Nahanni Odds and Ends

Makenzie Orchid

Mackenzie Orchid

Most of the flowers I saw were old friends from the Rockies: death camas, potentilla, lousewort, asters, bog rosemary, and reindeer lichen. Lady slippers occur there as well, but the beautiful Mackenzie orchid (a version of Cypripedum guttatum) thrives only in the mist of Virginia Falls. At least I recognized it sufficiently to call it a lady slipper.

The following pretty bloom was a real puzzler.

Boschnialia rossica

Boschniakia rossica

I spent a long time searching the internet in vain for this one. Fortunately, one of our guides was a trained botanist and came to my rescue a few days ago. Its common name is northern groundcone, and it’s a parasite.

The final plant oddity isn’t really unusual; I just had not encountered it before. Plus, it wasn’t fully in bloom. This time, Ben Gadd’s  wonderful Handbook of the Canadian Rockies provided the answer, as it usually does for anything in the Boreal forest.

Striped Coral Root Corallorhiza striata

Striped Coral Root.  Corallorhiza striata

It’s another orchid. No leaves. It feeds on dead plant matter with a little help from fungal friends.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but it was there.

Caribou tracks on a beach

Caribou tracks on a beach

A couple more sky pictures. The clouds were endlessly fascinating.

A sunny day with promise of showers later

A sunny day with promise of showers later

 

Cloud mountains

Cloud mountains

And finally, here is what the Nahanni would look like today if the mountains had not risen up around it. It still has its curves and oxbows, but they are far less obvious as they flow through deep canyons.

Flat-land river

Flat-land river

That’s all from the Nahanni. The next posts will deal with the rest of my summer holiday: Yellowknife and the Firth River.

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.

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

First Canyon is a rugged landscape.

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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?

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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.

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End of the canyons.

Time for a frolic in Klaus Hot Springs.

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Klaus Hot Springs

We carry on toward Nahanni Butte under a spectacular sky.

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Storm over Nahanni Butte

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

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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.

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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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CANYONS OF THE NAHANNI: SECOND CANYON

Morning at The Gate

Morning at The Gate

We prepare to enter Second Canyon under a clear sky. A group of canoeists had shared our site. They had a blue raft to carry baggage.

Second Canyon is sheer rock cliffs that dwarf our rafts, but there are gentler areas as well.

Cliffs of Second Canyon

Cliffs of Second Canyon

 

Time to lean back and let the beauty take over.

Time to lean back and let the beauty take over.

We stop for lunch at Painted Rocks Canyon. Time for a short hike. Or not.

There are many ways to enjoy the river.

There are many ways to enjoy the river.

On past Headless Creek (ah, those wonderful Nahanni legends), Meilleur River, and Sheaf Creek, where R.M.Patterson built his cabin and spent the winter of 1929. If you haven’t read his book The Dangerous River, you’ve missed the best of Canadian nature writing.

We camped at Prairie Creek, a broad delta, flat and open, with nice tent sites. Next morning, I rose early, put the camera to work, and then sat down to describe the scene.

Early morning at Prairie Creek

Early morning at Prairie Creek

Across the river, a dense lodgepole pine forest rises to rounded hills and behind them, the reddish brown mass of Tlogotcho Plateau. The wind and the river are quiet, the only sounds the chirping of birds, the soft talk of the guides preparing breakfast, and the ever-present whine of mosquitoes.

Prairie Creek camp

Prairie Creek camp

Shrubs, reeds or grass, shallow pools of still water, hard-packed damp sand, and beyond, a range of mountains.. Wispy clouds seem to promise a fair day, but on this river, sun and storm play hide and seek.

Sheltered tent site

Sheltered tent site

To my right, a tent nestles among spindly poplars. It’s a perfect day for a nature hike, and we go in search of a wolf den. No luck with the wolves, but we see our first dall sheep. They’re too far away to photograph clearly, even with my 800mm digital lens. Predictably, storm clouds chase us back to camp.

