Paddling Nunavut's Coppermine River
Sandstone Rapids is normally described as an easy rapid but what we found was far from easy. We scouted it from river right, and it was obvious that a run down the river right side followed by a ferry across through the main current to the inside of the left turn was the route to take. Since the river piles up very badly into a series of holes along the cliff face on the right shore, this ferry is critical.
I have seen pictures of open canoes ferrying through this section and have read reports where this is described as a"piece of cake." We had no trouble, but it should be noted that we were ferrying through three- and four-foot waves that were breaking from multiple directions. The trick here is to get out from the right shore far enough so that you are immediately beside the large mainstream waves. Then let your canoe turn into a full front ferry and slide slowly down the river until you find your desired entry point.
Once you commit to your ferry through the main current, keep one eye on the boat and one on the point to which you are ferrying and make sure you aren't sliding downstream too quickly. As well, get a good high start on your ferry as the Coppermine's current is ferocious and very deceptive. One of the other canoes we were with started their ferry too low and got swept downstream into the main part of the river, where they got blown into one of the big surf waves on the right margin past the corner. Luckily the wave spun them into a full front ferry and aimed them toward the left shore, where they got back to a safe line.
If the wave had spit them out the other way they would have been jet-ferried right into the huge waves piling up along the cliff face on the right shore, and a swim would have been a certainty.
From here to Escape Rapids the river is continuous whitewater through a series of S-turns in a steep-walled canyon. Typically the safe line is always on the inside of the corner, as big waves and holes pile up along the outside of the turns. Get ready for countless full front ferries through two- and three-foot waves from side to side as you work your way from inside corner to inside corner. No doubt in lower water levels this is an easy day of whitewater, but even in the levels we found it was a great day of thrilling paddling.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication