It is not far, as the crow flies, to get from Little Doctor Lake to the South Nahanni River. The time issue has to do with a sort of hurry up and wait mentality that applies to many forms of northern transportation. At any rate, after a night of swatting mosquitoes without really waking up, my leisurely start for the day is interrupted by a call from Mike telling us that the plane would be at the cabin on Little Doctor by 10:00 am.
I packed with lighting speed and told myself that if I couldn’t see anything on the floor or on my bunk, then it must be in my pack somewhere! As luck would have it, I then had time to spare. I surveyed the cabin’s bookshelf which housed a collection that could only have been built through time as travelers left what they had finished and borrowed something new. There was Shakespeare sitting next to “The Wealthy Barber”; and “Death of a Salesman” cuddled up with “The Diviners”. Interesting!
Everyone pitched in to clean up the cabin with the goal of leaving it better than we found it. As I moved a heavy food pack, I uncovered a deceased creature of the wild. Mortuary duties had to be assigned. No one volunteered.
With our gear piled high under a rather tattered Canadian flag, we sat down to wait. It was warm with a touch of cool in the breeze. The water was calm. Only the buzz of mosquitoes and the click of shutters broke the silence. Gradually we moved to reading and taking turns manning the hand operated water purification pump. If that doesn’t force one to swear off wasting water nothing will!
Lunch came and went but the plane from Fort Simpson did not. One moment of excitement brings us all to our feet as I think we see something headed at us through the pass. But as it did for the folks on Gilligan’s Island, the moment passes.
When our Cessna does arrive, the bush pilot brings it into the beach. Gas cans are taken out of the right pontoon to make room for cargo. Mike, Len and most of the camera and camping gear go on the first flight. The girls wave from the beach and then take the opportunity to skinny dip. The water is a great temperature as the air is now checking in at 40 degrees celius. The breeze is soft and the hum of the generator has replaced the hum of the bugs!
By mid-afternoon, the Cessna lifts off for the second time. The landscape of the Ram River and canyon unfolds beneath our feet. Forest fires spawned by yesterday’s storm engulf the ridges and send billowing clouds of smoke into the atmosphere. This area was missed by the ice age and the landscape is therefore different. Many plateaus are visible. Many are covered with trees.
We bank as we pass by Virginia Falls and land on the river above the falls. I must admit this made me a bit nervous as the water runs fast and the thunder of a falls, twice the size of Niagara, is unmistakable.
The advantage of being on the second flight was that the campsite had been set up by the advance party. All I had to do was lug my big pack from the wharf to the site! I was glad it wasn’t a long hike!
The Nahanni National Park Reserve encompasses 11,602 square miles of Canadian wilderness. It is 91% in the Dehcho Region and now includes most of the South Nahanni watershed. Established in 1972 by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau*, it was made a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1978 and the South Nahanni was declared to be a Canadian Heritage River in 1987. The South Nahanni travels through meandering canyons and provides worldclass rapids. It includes the highest mountains and the largest ice fields in the NWT and can now lay claim to the Cirque to the Unclimables. Over 500 Grizzlies call it home and countless woodland caribou wander. (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahanni_national_Park_Reserve)
With our food safely cached we head towards the thunder of the river treading carefully on the million-dollar boardwalk which is very wet and very slippery. On the river, full trees were pressed together by the powerful current and are thrown through the air by the force of the fifty-foot standing waves. Within a kilometer of our camp the mist makes rainbows over Mason’s Rock. The sight and the thunder take my breath away.
We pass a healthy looking group of younger people portaging around Virginia Falls. They are friendly and smiling despite the long trek with heavy packs. A wheelbarrow type conveyance helps with the really heavy stuff and we hear it rumbling along the boardwalk as we make our way back to our campsite.
In camp, Bonnie is busy making spagetti dinner and fresh brownies !
After supper, the Park Ranger visits and reads us the rules. Then I scrounge around in my pack to find my bear bells and whistle. With this false sense of security it’s off to the outhouse and down to the wharf to just gaze in wonder as the river runs by.
Now its time to finish up my journal and try out my thermarest. What a day!
(* image is a reproduction of a postcard showing Prime MInister Trudeau at the base of Virginia Falls in approximately 1972, I do not know the name of the photographer.)