When we left our last resupply point, fuelled by a huge (and by this point novel) breakfast of bacon, toast, eggs, and coffee, the sun was blazing, we were well rested, and hope was high. Then we saw that river we had managed to forget during our thirty-six hour binge of food and rest. The familiar current still raged between the flooded banks, and with it returned the familiar dread of having to paddle up this beast of a river.

But it was not long before we eased into the rhythm of paddling, and as we adjusted to the routine, we began noticing what we had so long been waiting for: the water level appeared to be dropping. The grey trunks of willows and other vegetation, caked with silt carried by the river, emerged from the flood. At last, I thought, perhaps this daily routine of exhaustion and frustration might ease. And indeed, as we paddled off the Pelly and onto the Ross River, a smaller tributary that would bring us north to the continental divide, we fully thought that things would finally become easier.

The Ross had much less water flowing through it. The rapids at its mouth were manageable. Without much effort we could line or walk up the shores. The current slowed, and for almost a week we had brilliant weather. Clouds were a rarity. At this point the Ross proved to be a rather lazy river, and we made more miles more easily than we had ever made on the Pelly. However, this week or so of good weather and relaxed current would later have to repaid with exorbitant interest.

Soon the once manageable current grew strong, and the river grew steep. And as the gradient which we paddled, waded, and lined against increased, the weather deteriorated. We were not only battling against the steady current, but formidable rapids. This was slow, cold work. While we juggled tow lines and walked against current up to our chest to maneuver around pillows of whitewater and rocks, the clouds seemed to have permanently closed in around us. Rain would pound against the tent when the morning alarm went off, and at the end of the day pound against our tarp as the four of us huddled around a stove and waited for a hot supper. After supper we would head into the tents and be lulled asleep by that dreadful patter. We were living between a cold, mountain-sourced river and the damp air that at times just hovered above freezing. Water seeped in through our most watertight seals. Our world became a damp and bitterly cold world. 

On such a day  we had a break. Flat water. Amidst the rain and the cold, the three lakes located a little more than halfway up the Ross were met with big, though sober, smiles. These were the first lakes we had paddled on that were not encrusted with ice, and after hundreds of miles of slogging upstream, paddling on the remarkably calm water felt like we were in motorboats. And that day the rain stopped, and the clouds, as if following a cue, broke up and let in a little sun. We were surrounded by mountains, and the mountains had all received a fresh coating of snow. It was a wonderful day. 
But we were behind schedule, and as we continued up the Ross we only fell further behind. The river became narrow, strewn with boulders and violent whitewater that ran almost without pause for over ten miles. It was arduous to work up a river like this. Ascending these rapids gave us a twisted taste of what was to come and made us eager for what lay on the other side of the continental divide: downstream travel. More specifically, running whitewater that actually went with the current.

That long-hoped for day, when we set out on the portage from the Ross River across the continental divide to Moose Ponds, the headwaters of the South Nahanni River, was of course, wet, cold and miserable. At times sun would burst through the clouds, only to be followed by hail. Hail. We hadn’t had that yet. 

But the bad weather was brief, and nothing that came from the skies could dent our spirits. We were elated. After all, we had crossed the continental divide in a canoe, and for myself, and I suspect for the other three guys, this was the most challenging and perhaps proudest accomplishments of my life. As we sat on the shore of Moose Pond, with the sun cresting behind Mount Wilson and warm light pouring over four faces that were laughing and chewing on bites of macaroni and powdered cheese, it seemed that all the frustrations, hardships, cold and doubt we had gone through, were somehow necessary to experience this rare moment where dreams had indeed became reality.

Now comes the challenge. What can I say about the South Nahanni River? Steve said it best: “A lot of really great things have been written about the Nahanni. They’re all true, and really understatements at that.” Words will of course fall short. Photographs are two-dimensional. Added on top of everything, we were going down river at this point. How can one describe such an experience? I mean we were headed down river. With the current. Not against gravity.

Water levels were above average, and so we were able to get the full experience of the infamous Rock Gardens, the bouldery and rapids-strewn portion of the upper Nahanni . For all of us, these were the biggest rapids we had run in a loaded, wilderness canoe. On top of this, there were ten or fifteen of these technical and big water rapids in a row. It was great fun. At the end of each of the three days we experienced a different kind of tired, more like, too much adrenaline over an eight hour period, tired.

And we were going downstream, which made us giddy like kids on the night before Christmas.
Because we were almost ten days behind schedule, we moved quickly on the Nahanni. There were no side hikes to the numerous splendours along the way, but nonetheless, because of the swift and easy pace of the river, we allowed ourselves to relax, float, and enjoy the incredible scenery of this treasure of treasures. Nine days after setting out from Moose Ponds, we had canoed the length of the river and were camped in Nahanni Butte. After a two day paddle down the Liard we arrived in Fort Simpson and were treated to the extraordinary warmth and generosity of Orville and Jeannine, proprietors of Janor’s Guest House, who held our resupply packages and treated us to showers, beds and laundry.  

A big part of our journey has passed. It was an extraordinary seventy-five day voyage through the mountains. Ahead of us is the Great Slave Lake, and past that the barren lands, the Thelon River, and Hudson Bay. I can barely contain my excitement to go out and experience the adventure that awaits.
 


Comments

Jenny Jenn
07/24/2012 16:24

OH MY GOODNESS!! How exciting. Pete: getting to read about y'alls trip has been so exciting, and I cannot wait to hear more. Stay safe, keep posting those incredible pictures when you can!

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Becky (Peter's mom)
07/24/2012 16:24

More than even the huge physical challenge of such difficult upstream travel, you four have achieved an even greater mental and emotional accomplishment! I am in awe of how you have risen to the challenge and of your strength as a team. May all (or most!) of your waters from here on be downstream. And many blessings on all the Canadians who have graciously given you rest along the way. We love you tons!

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07/24/2012 18:58

Great to hear that you guys made it up the Ross River! I was wondering how "bad" it would be. Looks like you guys are having a great time (minus some unfortunate rain). I am highly jealous of your trek! Safe travels across the rest of NWT and Nunavut!

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Will Harren
07/24/2012 19:28

These pictures aren't taken with Instagram, no one will like them....

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Jody Martinson
08/01/2012 07:42

Your photos are STUNNING!!! What an amazing adventure to spend a chunk of your lives in one of the most breath-taking areas on the planet. I can't wait to see your finished documentary! May God bless you with good weather and dry boots.

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Lois Reber
07/25/2012 08:00

Absolutely fantastic! Through your eyes and words, we see all this great wonder. Thank you. Keep safe.

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jan keaveny
07/26/2012 03:29

Wow! The photos and words are not telling the whole story and they are magnificent, so I can't imagine paddling your boats! You have experienced the grandeur and the power and the strength and the beauty of nature like few humans ever will. And you have done it together with genuine care and support for one another. You are great examples to all of us. Thanks for living!

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Paul Hooper
07/27/2012 20:57

Fantastic Experience. I was part of the 4 canoes that first saw you on the Nahanni after you had not seen anyone for 10 days. Good luck!

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Justine Wilmot
07/28/2012 23:31

Hi guys, I'm happy to hear you made it down the Nahanni safely and in good time. I just got off the river on the 27th. I am flying back into Virginia Falls tomorrow afternoon for a 9 day canoe/raft/kayak trip. Simpson Air has been great and let me shower and use thier internet. Unlike you it wasn't 70 something days since I showered but I was 28 days away from base and another 3 weeks since I showered before that. Our base outside of fort liard does not have a shower...well we have a creek. not the same. Any way, it feels nice to clean up.

Well I wish you the best of luck witht he rest of your trip and I will continue to check in a see where you are at.

happy travels

Justine - Nahanni Wilderness Adventures

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Emily Copeland
07/30/2012 06:21

Yeeeeehawwww!!!! Great moose and bison shots. Glad that naked pushups have yet to be documented. Pete Land and I went on our own canoe adventure this past week... We had one 1/4 mile portage. It was extremely rugged. Sending good vibes your way!!!

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Jane Cowan
08/01/2012 08:10

Good to see that you are still on the move. We just missed you at Fort Simpson but ran into Bing, the doctor, who was at your guest house and he told us that you had made it that far.

The baklava family with Nahanni Wilderness Adventures

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Andrea Graham
08/01/2012 13:37

Love reading your blog! What an experience! We were the 3 families you passed in the splits of the Nahanni River late in the evening.. you had just received a resupply drop by air, we were all enjoying the late sun with some drinks, and you all seemed ecstatic to be on your journey! At day 73 no less! Great to read about trip now on your site. All the best, you are truly living life to the fullest through a beautiful part of Canada.

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08/05/2012 21:08

Glad to see the update and the stunning images. My hat is off to you gentlemen. Safe travels.

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Caitlin Taylor (Pete's Bonus Mom )
08/11/2012 07:37

Expressions right out of Strunk & White's advocacy for clear, simple prose: "...the sun was blazing..." "It was a wonderful day." "...the sun was cresting..." "...warm light pouring over four faces..." My own heart overflows with the articulate sharing of an adventure few will ever accomplish. Your words -- even more than the spectacular photography -- arouse the spirit and make us all know that great and grand and extraordinary things are possible. And plot them for ourselves, if in a briefer fashion. Sounds like a shorter, more devoted trip to the Nahanni and the missed side-trips might need to fuel a future adventure---one a wimp bonus-mama might strengthen herself for! I harbor a hope and a notion that part of your marvelous future will include helping some us less hale enthusiasts to experience a little piece of such amazements. At the very least, in the films and books and articles and lectures/presentations you have wrought, and will yet produce. You are, afterall, the son of Lecture-Man! Keep the prose coming! Love, yo mama

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Wallace King Jr
08/12/2012 19:13

When we met at the Moose Ponds little did I realize how famous you folks were becoming, nor how hard your trip to get you there had been! Glad we gave you those "Oh Henry Bars". I hope the rest of your trip goes well, Great Slave Lake is immense to say the least, just like the ocean. Paddle with care! All the best!
Take Care
Wallace, Carl & Don

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Marcia Goss
08/17/2012 08:27

What a journey you have undertaken so far. Matt, I look forward to talking with your dad at work about it as well.
The pictures are fabulous.
Good luck with the remaining excursion ahead of you!
Marcia

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07/19/2013 01:46

Those pictures were stunning. They have captured the beauty of nature quite effectively. I wish you a safe and adventurous trek at the same time. I wish I was there in one of those boats with you. I will go wherever the boat takes me.

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