The hike to the Cirque of the Unclimbables takes a minimum of three days, but we are told by Jock the guide at Fort Simpson, to be fully enjoyed fives days is required. Glen and I discuss the possibility of a five day backpack in rugged terrain and agreed that a five day stay at the Brintnell Creek campsite would be more to our liking. Alex, Tania and Andrew, however, have been enthusiastic about the hike from the beginning and this morning they begin to pack out for their journey. I arranged the topo maps that they would need and gave them to Alex to add to his gear.
It is raining. A slow steady rain that is likely to last most of the day. Despite the effort that it takes to prepare a fire and get breakfast ready, our friends slowly, with determination prepare their packs for the strenuous five-day trek. Glen and I assist where we can to deliver them to the trailhead up river about one kilometer. This required a more or less vigorous paddle across to and up the left shore eddy and a ferry back to the right shore above a small creek. We took two canoes so that we could carry them and their packs to the trail that follows the river for some distance before cutting sharply into the bush and up the slope to Glacier lake.
Glen and I wave good bye to our friends, now ladened down with heavy packs, and begin the much easier paddle back to the campsite. It is just before noon and the rain has subsided. It promises to be a warm and partially sunny afternoon.
The Art of Relaxation
Glen and I have very little to do for the next few days. We can enjoy at a very leisurely pace the joy of camp life and the chores of splitting firewood, preparing meals, drying wet clothes and trip planning. The latter task I begin in earnest after lunch by folding the correct topos and entering the route waypoints into my GPS. It is then that I realize that I have given Alex the wrong topo for the route to the Cirque. This causes me some concern, but I know that he will have his GPS with him and that the trail is reasonably well marked.
In the afternoon Glen complains of a headache. He is listless and feeling unwell. I wonder whether he has drank enough water in the heat and exercise in the past few days, as dehydration is often the most likely reason for the symptoms. I get out a copy of my St. John's Ambulance Wilderness First Aid book and with little difficulty I am able to diagnose Glen's condition as heat exhaustion. It didn't help that he sat for most of the hot afternoon on a space-aged blanket with the reflector side up. The literature with the blanket boasts that it returns 99% of the body's heat to the wearer. I prescribe water and pain killers for the headache and advise him to rest for the afternoon in the shaded tent. He sleeps soundlessly while I take in the serenity of our surroundings.
I promised my family that I would attempt to reach them from time to time to let them know that we are safe. Later that afternoon I attempt to reach my daughter by Satellite phone. I leave messages at two of the three possible numbers. We are safe, having a great time, tell Leona that Glen is living out his 44 year-old dream and by the way please cancel Ompah's taxi in Fort Simpson on account we arranged our own shuttle.
When Glen was a young teen he recalls seeing a movie about Nahanni trapper Albert Faille. The film is a short National Film Board documentary about the latter days of Faille's life on the river. In his seventies, Faille seems obsessed with locating the legendary gold mine above Virginia Falls, a dream that occupied most of his life on the river. Needless to say gold was never found, either because there is none, or because one of the many creeks that flow from the mountains has yet to transect a vein of ore. Glen's dream of paddling the Nahanni river began when he was 16 inspired by Faille, Patterson, Kraus and of course Bill Mason.
I try to recall when paddling this river entered my life list of things to do. I began canoeing when I was very young, having attended outdoor camps when I was eight. My first big canoe trip was in a Lakefield (a subsidiary of the Peterborough Canoe Company) freighter canoe when I was 10. I began whitewater canoeing in my adult years after my children were born and began reading about rivers and the whitewater experience. I eventually learned about Bill Mason and his art and film work. In his book "Canoescapes" there is a picture of Virginia Falls, which is the most likely seed of my curiosity about this river. In the late '80's I met Neil Hartling, the so-called, Nahanni Neil, about the river. I was then bitten by the Nahanni bug.
The afternoon is hot, we relax with tea, surrounded by mountains with clouds amassing and dissipating along the ridges. Across the river are some of the lower peaks of the Mackenzie range. Across from our campsite is an unnamed peak in the Selwyn Mountains. Referring to to the topo map I learn that it is about 6000 feet or 1800 metres above our location