2005 Anderson River expedition

On the 9th of July 2005 five adventurers set off in the Canadian wilderness. Two years of preparation was finally over, and the team was ready for the trip of a lifetime.

The expedition’s goal was to travel by canoe 500km down the Anderson River in the North West Territory. The river is relatively challenging, flowing down from Colville Lake (265m) to its mouth at Wood Bay in the Beaufort Sea, running through a wilderness that changes from easy forest to tundra. The team took tents, sleeping bags and fjellduks from Helsport.

 

Here’s a trip report from the expedition team: 

Saturday 9 July: Depart Kjevik 06.25

It’s an early start but we manage to get everything on the plane. When we land in Calgary we discover we’ve lost some baggage. Olav’s pack with all of his personal gear, together with the gas stove, the satellite phone and 20 portions of food are missing. We hope the lost gear turns up somehow.

Sunday 10 July we land in Normann Wells and are warmly welcomed by Carolyn Wright from North Wright Air, who’s our bush pilot. We’re given use of a hut at the air field as well as the company car to get around town – free of charge. What great service!

The next few days are spent hoarding provisions, ammunition and everything else we need. Olav tries hard to track down the missing baggage, but without any luck. In the end we have to admit defeat and replace the missing gear.

We manage to hire a satellite telephone, but the choice of gear in the shops is limited, so Olav has to make do with what he can find and whatever the rest of us can spare.

Tuesday 12 July we fly out of Normann Wells. We land in an unnamed lake 6.5km further south than our planned starting point. The river is too dark and murky for the pilot to land. We’re greeted by an impenetrable wall of willow branches and our companions for the rest of the trip – mosquitoes and blackflies. We pack the canoes and set off towards our first night’s camp. The next day it sounds like it’s raining, but it turns out to be millions of mosquitoes and blackflies on the canvas, who’ve smelled blood.

The weather is excellent for most of the trip. This may be an area with very variable weather, but in our first week we’re experiencing the best of the Arctic summer with sun and warm temperatures.

The river is calm on this first stage and it means we can take a closer look at the wildlife. There are plenty of moose both on the banks and in the river itself, and after a while we see herds of musk ox, up to 25 individuals per herd.

We play close attention to advice about bears when we set up camp. The lavvo that we use when cooking is down by the river. Our sleeping tents are 100-200m away, downwind. We make sure we pee well away from camp, and change every single layer of clothing before we sleep to make sure nothing smells of food in the tent. We keep our food either in barrels or strung up in trees.

All our measures mean we neither see nor hear anything from our furry friend, which is pretty common.

After a week on the river we have the pleasure of seeing a wolf. For most of us this is the first time seeing this creature in the wild, and he’s an inquisitive guy. We spot him about 10m away and he strolls quietly from a distance, but keeps a close eye on us for 5 minutes before deciding we’re not edible.

Over the next few days we see both wolverine and raptors. There are lots of eagles and falcons of different species. It is an incredibly rich wildlife!

The fishing is a story in itself. In the first part of the river the ground vegetation is thick, and it’s difficult to fish. But eventually we find deep pools, seething with Artic greyling. In some places we have to “catch and release”, which is foreign to many of us, but we can’t eat everything we hook and have to let the undamaged fish go.

We catch the occasional pike as well, which become lovely dinners. To put it this way, fresh water fishing will never be the same again, ever!

The river begins to gradually change, and the rapids become more noticeable. We check our position on the map and GPS to avoid any surprises. Nonetheless, what apparently seems like a tranquil section can have drops, so surveying marked map areas is recommended. The safety equipment is in use: helmet and paddle vest is on, and throw lines are prepared before we set off. It’s fun, even though we know that tipping out can have fatal consequences if we’re unlucky.

When we reach Falcon Canyon there’s 8km of rapids paddling, great fun! We make camp half-way along, and the scenery is incredibly wild and beautiful. After this are a row of rapids, with Juniper Rapids and Limestone Steps perhaps the most well known.  Only 2 rapids need lines, so we don’t have to carry everything like the books indicated. No tipping out underway shows that we’re using our heads and putting safety first! This, together with a swift river, allows us to take a scheduled rest day.

It’s after Juniper Rapids that we spot the hut where the two young Norwegians Anders and Gjermund Røsholt stayed from April 2002-2003. It seems almost unbelievable that someone managed, not to mention wanted, to spend the winter in a hut without any creature comforts.  This deserves respect!

The days continue with paddling, setting up camp, fishing and hunting. The animal life is rich, and we see beavers, muskrats, and a diverse range of water birds. The weather varies somewhat, and we get grey days of rain and cool temperatures.

As we near the end of the trip we know we’ve got plenty of time. We’re making good progress on the river, covering our daily stretch of 30km in under 3 hours on a fast day. This, together with an accident-free trip, means we ring for pick-up a day earlier than planned.

We’ve stayed in contact with Glenn back in Norway whilst we’ve been on the river, and he’s been updating our website. He passes on messages of support, something we’ve appreciated as we’ve had to save the satellite telephone batteries.

Monday 1 August at 15.45 we reach the end goal. Behind us lie 500km of accident-free adventuring. Two days later the North Wright plane arrives and we fly out to the coast at Innuvik. It’s a bit sad to get the last glimpse of the river, and some of us are already planning the next trip.

Arriving at Innuvik means a long-awaited shower and the first beer in 3 weeks. Fantastic! We also find Olav’s missing pack – it’s been lying in wait at the airport.

Read more about the expedition, the team members, equipment and provisions at http://www.andersonriver.com/