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: 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.

The Magnificent Falls of the Nahanni

Virginia Falls, Nahanni River

Virginia Falls, Nahanni River, seen from the air.

 

Five weeks in northern Canada, more than 2000 photos. It’s hard to know where to begin, but I can’t go wrong with one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. If you are made of really stern stuff, you can put a canoe in the water at Nahanni Butte and paddle upriver for several gruelling days. Most people prefer to fly there, either for one day or as part of a multi-day trip on the river. Our group was planning to travel down the Nahanni in oared rafts.

If conditions are right, and your pilot is in a good mood, you may get to come in low, directly over the falls, on your way to a landing.

Flying over Mason Rock that splits the falls. The left side is more than twice the height of Niagara.

Flying over Mason’s Rock that splits the falls. The left side is more than twice the height of Niagara. Sluice Box Rapids in the background.

 

Bird's-eye view of crest of falls.

Bird’s-eye view of the crest of the falls.

The landing upstream is surprisingly peaceful.

Dock at Virginia Falls campground.

Dock at Virginia Falls campground.

We spent a day viewing the falls. Water rushing through Sluice Box Rapids toward the precipice creates a tumultuous ballet of billowing whitecaps and spiralling mist.

Sluice Box Rapids

Sluice Box Rapids

Swirling mist

Swirling mist

Spray reaches to the top of Mason Rock.

Spray reaches to the top of Mason’s Rock.

Chaos at the precipice.

Chaos at the precipice.

To complete the tour, a view of the falls from below.

Below the falls.