Thelon River Trip
By Mary Bayes, President, Western Canoeing & Kayaking
I had no idea how long the Thelon River was until my brother-in-law spread his maps out on the living room floor. It is one of the longest rivers in Canada in the Northwest Territories with major tributaries, one of which we were about to explore. We began planning for what was to become a great adventure on Canada’s vast tundra.
In late June, we found ourselves (8 in our group) in the town of Fort Smith, tossing our gear into a Beaver and an Otter on floats. I love flying in small planes, so this five hour flight over what seemed to be a mosaic filled with lakes, rivers and sandy eskers, to be a fascinating start to the trip. We unloaded our canoes from the struts of the planes and before we knew it, we were alone on the tundra. We had nested a Tripper inside of a Sea Clipper which allowed us to carry three canoes on one plane. We quickly put the seats and thwarts and footbrace in the Sea Clipper, and no sooner were we done, than the wind caught the canoe and sent it sliding down the beach, where my sister-in-law was the first obstacle it encountered. She had a considerable bruise. (Darn those lightweight Clippers.) As we sat on the shore that night about dusk eating dinner, there was a huge splash just off shore. It was such a big splash that I looked around to see who was playing the joke. My husband, whose fishing rod is never far from reach, grabbed his pole and made a cast in the direction of the splash. On his first cast, he reeled in the biggest fish I think he has ever caught, aside from Salmon. We knew this had to be a good omen for our trip, and it was. My sister in law gave my husband a most astonished look when he gently put the fish back down in the water and turned it loose. “I would have cooked that for breakfast.” She was assured by my husband that some “fresh” fish would be at her tent door in the morning, and they were – ones a little more accommodating to the size of the frying pan.
We spent the next thirteen days floating and bouncing down gentle rapids. We saw muskox, caribou, white wolves, and a selection of northern birds. After about eight days, our tributary joined with the Thelon and we visited historic sites along the way, like the cabin and grave site of John Hornby, the early explorer, who ultimately starved to death with his two friends. It was a good reminder that we were seeing this area at its best, and that it can be a very harsh and unforgiving land during the winter months. As planned, our float planes met us at a predetermined wide spot on the river and took us back to civilization.