This is Part 2 of 2 of the series Traversing the Elusive Nahanni River. Read Part 1 here.
Day 6 – 16 Miles (26 km)
After two days of driving, two days of sitting around waiting, my spinal injuries are acting up. I made the unforgivable mistake of taking a muscle relaxant late last night, and I am paying for it this morning. I can barely keep my eyes open. I fight the fog and attempt to help pack up the tent. I feel a bit like a cute elf, desperately trying to be helpful, despite being very drunk. Not actually drunk, but the muscle relaxant is fogging up my usually sharp mind and reflexes. Coffee and breakfast start a revival, and I slowly catch up to speed.
We need the speed now. We are at least a day behind schedule, and Michael’s job is on the line.
The portage at Virginia falls is a half boardwalk, half switchback trail, which drops to the bottom of Virginia Falls 96 m (it’s taller than Niagra Falls). It’s a stretch of about 2 km down and 2 km back carrying canoeing equipment, which is not well suited to backpacking.
Part of the portage can be made by ferrying the canoe, with all of our gear, to a platform in the river and almost to the top of the falls and the point of no return. My heart is in my throat as we paddle the almost lake-like calm above the falls. A miscalculation here means almost certain death of going over Virginia Falls.
Slowly, we start making our way down the portage route down the boardwalk, which protects the ecologically sensitive muskeg below. After less than a mile, the boardwalk ends, and we find ourselves on a steep, narrow, rough switchback which drops in less than a mile of distance.
After a few hours, we drop the last load of gear on the rocky riverbank and make dinner.
With a regretful look back at Virginia Falls and a mighty shove off the bank, “Kermit,” the canoe is out in the middle of the Nahanni River. My whole being has ached to be on this river for weeks, and with each rapid and splash, my soul comes alive.
The rapids are small, and the river is fast here. The canyon passes quickly, the water flow after Virginia Falls is fast and waits for no one. I don’t manage to remember to pull my camera out once. With a 5 PM start, we won’t make much mileage here, and it obviously weighs heavily on Michael’s mind.
There is no doubt, this is a hard day. The portage took a toll on us both, paddling afterward is a punishment. We also know one of the most challenging rapids, the “Figure 8 Rapids” are not far from here. We are too tired, and it’s getting dark fast enough. Neither of us wants to try running a big rapid fatigued and in the dark. A few short miles in and just before 8 PM, we pull off the river and make camp on the first inviting island.