A Wilderness Opportunity of a Lifetime

And you can be part of it

Explorers have climbed all of the world’s tallest mountains. The world’s greatest rivers have already been paddled, but there is still a place to venture where few if any, have gone before. This summer you can join me and 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.

Last year, there was the inaugural journey. This year, there will be two trips, two crews of eight, four canoes. These will be self-guided trips 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 again on both 2024 canoe trips.

Two members on last year’s expedition reached the falls. As luck would have it, the day of our waterfall quest was our only rainy day. Air Canada was tardy in getting luggage to Yellowknife, so two crew members who had lost their rain gear returned to base camp early in the day. Understand that this is uncharted territory, and after some dead ends, four paddlers decided to build a fire and make a camp for the afternoon while the two remaining paddlers pushed on to falls, maintaining radio contact. The goal in 2024 will be to get more crew members to the falls and also to fish below the falls for Arctic Grayling, a fish species that has not been caught in the Nonacho watershed for over 50 years.

In 2024, trip goals will be flexible. If crew members want to make a push for the falls, that will be great, but there will also be the option to explore, go birding, or fish around the first-day campsite. Three Musk Oxen were seen around camp 1 last summer. There will also be a slight difference in the route of the trips. Last year, some crew members were disappointed by a lack of fishing time budgeted at the Taltson River narrows. So, in 2024, on the first trip, there will be a camp at the narrows to allow a full day of fishing. Although the fishing was spectacular in the narrows last year, we were really at the tail end of the fish run due to a historically early ice break-up. The first trip in 2024 will begin almost two weeks earlier. Although we may risk encountering some pan ice, it will practically guarantee astonishing surface fishing for huge lake trout. It will also open the potential for birders to view high arctic migrants. Already two couples are signed up for trip 2 and looking forward to that trip to be more focused on birding, wildlife viewing and exploration.

Below is the anticipated itinerary for your perusal. Understand that the Nonacho watershed is one of the most pristine, uninhabited, and wildest parts of the world. Sometimes, the itinerary will need to be altered for the safety and feasibility of everyone involved.

Day 1

The crew will fly from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada to an unnamed small tributary of the Taltson River upstream of Nonacho Lake. 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 remains of a old trapper’s cabin that contained, among other artifacts, a Hudson Bay Company copper pot circa the nineteenth

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 in 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 Bear on Rennie Lake. We gave up on the same portage around the rapid, 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. I call this a “portage,” but of course, there is no human trail, just some game paths.

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 traveled up the creek, searching for the falls. We got past Bottle-Cap Portage with little effort and persevered over a few more very short “wades.” . Lying on one rock, 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 trapline along that creek. No footprints or signs of human visitation for a long, long, time.

Last year, this extraordinary creek lived up to my memory. I believe few joys are greater than venturing into unexplored territory. This is almost a unique opportunity at this time in the history of the world. I realize many people explore wilderness areas where days, even weeks, can pass without seeing another human. But there are always signs of previous visitors. Tree cuts, trails, litter, fire rings and published journals of explorers who beat you to it and blazed the trail. On this trip, you will be the trailblazer, and be one of the very first to travel and explore a route in virgin wilderness. Who knows what we will find? There

Day 2

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 planet Earth. Below the falls is the perfect Grayling habitat, another high point would be 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. Alternately, participants can choose to spend Day 2 exploring the vicinity of our base camp. Last year, I watched two bull musk ox slam their heads together. Participants could also choose to spend the second day fishing. We will be a excellent Northern Pike and Trout fishing area.

Day 3

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. Last year, we only fished here for an hour being eager to make progress. On the 2024 first trip (June 10-17) we will camp here to allow more time for fishing.

Days 4,5,6,

Whenever possible we will camp at beaches along our route. Last summer we passed a herd of at least 80 Musk Oxen, the biggest herd I have ever seen. Along the route there is evidence of many undisturbed tent rings and sites of an aboriginal settlements. There is one site of an aboriginal settlement in historical times and pre-historical times. I discovered some artifacts near that 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. Last summer, a few worked stone chips were found, but no significant artifacts. I did walk to and sit in the middle of what was the long abandoned aboriginal village. There was an ethereal and precious spirit to the place; my interlude sitting on the caribou moss and feeling a prehistoric human presence alone made the trip worthwhile. All artifacts need to be left where they are found. The joy is in the discovery. 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.

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. These are exploratory days for hiking, fishing, birding, and prospecting with the potential to walk on soil that has been untrodden for generations. Both trips will include time for exploring, but the second trip without as much time for fishing, will have more time for side trips and hiking. You have not lived if you have never hiked an esker in the far north of Canada.

Day 7

Trip 2 will 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. Trip 1 on Day 7 we will camp at a site to be determined and with a catered picnic beach dinner.

The flexibility of campsites for both trips adds to the excitement of discovery and to our group safety. Weather or other issues can get the group behind schedule on some far northern trips. To catch up, sometimes groups make risky choices. This will not be an issue on this expedition. If we cannot arrive safely to our planned destination, the float plane will pick us up wherever we finish. Last summer, we made it to the lodge in plenty of time, but you never know. Being flexible removes a lot of stress. This will be my 40th and 41st river journey north of 6o degrees latitude. I am happy to have the flexibility to alter our route if necessary.

Day 8

Morning flight by float plane to Yellowknife

On day 1, when you arrive at a beach upstream on the Taltson River from the mouth of the creek, there will be four canoes, paddles, and PFDs, 4-person Eureka 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 mostly flat water, with little current to push you along. So there is some serious paddling, but very 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. Last year, for the third consecutive summer there have been virtually no mosquitoes or black flies. We trust that will hold for 2024, but everyone should be prepared for insects.

It is an exploratory trip where few 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. (In 2023 we saw over 100)

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. Details and pricing are available on nonacho.com 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 is unique. Canoeists will settle their tabs for food and spirits at the conclusion of the trip.

Canoes are brand new 17-foot Esquifs. Roomy and weatherproof Eureka tents. Yeti Coolers. Propane stoves.

It’s a peculiar blend of glamping and exploration in one of the world’s wildest corners. This is not a trip where you will witness iconic waterfalls like my trips on NWT’s South Nahanni (Virginia Falls) or Nunavut’s (Wilberforce Falls). But unlike either of those epic trips you won’t be sharing your experience this summer with hundreds of others. We will be in an untraveled landscape. It will also not have the pressures of 50-mile days like my Noatak River trips or the danger of big rapids or spartan provisions. Still, 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 black bears of Nonacho have a well-founded reputation for aggressive behavior.

I have travelled 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. 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.

For rates and booking:  Contact Myles Carter at 587-991-2281 or myles@nonacho.com

June 10-17, 2024
June 21-28, 2024


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