Canyons of the Nahanni: First Canyon

Nahanni sky

Nahanni sky

Headless corpses? A man by his fire, match in hand, frozen solid? A woman who wanders off cliffs and over rivers before her track disappears? A mysterious tribe called the Naha who wear armour, swoop down from the mountains, and behead their victims?  Ah yes. Nahanni is a dangerous river, and on some days it seems to live up to its legends.

Behind the walls of the cliff pictured below lies a complex cave system known as the Grotte Valerie. Early visitors found a frozen waterfall with a large chamber at the bottom which they christened “Gallery of Dead Sheep” because of the hundreds of skeletons within. Over the centuries, sheep wandered into the cave, slid down the waterfall and were unable to get out. The Grotte is now closed to visitors to protect its delicate formations.


Grotte Valerie. Main entrance is behind trees at extreme upper left.

First Canyon is a rugged landscape.


Beach in First Canyon

One can only imagine how this canyon must have appeared to R.M.Patterson. A young Englishman with no experience in the north or with a canoe, and stoked by warnings that people went up the river but never came back, he found himself dwarfed by walls that rose 1000 metres above him. Today, we may laugh at his fears, but would any of us attempt his journey or survive it?


At play in inflatable kayak. We know where we are camping tonight and we have experienced guides in rafts behind us.

Gradually we leave the high walls and canyons behind.


End of the canyons.

Time for a frolic in Klaus Hot Springs.


Klaus Hot Springs

We carry on toward Nahanni Butte under a spectacular sky.


Storm over Nahanni Butte

Rain doesn’t bother us, but lightning forces us to put to shore several times and wait.


A scene that is more beautiful than it felt at the time.

We camped in the rain, woke to mist and a fair day. A motor boat came to take us to Nahanni Butte.


Last camp.

This was my second time down the Nahanni. It will not be my last; the river works it way into your soul and beckons you back.


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