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Home  | Arctic River Trips | The Thelon River




The Beautiful Thelon River


    The Thelon River is one the great rivers of the North. Not only did the Inuit People live near and around it, but it provided the means and the route to the North for many of the Europeans that traveled and traded in that area. There are many historic places to visit; the Gap, Wardens Grove, Hornby Point and the Thelon Canyon to name a few. The upper river passes through a land filled with eskers and sand dunes. It is very beautiful country and quite different from the other places that we have paddled. About a week after we got on the river, we made the long portage along the Thelon Canyon.  The river then flows through a large oasis of trees which is a national park, starting near "Warden's Grove". Imagine paddling through classic northern tundra for a couple hundred miles and then entering a heavily forested, green area filled with all of the animals, plants and trees that were left behind in the south. That is the Thelon Game Sanctuary.  We then went through the "Gap", a small opening in the surrounding cliffs lining the river. Not far from the Gap, we passed by Hornby Point and his death cabin, the Thelon Bluffs and eventually we reached Beverly Lake. As we got closer to Beverly Lake, we found more and more evidence of the Inuit habitation. There are many old summer camps, tools and caches everywhere. The end of Beverly Lake had a large old Inuit camp situated not far from where the river came in. The west end of the big lake was loaded with drift wood. Dozens of whole trees where piled on the beach. This was a good trip. We had a lot of fun.

This is the big picture showing the general area where our trips took place.

The Horton was in the far west while all the rest of our trips were in the Barren Lands.


This is a better detail of the area that we traveled in. We started about a week above the junction of the Hanbury, the Clark and the Thelon. We did not travel very far from the junction of the three rivers before entering the Wildlife Sanctuary.


While we waited for Bob to pick us up at Kasba Lake, we watched a party of Norwegian men assemble their collapsible canoes. They were going to leave from Kasba Lake and paddle to Baker Lake. That's a pretty nice trip through the Kazan Drainage.


This is Bob's fishing camp on Mosquito Lake. We had our canoe there. Bob's pilot helped us load the canoe and we all waited for for a thunderstorm to blow over.


That's the dining hall and kitchen. Taking into account where the camp was, it was pretty nice.


 As we flew over the treeless tundra on our way to Jim Lake, we passed by a big esker, the remains of an old glacial river. If you look carefully at the small lake in front of the esker you can see the wind on the water, a very familiar site on these trips.

Here we are at Jim Lake, all our gear unloaded and the pilot anxious to leave. There were little thunderstorms popping up all around us.


We weren't on the water ten minutes before the next thunderstorm hit. We didn't even have our seats warmed up before we got drenched and blown off the river.


The upper river was a little thin and a little rocky. We had long stretches of shallow rocky rapids to negotiate.


There were long stretches of river that wound through the sandy eskers and dunes. We had never seen anything quite like this. In some places, it was desert like, treeless with rolling sand dunes and miles and miles of sandy beaches.


This part of the river was fairly low and flat with lots of sand; shoreline dunes and low hills. It was

very pretty.


As we got further down the river, the volume steadily increased as numerous small tributaries dumped

 their loads in the main channel. The fishing was consistently good from the beginning of the river

 to the end.  


Campsites where easy to find on the upper river. We paddled until we couldn't go another stroke

and would just pull over. There was always a good flat, soft place to stop and the views were terrific.

When there aren't any trees, you can see forever.


Paul bought a satellite phone and tried it out as he paced up and down the shore. It worked great.

It was like talking to someone across the street. Our women were very appreciative.


We would occasionally find a few trees here and there. Most of them were either dead or had been

cut off for camp projects in the past.


We had our usual number of wind bound days. It doesn't look like much in the picture but those

big lakes were scary to be on when it was blowing.


In this big, open flat country you could see forever. If we went up  a little hill, we could see where

we had been two days ago. Without buildings or trees, it was hard to judge distances. Sometimes

things looked close but were miles away and sometimes things were close and looked like they were

at the edge of the earth.


This was it, the big test, the Thelon Canyon. To get to the junction of the Clark and the end of the

portage, we had a two day, five mile hike with all our gear.


Here's Paul trying to figure out if we can scramble down the cliff and go fishing. We didn't fish in

the Canyon but we did fish when we got to the end and back on the water. It's fun to fish in places

that are never fished. We could have caught fish without lures in these rivers. It was pretty neat.


We were on the march, maybe a little more than halfway to the junction of the

Hanbury and the Clark. That was our target for day two on the portage.


