MR1In August 2009, I had the chance to canoe down the remote and beautiful Mountain River in northern Canada. I filmed this amazing journey for a forthcoming canoeing DVD, “This is Canoeing”.

The trip is a 2-week adventure organised by Blackfeather – the wilderness adventure company. For over 30 years, Black Feather adventurers have paddled untamed rivers, hiked amidst glacier-capped mountains and sea kayaked through sparkling ice fjords. The director of Blackfeather, Wendy Grater is one of the guides on Justine’s trip. Wendy has been canoeing and guiding for decades. Easygoing, yet committed to excellence, her energy and enthusiasm for sharing her love of the wild is contagious.


The Mountain River is visited by less than 150 canoeists every year. It’s considered Canada’s best wilderness river by the Blackfeather guides. To get there is an adventure in itself – from Edmonton we fly with Canadian North Airlines to Yellowknife, which I always thought was very remote, but that is just the start! From there, Canadian North takes us even further north to Norman Wells, a small town with no road access. In Norman Wells, we meet the group, and take another plane – a Northwright Air float plane this time – to Willow Handle Lake at the start of the Mountain River. Northwright will land the float plane on this beautiful lake – surrounded by mountain peaks.


For 12 days, we paddled 370km down the fast flowing Mountain River to where it empties into the Mackenzie river about 80km north of Norman Wells. The river drops over 1200metres in elevation, with large volume rapids, fast currents and five beautiful canyons. We start in the MacKenzie mountains, a northern extension of the Rocky Mountains which reach heights of 2700metres. They dominate the background with rock colours of bluff, grey, cinnamon, green and maroon. They are home to many types of big game, including caribou, moose, Dall’s sheep, wolves, wolverine and grizzly bears. The river flows in constant meanders with grade 2 and 3 rapids that can change drastically due to often rising or falling water levels. With spraydecks on our canoes, we ran them all. We’ll took a full day off and several half days to explore and hike. From Cache Creek we climbed 1,000 metres to the top of a craggy peak and were rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding wilderness.

Lower down, the Mountain river runs quickly through sandstone and limestone mountains, with interesting tufa formations and even a natural spring. The canyons offer some challenging paddling – third canyon requires some tricky manoeuvering as there’s a ledge in some water levels and big standing waves. By now we have dropped 1000 metres in height and the vegetation is lusher with thick stands of black spruce and aspen crowding the banks. In a couple more days we burst into the wide Mackenzie Valley lowlands and continue to the confluence with the Mackenzie river. A chartered boat takes up upstream up the wide river, back to Norman Wells.


I should just mention the food!! I have a copy of Blackfeathers camp cook book. Even looking at the pages made my mouth water and I don’t think I lost any weight on the trip!! Fresh bread and cakes on the last couple of days of the trip was a real treat.


Thank you very much to the sponsors who have made this trip possible. Blackfeather have given me a reduced price trip & Wendy has helped greatly with logistics. Canadian North donated my airfare from Edmonton to Norman wells and Northwright Air  sponsored my float plane journey to the start of the river. Sanoodi provided a high tech rechargable battery and solar panel so I can recharge my camera batteries and record a GPS route of our journey, which I’ll upload to the internet once I get back.

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This really is a trip of a lifetime!