Sunrise on the Coppermine River

This account is unusual because of the catamaran setup that was used to run this challenging river at high water level.

Hi Alv,
The Coppermine can be an intimidating River; it’s big, it’s dangerous, and people have died trying to run some of the canyon rapids like Rocky Defile. I have more and more clients wanting to run the classic Canadian northern rivers that run into Hudson Bay or the arctic, and oftentimes they do not have the stamina, or the experience to be able to handle heavier Class III and IV rapids. Dumping on a long rapid where the water temperature is barely above freezing, can be fatal.
Three years ago, I took my kids (two and four) on a 2-week, 300 mile journey down the Albany River. This was my introduction to PakCanoes and they worked out better than expected, handled well, tracked nicely and kept our overall travel costs down by over a thousand dollars (air freight costs).
I realized that PakCanoes were capable of handling water much grander than the Albany and acquired two boats in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, for a trip down the Coppermine. Four of us flew in 200 miles north to Rocknest Lake to begin our 300 mile descent down the Coppermine. The Coppermine is rich in Native and early white history; it’s also land of the muskox, caribou, grizzly bear, moose and arctic wolf – which we saw on a daily basis. The river drops over a meter per mile – the last 200 miles is almost all class III and IV rapids, many running through treacherous sandstone canyons (Rocky Defile, Escape Rapids, Sandstone Rapids, etc.).  Portages around are difficult, steep and long.
At the trailhead I cut three stout black-spruce poles and tied them across the thwart bars and center yoke of the two PakCanoes, leaving an 18″ space between. All joints within the boats were double-secured using plastic ties. Spray skirts were then fastened over our “catamaran” raft. We lined only one rapid near the beginning (which we could have run but started the trip with caution) and ran everything until Bloody Falls near the arctic ocean.
The boats handled incredibly well through the high water rapids in the canyons. I had rafted canoes before using rigid Royalex boats but they tended to plunge deeper into the haystacks making it more difficult to keep water from getting in through the skirts. The PakCanoes rode the waves high and conformed to each shape of the wave – even the difficult diagonal breakers. We effected constant cross-river ferries, turns and eddy-outs this way with little effort – the boats responded nicely to our constant demands.
Other parties descending the river at the same time were having a difficult time with the high water, dumping often and were quite impressed with our tidy set-up. Even after one of our boats accidentally filled with water on one of the bigger class IV rapids (requiring the bowman to get on to the other attached canoe), the PakCanoe had plenty of flotation to keep it high in the water and easily paddled to shore to bail. The PakCanoes were perfect for this type of trip – no dumps or long, dangerous swims in cold water, and my clients were more than happy.
The boats went together easily, quickly, and stayed together for the trip…and we put them through the ultimate litmus-test! And they cost us next to nothing to ship back in their duffel-bags.
Hap Wilson
Sunrise Adventures

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