The night was too warm for a good sleep, so I listened to the sprinkle of rain on the tent, one the most soothing sounds of camping. Mosquitoes bad in the morning. We load up and splash through George’s Riffle and into First Canyon.

George's Riffle.

George’s Riffle.

George Sibbeston was a trapper who capsized here. Our rafts scoffed at the tiny waves.

Bad weather came in quickly. What did First Canyon have in store for us?

Storm clouds

Storm clouds

 

Next post: First Canyon and the end of our journey.

 

Canyons of the Nahanni: Third Canyon Part 2

The Gate

The Pulpit

One of the outstanding features of the Nahanni is The Gate, where the river makes a sharp bend through a narrow gap. A rock tower called The Pulpit stands guard at the entrance, remnant of an ancient structure that yielded to the unstoppable force of flowing water. The magnificent ridges on  both sides of the river were once joined, and the river had a different  course. As the river carved out its new direction, there must have been a natural bridge between the two ridges, but it has long since collapsed.

East ridge of Gate

West ridge at the Gate

 

East ridge of Gate.

East ridge at the Gate. Top of Pulpit visible lower right corner. Originally the river flowed left around this ridge.

 

It’s well worth having a layover a day at this camp in order to climb the east ridge. The hike is demanding in places and the route is sometimes confusing, but the view from the top is ample reward for your efforts.

Be prepared to use your hands.

Be prepared to use your hands. You can see our camp below.

 

Telephoto shop of our hikers.

Telephoto shot of our hikers.

 

Nearing the top.

Nearing the top.

 

Ah, the view!

Ah, the view!

 

And who can resist a hero shot?

And who can resist a hero shot?

I have a confession to make. One of my cameras made the trip to the top but I didn’t. It’s just not a trail for old joints. So I stayed in camp and used my Lumix FZ200 to capture the hikers on the ledge near the top, as well as photograph the local wildlife.

White Admiral butterfly

White Admiral butterfly

Next post: on to Second Canyon

 

Canyons of the Nahanni: Third Canyon

The canyons are separated by stretches where the mountains pull back from the river. They still block our view, but the valley is wider. Already we can see that the rock is softer and more prone to erosion.

Between Fourth and Third Canyons

Between Fourth and Third Canyons

 

The Nahanni is wide here and the sky big.

The Nahanni is wide here and the sky big.

When we do come close to the rock, we see that it is quite different from Fourth Canyon.

How was this created?

How was this created?

 

A cliff trying to fall down.

A cliff trying to fall down.

 

The walls close in again.

The walls close in again.

 

Third Canyon

Third Canyon

 

The Gate

The Gate and the Pulpit

The Gate was our destination for the night. Our arrival was preceded by a thunderstorm that echoed and reverberated through the canyon, and accompanied by a downpour. When the rain showed no sign of stopping, our guides put up a tarp and we erected our tents underneath it before moving them to a site. Of course, as soon as all the tents were up, the rain ceased.

Canyons of the Nahanni: Fourth Canyon

Start of Fourth Canyon from below Virginia Falls

Start of Fourth Canyon from below Virginia Falls

Why is it called Fourth Canyon? Early travellers began their river journey at Nahanni Butte and came upstream, and so they numbered the canyons as they encountered them. Each canyon has distinctive features. Here we have relatively solid limestone and wonderful colours in the rock.

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Limestone walls tower above us.

 

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The colourful rocks led to the name Painted Canyon.

 

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Forest, mountains, and painted walls.

 

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Fourth Canyon

Unlike the Grand Canyon, which began as a high plateau and was cut by the Colorado River, the Nahanni was here long before the mountains rose up around it.

Our reward at the end of this beautiful day? Grey skies and a wet campsite.

Camp above Clearwater Creek

Camp above Clearwater Creek: wet sand, ants and rain.

But the journey has just begun, and we’re a hardy bunch. Next post: Third Canyon.