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PostPosted: October 12th, 2021, 4:35 pm 

Joined: October 11th, 2021, 8:30 am
Posts: 1
My wife and I have been dreaming of a Barrens trip for decades. We are seeking advice on the viability of doing a trip on our own (just the two of us).

We are considering a flatwater trip on a string of lakes inside of the Thaidene Nene National Park. A company called Jackpine offers a 12 day trip of small, lakes, and bills the trip as suitable for "novice" paddlers (no big water; nominal portages; no serious moving water).
My wife and I are accomplished flatwater trippers with 25 years experience on rugged trips up to 3 weeks duration. But it has ALL been in Canadian Shield country, and never more than a few days' hard work to at least some sort of access road. We are not concerned by the paddling, or the camping. It is the absolute remoteness of the Barrens, and worries about grizzly bears, that has us wondering if we can do this "on our own".

Main concern about not taking a professionally guided trip is the considerable expense. Black Feather charges about $11K per person before tax, and that does not include flight to Yellowknife, or any other "incidentals".

Looking for veteran insights, wisdom and advice.

Jeff Wright

PostPosted: October 13th, 2021, 10:15 am 
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Joined: July 21st, 2004, 7:58 pm
Posts: 550
My few encounters with grizzlies have been they were more afraid of us than we of them. They took off as soon as they noticed us. You can always carry a gun, but there is a debate about whether outcomes are actually better using bear spray. I don't think bear risk is terribly high if you take the usual precautions of keeping food away from your tent, carrying bear deterrents, and announce yourself when walking through bush.

As to remoteness, if you carry a locator beacon and a sat phone you will get help just a quick as if you were with an outfitter. Could be a couple of days or more on any remote trip, barrens or Shield.

I would say that a one boat trip is a bigger risk factor than either bears or remoteness. I just finished a WRT recert and heard the saying "One boat is a fatality. two boats is an accident report, three boats is a rescue." I expect a lot of people on this forum won't agree -- but just sayin'.

PostPosted: October 13th, 2021, 12:16 pm 

Joined: September 29th, 2005, 5:57 pm
Posts: 643
I am in agreement with Peter K on the first two points, not the third. Given the type of trip you are considering - no continuous whitewater - and your experience, there is no reason a single boat trip need be considered dangerous, assuming you exercise the same good judgement you would in the south. The rules of physics don't change at the 60th parallel: wind and water behave the same way up north.

The Jackpine trip, from Sled Lake to a nameless lake below Eileen Lake on the Eileen River, is very easy and short. I have traveled this stretch. It would take an extremely relaxed pace to stretch this to 12 days. The Black Feather trip is not on their site this year: I think it went down the Thelon from Lynx Lake to near "Double Barrel" Lake. Also very easily paced for the time allowed. Depending on your taste for travel vs sitting or hiking, you might want to look at somewhat longer routes than these.

Logistics will be a key in planning. Do you intend to drive north, with your own canoe, or fly up and rent one? Do you have a folding canoe (Ally or Pak), or would you be amenable to renting one? A folding canoe could open up more flying options and offer significant savings on flight costs.

How many days would you like to spend on the water?

Do you want "all tundra" or would a mix of (mostly) tundra and some treeline be acceptable?

How wedded are you to the Thaidene area? It is really pretty - but its also very remote and the flying costs are high. It is possible to experience tundra, for example, north east of Yellowknife with flight distances in the 100 mile range, whereas Yellowknife to Sled Lake or Lynx are around 250 miles.

Ahmic Air's last online price quote for their Beaver from Yellowknife to Lynx Lake was roughly $4800. For half that, you could reach the Barrens at Jolly Lake, or Lac du Rocher, northeast of Yellowknife.

To sum up, I think that you can (and should - the Barrens is an amazing place) do a self organized trip.

Once you figure out how long you want to go for, whether you will drive or fly north, and what areas you would consider, post again with further questions on routes and logistics - this site is a good source for practical advice.


PostPosted: October 13th, 2021, 12:39 pm 

Joined: February 18th, 2005, 12:41 pm
Posts: 430
Location: Denver, CO
Got curious and looked it up -- wow! that looks like a really neat place - I'm going to have to put that on my to do list some day. Just visiting Yellowknife is a worthwhile trip in itself - check out the free cultural museum for sure, and the diamond center is worth a short visit. the brewpub is a good place for beer and burgers.

