Nunavut’s Hayes River is one of the most remote and stunning rivers in Canada. It has a rich Inuit History with ample evidence of their use of the area in the form of tent rings, food caches and animal traps. The river joins the huge Back river right at the mouth just before dumping into Chantry Inlet. George Back, Franklin’s lieutenant on the 1820s northern Canadian expedition, travelled up and down this river on a scouting mission. On the ill-fated 1840s Franklin expedition the doomed sailors, dragging life boats over the ice, made it as far south as Chantry Inlet before turning back north toward the ice trapped ships. Inuit hunters traveling in the region of the Hayes and Back Rivers later found evidence of this desperate southern trek. The mouth of the Hayes and Back Rivers are about as close as one can get by canoe to the Franklin sites. This is a very historic area – Gjoa Haven is where Amundsen spent 2 winters prior to being the first to cross the NW passage and also the first to reach the S pole. His ship the Maud, as you may remember was sunk in Cambridge Bay (it’s now being transported back to Norway) It is also the site of the doomed Franklin Expedition (the Erebus, Franklins ship was recently discovered after a 170 year search) see http://www.maudreturnshome.no/uncategorized/rendezvous-maud/ and http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/franklin-expedition-ship-found-in-arctic-id-d-as-hms-erebus-1.2784268
Our paddling trip on the Hayes and its upper tributary, the Amittaq-Ammut River will be truly remarkable. Virtually no one travels the Hayes these days, and as far as we can tell no recreational travelers have paddled the Amittaq-Ammut tributary that we will be descending. We did our exploratory trip in 2015. It was one of the best trips we have ever done! So we are going back.
Our adventure will start and end in Baker Lake, Nunavut. From here we will fly by charter DHC 3 (single Otter) 250+km into a tundra/beach landing site beside the river, where we will land ?off strip? on tundra tires. Our descent of the river will begin here in the remote barrens of northern Nunavut. From our drop off it is 275km to the coast. About 115 of this on our source tributary and 160km on the Hayes itself. We will be descending a total of 860ft elevation over the course of the trip. In general the gradient is fairly consistent over the course of the trip, but there are a few sections where it increases substantial and we can expect more significant rapids.
In general most rapids on the route we can expect to be able to run, or line with ropes, and most will be in the class 1 & class 2 range. There is only 1 definite portage, and one other canyon like section that depending on water levels we may carry. Both portages are short. Overall, given the length of the trip portaging is basically negligible.
Barren land wildlife is surprisingly plentiful in summer. We would hope to see Caribou, Musk Ox, Arctic Fox, Arctic Wolf, Arctic Ground Squirrel, and perhaps Grizzly. Birdlife is plentiful. Fishing should be fantastic, for Lake Trout, Arctic Grayling and Arctic Char. It is definitely worth bringing a fishing rod.
Summer weather in the barrens can be incredibly varied and is hard to predict. One can have beautiful warm summer days in the 20C range with sun all day (remember there is close to 24hr sunlight), on other days we could expect cold, wind, rain even sleet. This is definitely a trip where you want good warm weather gear and good rain gear. On a trip like this one has to be prepared for warm weather, (warm enough to make one want to swim), and also cold weather where you will have on multiple layers and a wool hat. One also has to be prepared for bugs which will come out on hot days.
Wind in the barrens is an issue and can cause delays. Sometimes it just blows too hard to make it worth paddling. This particular route has very few lakes so that is a bonus. We’ve still though planned extra days to allow for wind delays. Hiking along the route should be exceptional. It is a rugged, rocky barren landscape, dotted with lakes. This is not a flat landscape. In places there are rolling low hills in others rugged rocky hills & cliffs rise several hundred feet above the river.
Along the way one can often stop and hike for hours in any direction. The many Eskers often make for great hiking. These hikes provide great opportunities to see wildlife and/or discover ancient Inuit camping sites. It would be our plan to have at least 3 full days off for hiking and exploration as well as a number of days where we camp early.
Our starting point for this trip is at about 66 degrees north. Along the way we will cross the Arctic Circle and about 75km before the coast we will reach the northern most point of the river at about 67.30 degrees north. From here it is a final 75km to the mouth, although during this last bit the river actually turns and flows SW. The trip will end on our around the confluence of the Back and Hayes River, just off Chantry Inlet. We would hope to spend some time here exploring.