Paddling Nunavut's Coppermine River

Rocknest Lake

We ran the first rapid river left and scouted a blind left hand corner that we ran easily by back-ferrying around it. The next rapid was — well — it was huge. A wild narrow half mile with the current running into the willows and turning around a blind corner to the right with no easy cheat line down either shore. We carried past it on river right although we later met a group of six paddlers who had run it by front ferrying from river right across to the far left where they found a line down the center. The next rapid is a huge smooth wave feeding out from a rock shelf on river right. There is a narrow slot between the rock shelf and the big wave followed by smooth, well-spaced three-foot waves. Alternately it would be an easy pull over the smooth rock shelf.

The last rapid is a wide, shallow, rock-studded maze through a mile or more of gentle S-turns. The current is much slower due to the river's width. In the high water levels we encountered it was a fun run as we back-ferried from side to side and found the channels between the boulder mazes; in low water levels it would be a grind over the rocks. As a bonus after a great day of running whitewater, we camped at the bottom of the last rapid and I caught a 20-pound lake trout that we feasted on for the next several meals.

The next 20 miles is slow and sluggish and then suddenly the river starts to narrow and pick up speed. From here the next 25 miles is a blur of fun whitewater. We ran it all, and the only section we scouted from shore was a rapid at UTM 11-6202E/7328 N.

We ran this rapid starting river right and following the main current as we back-ferried to river left. In low water these rapids apparently end in boulder fields but we never scraped a single rock. This section of rapids ends where Fairy Lake River joins the Coppermine, and from here the river widens until Big Bend nearly 80 miles away. From Big Bend the river again narrows and there are a number of easily run rapids before you arrive at Rocky Defile. We scouted Rocky Defile on river left and then ferried across to the portage trail on river right.

We portaged here with a group of six other paddlers whom we met and who had decided to carry, although later talking to several of them it was obvious that the jury was out on whether to carry or run this rapid. I think it was runnable along the river right shore, as did several of them, but the group dynamic dictated carrying — so carry we all did. I am sure if we had run into this rapid three days later, after we had run Sandstone and Escape Rapids, we would have run it. However, I should note that after our trip we corresponded with and met several other paddlers, and with the exception of a couple paddling solo kayaks, all of them carried past Rocky Defile.

From Rocky Defile to Muskox Rapids the river is fast with lots of easy-to-read fun rapids. The first section of Muskox Rapids is easily run down the center and then to river left; there you carve into a huge left bank eddy where you can scout the second more serious part of Muskox. Notes from other paddlers suggest that the second section is normally an easy run on river left with one section that you might decide to line past. In the high water levels we found it was just too big to safely run with any confidence, and lining was out of the question with the river running so high against the shore. We ran the top quarter, carried the next quarter, then ran the bottom half, all river left. The couple in the solo kayaks ran it all river left tight to the outside edge of a four-foot hole.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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