is getting narrow Canyon is getting narrow
At this point there is no option of walking around the pools, the sheer rock walls prevent it. The fist touch of the water on your skin is enough to let you know that you do not want these pools getting much deeper. Shockingly cold. They do however get deeper... each pool seems to get successively deeper. By the third one, it is just up to "the boys"...
Man I'm glad I'm tall... that is cold. Man I'm glad I'm tall... that is cold.
very "refreshing". I was squealing like a little girl. The next pool is over my head, Must swim scenario. At this point you are actually standing in water that is knee deep looking at the 'swim of doom'. My legs are going numb, and by instinct I start to climb up the cliff wall to get out. there is a couple of small ledges, one to stand on, one we leave some of our belonging on, to allow them to stay dry.

The deepest pool. The deepest pool.
The climb out of the deep cold hole. The climb out of the deep cold hole.
Rich and I both on the ledge working up the conviction to make the plunge, of course Rich goes first. He can actually swim (I basically have an enthusiastic dog paddle), and he is just braver than I. I snap a picture, just as he is about to dive in. He of course makes it across the 10 or 12 feet no problem, in fact he looks sort of grace full doing the 'frog' stroke (not sure what it is really called, but I'm sure you know the one). At the end he has to reach up without his feet touching the bottom, and climb up a 2 ft or so natural water slide. He has a bit of trouble doing that, but not much. I through his shirt, towel and camera back to him.

Now it's my turn. I climb down to stand in the knee deep water, waiting to dive forward... yup the water is still really cold. I take the leap, and flounder my way across, then try to climb out. First attempt is met with failure, try again, and fail. It actually crosses my mind that I might not make it up... Rich finally takes pity and lends a hand. There is a small hand hold on the right side up a few feet, that I failed to notice. So now you know about that, it is not a great hold, but usable. It is nice to get back out of the water. We can see further up the canyon, there is still a very small window of Sun shining down to the bottom, and we head for it. It sticks around for about 2 minutes before the descent of the Sun moves the warm spot up the side of the ravine.

Not long after Glen joins us, with the not unexpected “holly &^%$& that was cold” comment. I know the Nahanni is no warmer, I'm definitely ensuring that I wear my wet suit at all times the rest of the trip on the river. We use the pool water to wash up a bit, and head back to camp.

Heading back to camp Heading back to camp
We arrive back at camp to find that the other canoe group has joined us. They are camped next to us, but not in the trees, rather out on the creek bed. So the three groups that were at Virgina Falls are now all back together again. We talk a bit, one of the members of this group has run the Nahanni about 10 years ago. Then, as now he intends to run the entire length of the splits in one day, stopping at Swan point on the Liard. This cements it, that is the plan for the day after tomorrow, now we just need to convince Glen.

We talk about seeing Bears and the like, we've seen lots of tracks, but no actual bears. They tell us they've seen 5 now. In fact they go on to tell us the last one they saw was as they were coming into shore, and that it took off walking right through our camp site. Nice. They've already finished cooking supper, and give us their left overs. A macaroni and cashew pasta, which we augment with a big can off (disgusting when cold) cooked ham.

After supper we all just laze around and read, until the mosquitoes drive us into our tents. Rich and I did manage to convince Glen that we should stay the following day as well.


Leaving 4 star campsite

Glen along the side of another cliff.

Glen getting to shore.

Glen, and Little blue

Spaniard Pirates on the Nahanni?

Glen watching the spaniards aproach

Glen sitting at the edge of white spray spring

Stop for lunch at Lafferty Creek... liked it so much we stayed to nights

hiking up the creek bed... the worlds whitest rock?

life can be tenacious, eh?

Canyon is getting narrow

Man I'm glad I'm tall... that is cold.

The deepest pool.

The climb out of the deep cold hole.

Heading back to camp

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Content Copyright M. Tanton 2006

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