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Our two expert paddlers make their entrance into Crooked Canyon. The Class IV canyon was too intense for most of our group, so these two long-time guides ran all three canoes through the rapids.
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The Little Nahanni River

The Little Nahanni River is located in the Northwest Territories of Canada inside the newly established Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve. While it’s less well known than the classic canoe route down the nearby South Nahanni River, the Little Nahanni travels through an equally wild landscape, one that’s home to wolves, grizzlies and dozens of technical rapids.

Despite my limited whitewater canoeing experience, I didn’t hesitate when I was asked to join a fourteen-day paddling trip to scout this river for Parks Canada. In the summer of 2015, we launched on the Flat Lakes along the Yukon-Northwest Territories border. It would take our six-person crew ten days to travel 135 miles down the Little Nahanni River. The final four days were spent floating down the wide South Nahanni River to the Nahanni National Park Reserve where our Twin Otter plane would pick us up.

With the help of Ken MacDiarmid and Pablo Vermeulen, two great guides from the Black Feather outdoors team; Lyn Elliott and Vanessa Murtsell, two Parks Canada employees; and whitewater paddler and fellow photographer, David Lee aka The Passionate Paddler, we tackled the Little Nahanni River, but not without our fair share of thrilling moments. We had to maneuver around moose that stood staring at us from the middle of the river. Bears roamed around and into our camps and one young juvenile black bear, curious about my tent, decided to flip me over as I lay fast asleep. Lastly, we had to handle the constant Class III+ rapids while the Little Nahanni River did its best to dump us. In the end, we made it safely down the rivers. Each of us had our moments of frustration, anger, happiness, and relief, but it was a journey none of us would soon forget.

Svalbard glacial cliffs
The Little Nahanni River hit back often.
Canyon Waters
Our group traveled through several canyons along the Little Nahanni River. Our role was to map out the rapids for future paddlers.
I have never eaten so well in the backcountry as I did on this trip. We had so much food that the two times ran into other paddlers, we invited them to eat with us for both breakfast and dinner. The center bag is one day’s worth of food for six people; it could have fed 12.
Ice Camp
A mellower and wider section of the river. These relaxing sections were few and far between on the Little Nahanni.
The team encountered sea ice that would halt their progress for a week
We had to line the boats over a Class V rapid known as The Step. The boats had been damaged during the runs through Crooked Canyon and we feared the drop could crack the fully loaded canoes in half.
Shifting ice
The final rapids of Crooked Canyon as seen from high above on the canyon wall.
Our team checks the gear for damage after line dragging the canoes over the Class V rapid, The Step.
After the examination
Once the boats and gear were examined, we left The Step behind and carried on down the Little Nahanni River.
Using the map and GPS, we would take notes about each rapid section and canyon along the Little Nahanni River for a Parks Canada river guidebook.
At the confluence of the Little Nahanni and South Nahanni Rivers.
South Nahanni River
After nine intense days on the Little Nahanni River the wide South Nahanni River was a relaxing break from dry suits and river reading. Two of the team kick back and enjoy the view of the Ragged Range.
At the Blackfeather guide company campsite, we used our canoes for tables to cook a magnificent feast.
Last place to stop and rest
Unloading the canoes and gear from the plane on the Flat Lakes. The six team members, three canoes, and all the gear fit into the one twin otter plane. We didn’t see the plane again until 14 days later on Rabbit Kettle Lake.
Polar Bears
At the confluence of the Broken Skull River and the South Nahanni Rivers one of the team members takes in the view.

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