Shipp & Mo's Thelon River Expedition

The Best Day!
These move up from the river but seem curious about us and look back.
We quickly saw two wolves.  A gray wolf appeared on the left bank, it ignored us while looking intently across the river.  We also had a quick glimpse of a white wolf.  We took a break and noticed a good deal of caribou hair in the river.  We probably had missed a mass crossing near here by a few days.  The hair had washed downstream from where the herd had crossed.  We speculated that the wolves were looking for stragglers.

Next we noticed several black shapes near the river ahead of us.  When they began to move up onto a high hill, we realized they were muskoxen.  It was a herd of about forty.  They initially moved away but then came back to the edge of the ridge to look at us.  Through our camera and binoculars we could see huge clouds of mosquitoes around each one. A huge bull ignored us and chowed down on willows part way up.  Most pictures of muskox emphasize the horns and the face; but from the side they have the shape of buffaloes.  That shape is an example of convergent evolution and must be the ideal shape for living on sub-zero treeless country.

The Best Day Ever

"The last day was the best day of canoeing I ever had," Mo said on the trip home.  Mo has done more canoeing than I have--30 days on the Noatak River in Alaska, several trip to the Boundary Waters, Quetico and Yellowstone National Park.  So this is saying something.  I agree with his judgment.  This day was wilderness canoeing at its absolute best.  We saw a wide variety of wildlife (safely), had beautiful weather, striking and ever changing scenery and a few challenging paddling situations.  Whatever I write about it will be inadequate and the pictures will give only a small part of the beauty, excitement and power of the experience.  It will live forever in our minds and has changed us in ways that we are now only beginning to fathom.
We now had one day to cover the twenty-four miles to the pickup point.  Even though we were very tired from yesterday and had gone to sleep late, we got up around six and were greeted by a completely blue sky with no wind.  We felt confident immediately and ate a quick breakfast of granola.  Our spirits lifted as we began to paddle--I was in the stern, did that mean wildlife?  The river narrowed, the gradient steepened and, consequently, the current began to increase.  We passed into an area with higher hills, something that we had not seen for several days.
We passed a gauging station--the first non-logcabin building that we had seen in two weeks.  I understand that it has a picnic table, but we didn't stop.  We saw two canoes from Canadian Ecoventures anchored by rocks up on the tundra.  This is apparently their pick-up point.  Based on what we saw downriver, I would recommend traveling farther. 
by Mo
We drift toward this bear in the river.  Here he decides we are too close and he gets onto shore.
A fully laden canoe with two paddlers is a new thing to this guy.
by Mo
I saw a dark object in the water at the head of some rapids downstream.  My binoculars revealed that it was a grizzly bear eating or playing.  It looked like a teddy bear playing in the water.  We paddled down and then drifted.  Unlike our first bear encounter, this bear saw us coming and slowly got out of the water and watched us from the bank.  We drifted by and Mo took a whole roll of film while I maneuvered the canoe.  Mo kept telling me to get closer; but I was cautious since I had been so close to the other bear.  I did paddle closer; but I was wary.  The bear watched us, shook off the water and eventually ran away onto the tundra.
We then easily ran these rapids that could have been a rock garden in low water.  These are marked on the 50K map; but the rapids around the bend at the Thelon Bluff were not.  (They are marked on the 250k map). They are bigger and Mo quickly realized that we had to cross the main current in order to avoid being swept into the base of the bluffs. We crossed the current and then drifted down the right hand bank looking for Peregrine Falcon nests in the bluffs.  We never saw one; but Mo could hear the screaming of a chick.  A group of about fifty geese panicked (as usual) at our approach and tried to climb the steep cliff on the right.  It was like a cartoon.  As they reached the steepest part of the cliff, they began to spin, their feet churning but with no forward motion, sending a shower of small rocks down on the geese below.  This made the footing even looser for these geese who also began to spin.  Some geese came to places that were too steep to climb and they  spun against bare rock.  Some did make it to the top but the majority were stuck on various places on the cliff.  It was very funny!

by Mo
This is about half of the herd we saw.
by Mo
This caribou crossed the river and avoided the waiting wolf.
by Shipp
Here's the waiting wolf.  This is a long range shot and blown up on the computer.
The land then flattened out.  We were now in the true tundra--no trees in sight.  We then saw a large gray wolf on the right bank.  It kept looking across the river where we suddenly saw three caribou running our way.  We got out of the canoe and tried to get pictures of both the caribou and wolf.  We lost track of two of the caribou; but one swam across the river downstream of the wolf.  The wolf was completely relaxed with us there.  It was like a dog I once owned who loved to watch things with his belly on the ground and his front legs crossed.  This wolf did the same thing.  We finally moved on and saw a white wolf briefly on the left bank.
And so we came to our pick-up point.  Fourteen days before we had told the pilot to meet us at the "V" in "River" on the Beverly Lake 50k map.  It turned out that there was a nice sandy beach right there on the left bank.  We set the shelter up on the beach and then found a flat place for the tent up on the tundra.
We ate lunch and then napped and talked in the tent.  The weather began to change; clouds moved in and an east wind began to blow.  We marveled at the passage of time; had it really been two weeks?  When we returned to the shelter for supper, we saw fresh caribou and wolf tracks.  While we were in the tent a caribou and wolf had walked (or run) right along the river's edge.  But our food was not disturbed.
It began to get cold and we returned to the tent and went to sleep hoping that the weather would not delay our pickup.  We were satisfied; Mother Thelon had given us so much to see.  Final count: 1 bear, 4 wolves, 40+ muskoxen, 3 caribou, and 50+geese.  We had covered the twenty-four miles in about 5.5 hours.  I had wanted to go to Hoare point (where the Thelon empties into Beverly Lake) to see the ancient tent rings and the lake; but it was too cold.
Camp coordinates: 14 V 041365, 715990.

Click here to read about our pickup by Big River Air.
First Thelon Page
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