Shipp & Mo's Thelon River Expedition

by Mo
If you only read one page, read this one.
Shipp watches a Grizzly downstream.
I've noticed that not everyone reads to the end of these trip reports.  It's OK.  Things load slowly, some things are obvious, life is short, everyone's busy.

So if you're interested in the basic idea of our trip--canoeing the section of the Thelon River in the Northwest Territories, Canada that is completely free of major rapids and portages--but don't need a detailed description, this page is for you.  It also has our individual insights. We made a list of things we didn't find in the books and internet accounts.

But don't let me discourage you from reading everything.  If you read the daily accounts, you'll find out about our very close (almost too close!) encounter with a Grizzly, our many sightings of wolves, whether Muskox are curious about us, and a tense drama between one caribou and two wolves.  You'll also read about wind bound days, strong persistent headwinds, unbelievable hoards of mosquitoes and thousands of geese that couldn't fly.  Many of these events have been photographed as well.  Finally, there is "Little Buddy," an artic ground squirrel who almost ran up my leg.  He is very photogenic.

Mo & Shipp on the cold last day.  They hold a "CanoeCountry.Com" bumper sticker.  That's where they connected.
Who Are Shipp & Mo?

   Before spending 15 days together in the remote Northern Canadian wilderness, Shipp & Mo had only exchanged emails.  They had not even talked on the telephone.  They "met" on the bulletin board.  They both wanted to canoe the Thelon River, did not have a suitable companion and, after some persuasion from their wives, did not want to paddle it alone.
   They met in the Minneapolis airport on their way north and  had a great time.
   Mo lives in the small town in central  Indiana where he grew up and Shipp also lives in his small hometown in middle Tennessee.
Our Route
We landed at Radford Lake, followed the Radford River to the Hanbury River, which flows into the Thelon.  We were picked up about 200 miles and fourteen days later near Hoare Point (where the Thelon enters Beverly Lake).

by Shipp
Sunset at Radford Lake--11:00 P.M.  To make the 3 hour return flight to Ft. Smith the pilot has brought several jerrycans of fuel.  He is refueling here.
Essential Gear
Beyond the obvious (tent, sleeping bag, etc.) we consider these to be essential:
     1.Hip Waders.  When you have to line the canoe or tow it or get off the floatplane, they are the only footwear that is high enough.  Tingleys over sneakers have their place too.
    2.Cooking Tent/Tundra Tarp.  You need a free standing shelter (there aren't many trees) with mosquito netting for cooking and hanging out.  We used a Kelty Sun Shelter with added netting.  When mosquitoes sense that they are trapped, most of them spend their time trying to get out instead of trying to suck your blood.  The fumes from the stove reinforce this idea!
    3.Head Net or (better) a bug shirt.  We talked to a guy who put out a mosquito trap over night, weighed the result and calculated that in seven hours he had killed 140,000 mosquitoes.  It made no difference.
    4.Clothing for a range of weather: sun (20 hours), wind, rain, hot, cold.
    5.        Maps: we prefer the 1:50,000 scale.  These cover the area: 75 P/10, 75 P/9, 75 P/16, 65 M/13, 66 D/4, 66 D/5, 66 D/7, 66 D/2, 66 D/1, 66 C/5, 66 C/12, 66 C/11, 66 C/10.  These are available from Canadian Canoe Routes.

by Shipp
The three graves at Hornby Point.  Edgar Christian,16, John Hornby, 47, and Harold Adlard, 27 all starved to death during the winter of 1927 in a cabin they built on the bank of the Thelon.

·On Radford River approximately 1.5 km from the confluence with the Hanbury are Class III rapids that are not on the map.  They should at a minimum be scouted and, for the most part, lined.  They come quickly.  Be ready to pull over as soon as you begin to enter a rocky canyon.

·The rapids marked on the map upstream of the Thelon Bluffs are minor.  In low water they might be a "rock garden."  The major rapids are where the river turns south at the base of the bluffs. These are not on the map. You must cross the main current and stay river right to avoid being swept into the cliffs.

·When shopping for an air charter, be leery of getting picked up just downstream of the Ursus Islands.  Canoes up on the tundra held down with rocks mark the spot.  Downstream of this point we saw several wolves, caribou and muskox and some of the most beautiful scenery.  We used Big River Air out of Ft. Smith and were happy with their work.

by Shipp
Part of a herd of 40+ Muskoxen.
Odds and Ends

Consider renting a satellite phone.  On the flight back to Ft. Smith our pilot said that he had just picked up a couple who had been attacked by a bear in their tent and needed medical attention.  They called him and he picked them up immediately.  I rented one from; but can't recommend them.  At the time of this writing I have been waiting for 3 months for a refund from my initial deposit.

In trying to find the Warden's Grove cabins David Pelly's book Thelon-A River Sanctuary has a good picture that will help orient you.  His book is the best on the Thelon.  If you buy only one book, buy his.  I found it faster to call the publisher direct, Betelgeuse Books 888 252-6292.

      Airline luggage limitations are a bottleneck.  The rule (subject to change) is 2 pieces plus a carryon.  Each piece cannot weigh more than 70 #.  Mo was charged $80 because he checked the tent serperately; he had 3 bags plus a carryon.  The solution is to fit everything into 2 very large duffles, each under 70 #.  The airlines care more about the number of bags than the total weight, illogical as that may seem.

That's it.  Enjoy your trip.  But why not read on?

by Mo
A very blond Grizzly  has just emerged from the river and looks at us as we float by.
Page 3
300 Miles into the Barrens and No Canoe
Page 4
Rapids?  There are No Rapids on the Map!
Page 7
Muskox, Hornby's Cabin & White Wolves
Webb's Web Page
Page 6
Waterfall Glade, Cosmos Lake, The Gap, Grassy Island
Page 8
Onward to Meadow Camp
Page 10
Little Buddy Camp & Big Buddy's Tracks

Page 11
Lookout Point
Page 12
Thunderstorm and Tern Attack
Page 13
"If I Were a Grizzly"
Page 14
Windbound with 72 Geese.
Page 15
Lost! Find a Crushed Canoe
Page 16
Best Day Ever!
Page 17
Pick-Up Day
Page 18
Final Thoughts
Page 5
Historic Warden's Grove Cabins& More
Page 9
Windbound at Meadow Camp
Page 19
Page 2
From World Class Malls to the Ha Ha Cafe