I took a lot of pictures of the Canyon. It was hard not to look at it. It was one series of rapids and

falls after another for five miles.


Another view of the big Canyon. I would think that it would be quite challenging in a canoe. The

white water kayakers would have fun here.


This was the newest cabin at Warden's Grove. It was built by the trapper Fred Riddle in 1961.


A bench in the original cabin was furnished with the following inscription carved on the seat.

"This tree of Warden's Grove

208 yrs old when died 1940

Was a Sapling when

Hearne set out for the Barrens 1770"


Here's a view of Warden's Grove looking back upriver. If you look carefully, you can see

Paul walking towards the shore.


We caught Northern Pike all the way to Beverly Lake. That's the farthest north we had seen Norhterns

and it was only in the Thelon that we found them so far north.


The sandy shoreline continued past Warden's Grove. We could see big eskers on both sides of the river,

the obvious source of the sand.


The closer we got to Beverly Lake, the more caribou we saw. They ignored us for the most part,

sometimes walking right through our camps. Once in a while one of them would get spooked and

start to run, and the rest of these little herds would follow.


More sandy shoreline on the beautiful Thelon River.


Once past Warden's Grove, we got into the Game Sanctuary, we left the tundra and paddled through

the Boreal Forest. All the animals that we had left far behind reappeared. We saw a lot of  moose

foraging in and along the river.


This was a very unusual camping place. It was a shelf of  old river bed that had been turned into

stone. You could see the ripples and undulations of many layers of river bed in the rock. We didn't

often camp on rocks, but we never avoided it. It was clean and pleasant and the fishing was very

good right next to camp. I caught a number of nice grayling that we had for dinner.


Here's a nice view of layer after layer of petrified river bottom.


Another view of our camp on the petrified river bottom. It's rather nice sleeping on the stone. It's

cool and flat and very clean.


We often had little thunderstorms blow through. We could see them for miles. Sometimes we got

wet and sometimes we just had a light show.


It was molting season for the geese. They couldn't fly and would run  over the top of the water

and try to hide on shore.


More sand bars and some stunted fir trees on the far shore.


We caught fish almost any where we fished. Here's Paul with his ever present head net. It was often very buggy.


Another little grayling. They were good to eat but not very fatty. We liked the lake trout because

they were richer and more satisfying, more fat.


Here we are out of the trees and the game preserve back on classic tundra.


We paddled to a narrow place between the river and Beverly Lake and portaged over. There were

huge amounts of wood blown up and/or pushed up by the ice on the West end of Beverly Lake.


This is the view from an old Inuit camp looking east at Beverly Lake. There were a number of

camps near the end of the river and on the east end of the lake.


This was a rather large camp and had a dozen or so tent rings. The wing of an insect is visible in the upper

right of the frame. Bugs rule the North.


There were numerous tent pegs, tools and food caches in and around the camp.


The plane, the plane. After nearly four weeks on the river, our ride showed up. The weather was

 cold and low. Our ride had flown up from Dubawnt Lake, never getting over 500 AGL.


Our ride circled and landed about a half mile off shore. It was very shallow where we were and he

didn't want to stick the airplane on a sand bar. We packed up and loaded the canoe as he kept the

engine running to maintain position. The wind was howling from the east and getting to the plane

may have been the hardest paddle of thetrip. We finally got to the plane and tied the canoe to the

right pontoon. I sat on the pontoon and held the canoe off as we idled to shore farther down the lake

where we broke down our gear and loaded the plane.


Once off the lake, we flew south at four or five hundred feet to stay out of the clouds.


As foggy as it was, we were flying low enough to make out all details on the ground.


Looking over the pilot's shoulder, you can see the our destination, the fish camp on the north end of Dubawnt Lake.


The fish camp would be our home for the next three days as the weather was too bad to fly in.

 No one came in and no one went out.


What do you do if you're stuck at a fish camp? You fish, and fish and then fish a little more. It was

so windy and cold that we couldn't get out on the lake too much. Once in a while, the wind would

 go down a bit and we would take one of the boats out in the bay in front of the camp. You didn't

have to go far to catch fish. That's Paul with all of his clothes on showing off a small lake trout.


Here's Paul with  a little bigger lake trout. There are some very big trout in Dubawnt but we didn't

get any.


We eventually got to Kasba Lake and our Convair ride back to Winnipeg and home. That was a pretty sweet trip.





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  2009 Jim Rutzick