I don't worry about bears much - I'm planning a trip down Noatak River in Alaska for next year - its an arctic river, no trees; looking at videos, one had lots of griz - their count was up to 10 bears, including some right close to camp. I don't worry about getting eaten by a bear, I worry about having a stroke and ending up in a nursing home. If you are going to be worried about bears all of the time, don't go - it will ruin your trip. this place does not look like a high concentration of grizzlies to me - call the park and talk to them and get their advice.

otherwise, go for it. always tie your boat - bring plenty of rope. smell proof your food by lining your bags or barrel with 2 or 3 layers of trash bags. I avoid cooking in bear country, I just boil water for freeze dried meals - cooking smells can draw a bear to your camp. IF you want to cook some fish, do it as a shore lunch away from your camp - try not to get fish smell on your clothes.

remoteness does not bother me, I seek it out - I try to be as careful and prudent as I can be, but accidents can happen so i'd suggest renting a sat phone - there are 2 places in Yellowknife that rent them (personally, I would not rent a phone for this trip - seems relatively easy ) And bring the paper maps and compass as well as GPS - backup if the gps fails.

a quick look on google makes it looks like you could access this area without flying in (park website says you can access by boat), paddle in from Slave lake?, so cost is fairly minimal if you are willing to do the work

I"ll likely be researching this myself - thanks for bringing this up - I've added it to my to do list.

PostPosted: October 13th, 2021, 4:03 pm 

Joined: January 11th, 2005, 4:58 pm
Posts: 2102
Location: Manitoba
Viability is high. Many Far North canoe trippers seek the remoteness of the Barrens. Your past experience sounds like you will be fine especially if you are up to learning a few new things. Every year there are solo canoeists and single tandem canoe trips in the barrens.
We all know that the chances of grizzly bear problems are very uncommon. Bring bear spray. Maybe an air horn. Maybe even a motion sensor alarm. Otherwise, same as shield tripping--clean camp, etc.
So what is new or different from your Canadian Shield Country canoe trips?
More logistics and communications over greater distances or more remote planning.
Distance the start of the trip and back home. Driving. Flying. Both. En route accommodations. Delays. etc.
Maybe more forms of transportation and or shipping including dangerous good or restrictions.
JMC mentioned a Pakcanoe or Ally folding canoes. Not required but it can open up more air charter options. Bringing a canoe or renting. Hard shell or folding.
Out of area maps and fishing license.
Two-way communication device.
No established campsites. Maybe little privacy for bathing or bathroom.
Wind exposure. A wind solid tent.
Weather bound days. You may be more tent or shelter bound. If you don't move camp check and re-stake your tent as pegs can loosen. Rocking down pegs. Multiple guy-lines. Bring a good book.
Secure your canoe. Tie it down. Leave heavy gear in it. etc.
Portaging. Maybe no established trail. Open and wind exposure. If it's too windy, drag the canoe.
Cooking by fire or stove?
Bugs. Cooking tent?
WInd, cooking shelter? Maybe no trees for a tarp.
Maybe no trees for a clothesline.
Little shade.
Cold water.
Weather maybe more dynamic. Bigger systems. Greater temperature range and swings. Big skies to see clouds and weather.
Vast distances--a good camera zoom. Binoculars. Adjust to distance estimation.
Low lying land. Adjust to distance estimation.
Different flora and fauna. Bring reference book or smartphone app.
Good hiking opportunities. Day pack.
Overall, more costly.



PostPosted: November 2nd, 2021, 6:19 pm 

Joined: February 7th, 2006, 1:24 pm
Posts: 17
Location: Preeceville, Saskatchewan
My wife Kathleen and I consider our Barren Grounds trips to be our favourites of all. At the top of the list is our 37-day trip from the southeast corner of Lynx Lake, down the Thelon River, to Baker Lake at the head of Chesterfield Inlet. Just the two of us. Along the way, we saw three Grizzlies, none of which were aggressive. In our lives, we have seen approximately 40 Grizzlies and 200 Black Bears, on the ground, at fairly close range. None have attacked. On two occasions, Black Bears wandered into our camp. One was at a regularly-used camp by a mining company on Great Slave Lake. The other was near a fire suppression camp on the Snowdrift River. Setting off our bear banger sent both bears running.

Because of our age, we now take a sat phone. I have some friends who were on the Elk River, a tributary of the Thelon River, a few years ago. One of their members suffered a minor heart attack. A call from their sat phone brought quick assistance.

One final bit of encouragement. The Barren Grounds are open. You can generally see the bears from a long way away. They can’t sneak up on you in dense forest, and you are much less likely to surprise one unexpectedly.

If you’ve been wanting a Barren Grounds trip, then go while you still have the desire and physical health!

PostPosted: November 3rd, 2021, 11:39 am 
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Joined: July 9th, 2003, 11:48 am
Posts: 1692
Location: Back to Winnipeg
No comment (or experience) to add on the particular trip, risks etc., but...

What stands out to me from reading the above is the outstanding quality of experience that one can find on this forum!! From those I know who have commented on this topic, you are getting advice from the real-deal of people with big-time experience planning/doing northern trips! What a great resource.

Good luck, Pat.

p.s. Hello Michael & Kathleen, we shared some river/camping time during my early whitewater days on the lovely Nicola River with the Beaver Canoe Club! Good times. But I too left the Coast and returned to the prairies - love the access to shield trips & loon calls, but miss the gradient and the 12-month canoeing! Hope you're both well. Patrick Yarnell

Learning to paddle is like learning a language:
It's easy to learn the basics, but will you be understood in a strong wind?

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