Paddling Nunavut's Coppermine River
Much of the section of the river from Lac De Gras to Point Lake is long sections of flat lake with narrow violent drops between them.
The drop from Lac de Gras to Point Lake is about 140 vertical feet over about 60 miles, but this 140 feet is all through about 10 rapids, many of which are impossible to run. The banks of many of these rapids are often steeply undercut and covered in thick alders, so lining is difficult if not impossible. One unnamed rapid prior to Desteffany Lake (UTM 12-4745E/7160N) is typical of what you will find. A mid-stream island bisects the top and forms two narrow slots, one on each side.
The main channel is on the left but it is a violent steep course filled with holes and rocks and is probably impossible to paddle at any water level. The right channel, which we choose, is thickly lined with willows and alders and the water is waist deep and fast right to the shore. If you find a way to line, curse, and fight your way past the willows, you are then presented with a series of deep pools separated by boulders strategically placed such that they form slots always two inches narrower than any canoe you own.
The main river all the while is about two canoe lengths away to your left, but how to get there? Count on at least an hour or better for this spot and be ready for short tempers and lots of paint left on rocks you know your canoe should never be dragged over. Oh yes, as well, when you attempt this rapid, it will either be pouring rain, or, if not and it is sunny, the blackflies will best be measured in pounds. As a consolation for your efforts, gorgeous red fleshed trout are found at the bottom of this and nearly every rapid along the river.
The first rapid from Desteffany Lake to Lake Providence is easy to read from the canoe and we ran it left of center. The next rapid is long and impossible to scout from the top. It appears that the 25 feet of vertical drop shown on the map all occur through this half-mile-long rapid, and it is a very serious section of whitewater.
We dropped down along the river right shore and worked our way from eddy to eddy until things got too crazy. The next safe spot I could see would best be described as a"micro eddy" that I wasn't really eager to try to slip a loaded canoe into. From here I lined tight to the shore for about 150 yards and then we easily paddled the last 500 yards river right.
There are two rapids joining Lake Providence and Point Lake and these drop a total of over 35 vertical feet. The first is a violent short rapid that can be run tight to the left shore, but the entry to it is critical, as the right side is all well over five-foot waves that the current really wants to force you into. We were a little off line on our entry and I quickly realized a back-ferry to river left was all but useless against the power of the river.
I turned the canoe and did an aggressive full front ferry to the river left shore, narrowly missing getting sucked into the main river right current. At the bottom, several hundred yards past the end of the rapid, there were still midriver whirlpools being created by the differential speed between the still water and the main current.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication