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Rising at the top of the world just off Mac Pass the little known and rarely traveled Tsichu River starts at the Yukon/NWT border and flows nonstop down to where it joins with the Keele R. Continuing its rapid descent the Keele joins with the Natla and then the Twitya before finally emptying out into the historic Mackenzie River. Paddling right from the top down to the Mackenzie, and beyond, our trip will drop almost 3000ft over the course of the canoe trip.
We meet in Whitehorse, Yukon and end in Norman Wells, NWT. The trip starts either with a drive from Whitehorse up the Historic Canol Pipeline Road to MacMillan Pass, an epic and historic journey in itself, or if that route is impassable with a float plane trip from Finlayson Lake into the River. If we drive it will be up the Canol Road to the end of the ‘passable road and then our gear will be shuttled the final 10km by 4×4 while we spend a half day hiking the Historic Canol Trail. At mile 222 we will start our paddling journey on the very upper reaches of the Tsichu River. If we fly it will be by charter float plane into a small lake just off the river.
In either case the river at the top, high in the mountains is a fairly small creek only 10ft or so across. As it moves quickly downriver its size increases.
During the 1st week that we will spend on the Tsichu we will travel down exciting narrow, steep and twisty class 2 (and some class 3) rapids, it will be a great fun ride! By the time we reach the confluence with the Keele the Tsichu is a fair sized river. After the confluence with the Natla the river again doubles in size. The next few days on the Natla/Keele are made up of fast current and enjoyable class 2 rapids down to the confluence with the Twitya. We will continue on for another week down the main Keele to the mighty Mackenzie through miles and miles of swifts, R1s and R2s. Once on the Mackenzie we will be met by float plane where the paddling trip end and transported to Norman Wells.
(Note: this is a suggested itinerary only. Conditions on each trip may vary)
Day 0. Arrival in Whitehorse, Yukon (you may want to arrive early to see the sights)
Day 1. We will depart Whitehorse for our shuttle to the Tsichu. We’ll travel on through the spectacular MacMillan Pass and reach the end of the Navigable Road. From here our gear will be shuttled by 4X4 while we hike to the Tsichu River. Alternate: Driver from Whitehorse to Finlayson Lake.
Day 2 Finish Drive & Hike to River, with gear shuttle, or Fly by charter Aircraft into small mountain lake on creek tributary of river. We may camp here or paddle down the Creek to the river itself
Day 3-4-. On Tsichu. The first days will be very small with some possible wading and lining. The river volume soon increases and we will be paddling many steep fast flowing class 1, 2 and rapids.
Day 5-10. On the Tsichu to Keele confluence and on to Natla Confluence. The river starts to build in volume and rapids become class 2 & 3 with some larger sections that may have to be lined or portaged along the shore.. Current is fast and rapids are wavy and fun. We’ll pass through a number of small canyons. We’d hope to take a day off in this section.
Day 11-20. Moving at 10-12 km/hr, the Keele river speeds along with plenty of swifts, class 1 rapids and fun wavy class 2 rapids on the outside of the bends. The scenery is stunning as we paddle down the Keele valley surrounded by multi-coloured mountains. The current is such that we can travel many km a day. We would plan to take one day off (or 2 half days) to hike, fish or simply enjoy the landscape. We would reach the Mackenzie on day 16 or 17. Depending on timing and weather we may continue the paddle on down to the village of Tulita a day and half down river.
Day 21. We will get picked up by float plane at the mouth of the Keele and flown to Norman Wells. The afternoon can be spent exploring the Norman Wells’ Historic Centre while waiting for your flights home!
Flights Home from Norman Wells
* Please note: It is the nature of bush plane flights that such factors as weather, pilot judgment, fire, mechanical problems etc. can dictate the schedule of flights and can cause delays. Wanapitei cannot control these factors and accepts no responsibility for lost time.