Paddling Notes

Yellowknife to Baker Lake 2018

IMPORTANT NOTE: We used the old 1:50,000 black and white topographic sheets which date from the 1960s through to the 1980s. They generally use the now outdated NAD 27 datum for the metric map grid. All our grid references are ‘As Shown’ on these old maps. We generally navigate using map and magnetic compass. We carry a gps but seldom use it. If you rely on a gps you may be able to set it up to reference the original North American datum of 1927 (NAD 27). Some maps may also use the 1983 North American datum (NAD 83). Your gps is probably set to the current World Geodetic System (WGS84) reference co-ordinate system which will essentially give the same results as NAD 83.

The easting and northing errors between NAD 27 and NAD 83/WGS84 will vary depending where in North America you are. Using the take-out at the start of the Helen Falls portage we estimated the error as follows:

Position as shown on map       13600E 59150N
Position as per GPS (WGS84) 13575E 59380N

Just to repeat co-ordinates shown below are AS INDICATED ON THE MAPS.

Lockhart River

Rapids 10km above Artillery Lake Map 075O05 UTM ref 746-423
Portage commences on the left (west) side of the river in a small bay UTM ref 744-423. It is about 300m long, dry and flat.

Rapids at entrance to Ptarmigan Lake Map 075O12 UTM ref 754-461
Portage commences on the left where the north shore of the river runs E-W for about 300m. Take out is UTM ref 753-460. The shore is angular boulders backed by alders. The portage is ill defined, about 300m long. Put in is over large angular boulders. Refer photos Day 33.

At four other places we lined. The angular boulders and strong current make this difficult.

Hanbury River

Ptarmigan Lake to un-named lake Map 075O11 UTM ref 939-634
Portage is about 100m, on the right around a dry bouldery stream. Take out is very bouldery, put in is good, over grass and moss.

Un-named lake to un-named lake Map 075O11 UTM ref 952-629
Portage on left, around another boulder choked drainage. Portage is clearly marked, about 300m long with cairns at each end. Rocky take out and even rockier put in.

Hanbury Portage Map 075O11 UTM ref 963-620
Portage is to the left (north side) of a boulder choked drainage and about 500m in length. The first two thirds was on a dry flat path marked with cairns. Final third crosses outcrop with numerous cairns marking various routes. Put in is good.

Exit from Deville Lake Map 075O10 UTM ref 049-558
About 300m of bouldery Class 1. We probably should have portaged as it was a case of bump and grind all the way down. The last 30m required lining and dragging the canoe over boulders.

Hanbury River 3km above Sifton Lake Map 075O10 UTM ref 157-592
An unmarked Class 1 rapid ~250 long. Despite reasonable water levels we hit numerous rocks, got pinned once and swung around.

Fast water Map 075O09 UTM ref 337-603 & 361-577

Hanbury River Map 075O09 UTM 366-572
Class 1+ rapid, very short with a ledge on the right. We ran it river centre, then sweeping to the right after the ledge.

Fast water, adjacent to small esker Map 075O09 UTM ref 424-532

Hanbury River Map 075O09 UTM ref 480-565
Un-marked Class 1 rapid. We scouted from the canoe and ran the ‘V’ river centre.

Hanbury River extremely narrow section Map 075P12 UTM ref 540-580
A 500m rapid. Upper section is Class 2- Towards the bottom the river makes an abrupt left turn. Here there is a ledge on the right side with Class 3 conditions and large waves. We ran the upper section centre left, then tight left around the bend. Lower run-out is shallow and bouldery.

Rapids at entrance to Lac Du Bois Map 075P12 UTM ref 600-577
Approximately 800m long. Upper section is Class 2 with lots of boulders. Below this is a 4-5m ledge (actually a small waterfall). We ran the upper section river right. White water starts about 200m above the falls. We lined the first 100m or so of the white water and then portaged around the falls. The take out was obvious and well used. Immediately below the falls is a flat rock shelf that provides a good put-in. The lower run-out is bouldery with ill defined main channel. We ended up broadside to several protruding rocks, we were fighting a strong wind which made maneuvering difficult. Total distance portaged ~125m.

Lac Du Bois Map 075P12 UTM ref 614-549
Class 1 rapid on west side of large island.

Grove Rapids Map 075P12 Portage commences on the right (south) side in a small bay beside a small esker UTM ref 636-512. We arrived late in the day so camped up on the top of the esker. The portage follows the esker for about a kilometre, winding between a number of small lakes. It is flat with excellent footing. The last section of the portage is over outcrop. There are cairns which mark several different routes. The portage then descends into a steep sided valley of alders and muskeg. The portage ends in a distinct very small bay with a narrow cobble beach at UTM ref 642-498. The last third of the portage has no defined path, just follow your nose!

Caribou Rapids Map 075P12 Portage commences on the left (north) side close to where the river leaves Hanbury Lake UTM ref 669-472. A cobble take-out. The first half of the portage is an ill defined path, confused by numerous game trails. The last half did not appear to have any defined path. We just followed our noses. Portage ends anywhere along the ~1km of Class 1 run-out below the last ledges. We camped and put in at UTM ref 674-460.

