View topic - From the Snowdrift to the Taltson - Part 1

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PostPosted: October 6th, 2014, 11:51 am 
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Joined: September 29th, 2005, 5:57 pm
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The following is a report on my solo trip in the NWT this past summer. I originally became interested in this particular area when looking at the NWT highway map, and noting two good sized lakes northeast of Nonacho Lake – Gagnon and Rutledge – about which I had seen no mention in any canoe route descriptions. I talked to my paddling friends in the NWT about the area, but couldn’t uncover any route information. Google was also stumped, finding only two small fishing cabins on Rutledge Lake and a former outpost cabin on Gagnon. The closest reference to canoeing I could find was in Charles Camsell’s 1914 report on the Tazin and Taltson Rivers. Although he did not follow the branch of the Taltson into which the Rutledge flows, he wrote:

“Deskenatlata Lake, however, is said to be a narrow lake about 20 miles long receiving the waters of a couple of streams which are used by the Indians as canoe routes to the east.”

The Rutledge River and Nelson Creek are the two main inflows to Deskenatlata.

Eventually, curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to go take a look for myself.

I planned a route that would begin in Siltaza Lake on the Snowdrift River, follow the Snowdrift downstream to Austin Lake, and then turn up an unnamed stream to reach Gagnon Lake. From Gagnon, I would go via pond-hopping and Lefleur Lake to the north end of Rutledge Lake. Then I would follow the Rutledge River downstream to where it flows into the Taltson River at the south end of Deskenatlata Lake. Access to Siltaza and egress from Deskenatlata were by air charter, using NWAL out of Ft. Smith and their external load certified Cessna 185.

Since the report is fairly photo heavy, I have broken it into two parts: a link to Part 2 is at the end of this post.

The route:

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Landing in Siltaza Lake

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Nice parkland camping at Siltaza

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Travel down the Snowdrift to Austin Lake was easy, with just one short stretch of lining required and a helpful current.

Snowdrift rapid

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entering Austin lake

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From Austin, I paddled up a swampy arm to where the drainage from Gagnon Lake flowed in, down a long bouldery rapid. I was lucky to find a good camp spot on a sandy ridge just below the rapids.

Campsite

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view of inflowing stream

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After an easy 30 km on day 1, things slowed down. On Day 2, I gained only 5 km while making two lengthy portages through old burn. Scouting and marking made for slow progress, and the hot weather (30+C) didn’t help. I also missed the best photo opportunity of the trip on the second portage, when I came across three large bull muskoxen with my camera at the other end of the portage.

falls on stream

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open rock camping

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smoky sunset

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On day 3, the rapids continued, it got hotter, and there was more windfall in the old burn. Progress dropped to 4 km, with one 100 metre “straight-line” portage taking up nearly 3 hours. I added up my fluid consumption today: 6.8 liters. I could have doubled it and still been thirsty.

rapids on stream

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falls on stream

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But then things got better: day 4 was cooler, and the country changed. I was still in old burn, but now flat, open bedrock let me portage with far fewer obstructions. I made good progress, reaching Gagnon Lake and paddling south on open water until a thunderstorm forced me into camp on a small islet.

open bedrock

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last rapid below Gagnon

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The next day I paddled the south arm of Gagnon and started pond-hopping towards Lefleur Lake. Travel went fairly well. The last portage into Lefleur would be the most defined “trail” of the entire trip. This game trail sported a couple of ancient blazes, and at its end I found an old wooden box, used in marten trapping. Lefleur itself was an attractive lake, with high rocky shores, offering almost 11 km of uninterrupted paddling.

open water -Gagnon Lake

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en route to Lefleur

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“best trail”

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box for trapping

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Lefleur lake

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The last few pond-hops from Lefleur to Rutledge Lake had their wet and brushy moments. It was a good feeling to reach Rutledge and the 40 km of uninterrupted paddling it promised. Despite its size, Rutledge is so full of islands that it rarely feels like a big lake as you paddle it. I made good time down the lake to the river outlet.

inauspicious portage start

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first view of Rutledge

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camp on Rutledge Lake

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Rutledge Lake

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One of my concerns when planning the route was sufficient water for paddling in the upper Rutledge. This year at least, it was no problem. I was able to run the outlet rapid, although I had to wade and drag a bit to avoid a sweeper. I spent a bit of time at this first rapid looking to see if I could find any signs of previous portaging: I couldn’t. The forest was green here, but very young. Most of the trees were 1 – 2 inches in diameter, and about 6 – 12 inches apart. This situation would continue most of the way down the river: if you couldn’t find an open bedrock route to portage a rapid, the saw and machete were needed to get the canoe through.

When looking for a campsite that night, I was puzzled at first by finding a giant mound of sticks, with others hanging from branches above it. Then I realized – it was an eagle's nest that hadn’t been built to code: the remnants were in the tree above.

outlet rapid

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stick mound

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The upper Rutledge turned out to be a series of ledge drops – I thought “Rutledges” might have been a better name – separated by short pools, and the occasional longer stretch of calm river. It was really an attractive area. Here’s a look at the ledges of the upper Rutledge:

“Rut-ledges”

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a welcome respite

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A larger falls


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Another ledge

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After this series of short ledge drops, the river flattened out for a while, flowing through small expansions towards what the map indicated would be an “interesting” section, where the contour lines closed in and the river dropped over 20 meters in half a mile.

Part 2 is now posted:

http://www.myccr.com/phpbbforum/viewtop ... 24&t=43343

-jmc


Last edited by jmc on October 22nd, 2014, 1:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: October 6th, 2014, 12:47 pm 
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Joined: December 20th, 2003, 9:27 am
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Thanks, John,
Beautiful country although the forest near the beginning look like you had some ugly portaging. The Rutledge(s) is a very pretty river.
Can't wait for Part 2


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PostPosted: October 6th, 2014, 1:10 pm 
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Joined: January 11th, 2005, 4:58 pm
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Location: Manitoba
Thanks for investigating more of your favourite canoe tripping area.

Looks like you had some good weather, good camping, and a variety of travel pace. Can't keep up much of a pace or trip if the 100 m portages always take 3 hours!

Looking forward to the second half of the report.

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PostPosted: October 7th, 2014, 9:42 pm 
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Joined: August 19th, 2001, 7:00 pm
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada
Beautiful Part 1 JMC! Love that NWAL 185! I hope to get back up there soon for another ride in it!

That open sandy taiga country is beautiful. I need to get back there soon.
I can imagine it must have been a smokey summer there! Did NWT set a new record for area burned?

When I traveled the Taltson back in 2003, I had some of the worst heat waves I have ever experienced. In addition to many days peaking at about 35C, one day it reached 45C, and I spent an entire day in the shade at 40C just sitting still, and going swimming every hour, and drinking water all day just to fend off the heat exhaustion. I did not know it could get that hot in Canada, let alone north of 60. Ironically that same summer I had a frost in July!

On to part 2.....

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