Travel with Rob Kesselring, email@example.com
The Wilderness Opportunity of a Lifetime
And you can be part of it
All of the world’s tallest mountains have been climbed, and the world’s greatest rivers have been paddled, but there is still a place to venture where few if any, have gone before. This summer, you can paddle up an unknown creek to a secret waterfall. More people have walked on the moon in the last 75 years than observed this waterfall from the ground. You can be among the first.
There will be two trips, two crews of eight, four canoes, this summer on this self-guided trip organized by the Nonacho Lake Fishing Adventures owner Myles Carter. Because of my knowledge of the area and the waterfall, Myles invited me to be a guest on both expeditions.
Day 1 The crew will fly from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to an officially unnamed small tributary of the Taltson River upstream of Nonacho Lake. The fly-in would be 200 miles in a float-equipped airplane. The base camp will be at the mouth of the creek nicknamed “Jackfish Creek.” I first “discovered” this creek in July of 1979. I had come from Nonacho Lake in my Zodiac boat with my niece Lori, looking for Grayling (a fish that was once believed to live in Nonacho Lake but has not been caught since the 1970s). The Zodiac had a 20-hp outboard motor, but I brought along a 1.2-hp Mighty Mite outboard, and we tried to navigate upstream but could not get past a set of rapids despite trying to portage the 100-pound Zodiac. We did discover old remains of a trapper’s cabin that contained, among other artifacts, a Hudson Bay Company copper pot circa the nineteenth century.
I mentioned the creek and some huge Jackfish I saw at the creek’s mouth to Nonacho Lake Camp guide, Leonard, who, in later years, made a couple of extended forays to the creek’s mouth and caught some Jackfish (Northern Pike) six feet long. But no Grayling.
About 25 years ago, my niece Karen and I camped at the creek on a long canoe trip over the arctic divide. We were overdue, and Merlyn Carter had flown over our route with his oldest son early that morning and found us on Gray Lake. He offered to fly us to his camp on Nonacho Lake. Despite being almost out of food, we declined. He returned with his plane that evening with caribou stew, bannock, and blueberry pie, and we had a feast at the mouth of Jackfish Creek. Merlyn remarked that when he was flying in, he noticed a waterfall several miles up the creek he had never seen before. In the morning, Karen and I decided to paddle upstream and see if we could find the waterfall. We were exhausted from 16 days of paddling on the wild and wooly Elk-Taltson crossing canoe trip, where we were charged by a predatory Barren Ground Grizzly on Rennie Lake. We gave up on the same portage, which had stymied Lori and me several years earlier. There were a lot of blowdowns, and I fell while carrying the canoe. Karen said the portage yoke almost popped off my head like a bottle cap. Hence that portage is now called Bottle-Cap Portage.
Merlyn died at his camp in 2005, killed by a bear on Nonacho Lake. In 2008 I took my daughter Lara to Jackfish Creek to find the waterfall and informally name it after Merlyn. We transported my Dagger Venture canoe in the camp guide boat and ventured up the creek, searching for the falls. We got past Bottle-Cap Portage with little effort and persevered over a few more portages. On one portage, I found a stone knife 5,000 years old. The waterfall is quite remarkable, and because of its location, likely unseen from the ground, at least since depression-era trappers might have had a line along that creek. No footprints or signs of human visitation for a long, long, time.
We fly from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, to an unnamed small tributary of the Taltson River upstream of Nonacho Lake. The fly-in is 200 miles in a float-equipped airplane. We will set up a base camp and acclimate to the latitude, the remoteness, and the wild freedom of the far north.
We paddle the creek upstream to the secret waterfall. At the falls, the group may decide to portage around the cascade and paddle even further upstream into the untracked wilderness – arguably into the wildest part of the world. Another journey of discovery. Below the falls is perfect Grayling habitat, another high point to catch the first Grayling in that watershed for 50 years. It will be a long day, but after returning to the base camp for the second night at the Jackfish Creek mouth, there will be a chance to catch some of those giant Northern Pike.
We paddle downstream on the Taltson River and find a suitable campsite. There are some narrows on the river where Lake Trout fishing during that season is the best in the world.
We camp at a beach that is a site of an aboriginal settlement in historical times and pre-historical times. I discovered some artifacts near the beach in 1977 and notified the Museum of Man in Ottawa. It was checked out and determined to be of archeological significance. Bryan Gordon, head of the Museum of Man, gave it a Borden Number, and I got to name it. Of course, being 25 years old, I named it “Kesselring Beach.” I also found a spearpoint on the beach in 2020. All artifacts need to be left where they are found. I also observed a large herd of Musk Oxen at this site in 2020. Kesselring Beach is a short distance from a defunct sport fishing camp built by Hockey star Jim Harrison and frequented by Bobby Orr in the 1970s.
Days 5 and 6
There is an extraordinary esker between Ethengunneth Island and Carter’s Island. Numerous beaches to explore and an area where I have seen several Musk Ox, Moose, Arctic Wolves, and for many winters, thousands of Caribou. Exploratory days for hiking, fishing, birding, and prospecting. The potential to walk on soil that has been untrodden for generations. You have not lived if you have never hiked an esker in the far north of Canada.
We paddle the remainder of the distance to Carter’s Island and camp on “Skinny Dip Beach” on the North shore…. A tour of the remains of my cabin about two miles away. Hot showers at the camp… visiting the Merlyn Carter Memorial on the hill, and a catered dinner with hand-cranked ice cream on the Aurora Borealis Viewing deck will close out the day.
Morning Flight by float plane to Yellowknife.
On day 1, when you arrive at the mouth of the creek, there will be four canoes, paddles, and PFDs, 4-person tents for each pair, and a propane camp stove, a Yeti cooler with ice, and camp chairs. Group gear will include a large screen house and one shotgun. Your provisions previously ordered by you from a Yellowknife bush outfitter will also be waiting for you.
You are responsible for a sleeping bag, pad, clothing, and personal gear. A suggested gear list will be provided.
This is not a particularly arduous trip. The distance is not great. But it is flat water, with little current to push you along. So there is some serious paddling, but likely less than five hours a day. There will be 24 hours a day of light, and the weather is usually quite warm, calm, and clear, but it can also be chilly.
It is an exploratory trip where few, if any, have gone before; trout fishing is arguably the best in the world. And there is almost a guarantee of seeing the relic from the era of megafauna, the Musk Oxen. (I saw four groups of the beasts in a week last August) AND CLOSE.
I have no skin in the game other than being part of the adventure and sharing my knowledge of the area. Myles Carter will handle the fee and all transactions. I am sure Myles will come up with a fair price. Details and pricing are now available on nonacho.com, then click canoeing.
It is Western-style outfitting. Individuals make bush grub orders and cook their own meals. Lisa Carter will see to it that your grub is packed and, when appropriate iced. Fresh food on a far-north canoe trip will be a first for me!
Canoes are brand new 17-foot Esquifs.
It’s a peculiar blend of glamping and exploration in one of the world’s wildest corners. It will not have the pressures of 50-mile days like my Noatak River trips or the danger of big rapids or spartan provisions, but this expedition is not without risks.
We begin our journey 200 miles from the nearest road. An emergency evac takes at least 8 hours. I have no fear of bears, but the bears of Nonacho have a well-founded reputation for aggressive behavior.
I have traveled the world and cannot compare this adventure to any other. I feel lucky to be invited, and you could be lucky to take the plunge. As an old man, when I think back on my life, the moments I regret are the times when I had amazing opportunities, but I let those moments pass me by. You only think you have time.