Hanbury River Map 075P12 un-named rapids UTM ref 747-479
Two ledges and a drop of about 2-3 metres. Portage is on the right, largely over rock, about 350m in length.

Sections of fast water above Cruikshank Lake Map 075P11
UTM ref 780-487, 791-487, 794-487 (group of three small islands) and 823-504

Rapids 8km above Hoare Lake Map 075P11 UTM ref 872-518
There are ledges on the left and right side towards the bottom. Running requires a tight right turn at the bottom. We decided there was too much potential to go wrong so lined down the right side.

Rapids 1km above Hoare Lake Map 075P11 commence ~UTM ref 925-515
There is an automatic weather station and river gauging station UTM ref 923-514 above the rapids at the end of the small un-named lake. This is about 2km of Class 1 and Class 2. We ran it hard left at the top, moving to centre right, then back left and finishing river centre. There are some large standing waves and boulders to be dodged.

Hoare Lake to below the confluence of the Darell River Map 075P11 are numerous small sections of fast water. Commencing about 10km below the Darell confluence the Hanbury narrows again with further sections of fast water (Map 075P14). Some sections would be Class 1 or 1+. All can be easily run.

MacDonald Falls, Map 075P15 Portage trail commences on the right (south) bank at approximately UTM ref 119-701. Portage is about 800m. Murray Muir told us that MacDonald Falls can also be easily portaged on the left (north) side.

Dickson Canyon CAUTION! The canyon commences about 700m below MacDonald Falls, right on the boundary between Maps 075P15 and 075P10, UTM ref 127-691. The portage commences in low dunes behind a sandy beach at ~ UTM ref 125-693. The portage has a reasonably well defined path and is well marked with rock cairns. There are some low soft sections but overall footing is good. We camped (Day 45) in a sandy blow-out at UTM ref 136-669. There is a swampy wet area immediately to the SE with water. Below Dickson Canyon the river is a sandy braided stream so your put-in point will vary depending on river levels.

Ford Falls, Map 075P10 Portage commences on the right (west) bank UTM ref 143-656.
Portage is on the right, take-out is a sandy beach. The portage is a well defined trail, very brushy in parts. There are a few muddy sections close to the south end. Length is about 1km. Portage ends on braided river flats at approximately UTM ref 145-645

Helen Falls & Fischer Falls Map 075P10. The takeout is marked by a very small cairn on the left (east) side of the river about 100m above a ledge which extends right across the river and is the first white water. Exercise caution! As you enter the canyon at approximately UTM ref 138-596 hug the left bank. The river makes an obvious turn south and the take-out is about 100 metres past this bend, UTM ref 136-591. We stopped well before the bend and got out and scouted, found the take-out and marked it with flagging. Sitting in a canoe and depending on the light, the first ledge is not obvious so be careful! Also if you are using a gps refer to the notes at the beginning of this guide as regards the errors between the NAD 27 and WGS84 metric map grid datums.

The portage trail is on the top of the left side of the canyon. It is variously sandy and bouldery but well defined and about 2km in length. It is completely dry with excellent footing. Immediately below Fischer Falls the trail descends the steep sandy bank to a large sandstone shelf where we camped.

Thelon River

Fast water Map 075P16 UTM ref 458-818

Thelon Bluffs Map 066C11 UTM ref 920-572
The river makes a sweeping ‘S bend’ initially to the right and then left. Exercise caution! Using other paddlers notes we had read nothing untoward regarding the river here. Fast water is indicated on the map. As we swung to the right we struck massive standing waves. Some were probably 2m from trough to peak. These were coming from two directions at about a 45° angle to each other. They swept over the bow, hitting Kate in the chest. Despite the spray cover we shipped a lot of water!

Aggattalik Narrows below Qamanaarjuk Lake where Thelon enters Schultz Lake. Fast water is indicated. We have paddled this twice (2014 and 2018) and have seen negligible current.

Exit from Schultz Lake is a section of fast water before the river turns sharp right.

Aleksektok Rapids Map 066A15 UTM ref 021-822
Exercise extreme caution here. As Bill layman once wrote, there is a cross up on the hill, just remember why it’s there! We ran these rapids tight river right in 2014 without incident. In 2018 we ran them again. We scouted again from the top of the cliffs, walking the entire 1km length of the main rapid. They looked no different from 2014 however as soon as we set off it was obvious we were dealing with higher water levels and dangerous paddling conditions. Again the basic rule is to run tight river right however as the river swings around to the right there is a huge hole mid river right. There is also a small ledge extending out from the right shore. Paddlers must run out around this ledge and then duck in tight right staying as far from the hole as possible. We struck huge standing waves just past the ledge. They were oriented at two angles about 45° apart. Despite the spray cover we shipped quite a bit of water as these broke over the bow and had to drift for a while once below the rapids to bail water. This exemplifies the ever present problem of assessing rapids when you can’t get up close and personal. When viewed from the top of the cliffs the standing waves did not look particularly large. Once in the canoe and committed, the view was decidedly different!