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Three weeks in the Canadian Arctic in the Fusion

Hood River, Nunavut, Canada

The Barrenlands region in Arctic Canada is an amazing place. Big skies over green tundra, Canadian shield granite ledges, 24-hour daylight, amazing wildlife, and blue rivers. We paddled the Hood River in Nunavut, Canada for 21 days over 250 miles from the source to the mouth at Arctic Sound. The Hood is a classic Barrenlands river. It starts as a series of lakes and then eventually becomes a meandering river with many rapids and several huge waterfalls, until it empties into the Arctic Ocean.

The Fusion was perfect for a trip with a mix of flatwater and whitewater. Logistically, the Fusions took some planning. We needed to get the boats to Yellowknife, NT, charter a bush plane to take us to the put-in, and figure out how to pack three weeks worth of arctic gear and food in the boats. Our first hurdle was finding a pilot who would fly with kayaks. Just like commercial airlines, bush pilots also are prejudice against kayaks. We called several companies and they said they would not take kayaks in the plane even though they would fit within the dimensions of the aircraft. We finally found Ahmic Air. They were awesome!! They shoved both Fusions into one of their beavers and loaded us up without any trouble.

Two Fusions fit inside a beaver

A three-week trip in the arctic takes a good amount of gear – warm clothes, warm sleeping bag, a winter tent, first aid, maps and GPS, repair equipment, bear spray, bug jackets and a bug shelter/rain shelter, fishing gear, stove plus a backup, and enough food and fuel for three weeks. You just need to take the time to develop a system, but everything you need for a trip will easily fit in the Fusion. And lots of dry bags will help!

With everything sorted and packed, I left from northern Idaho on July 1st. I drove up to Yellowknife, NT with the boats and then my husband flew in to meet me three days later. We had our last cold beer and went to the Ahmic Air float base to load up. Winter lingered this year and the spring breakup was later that usual. We had initially planned on starting on Takiyuak Lake, which is the eight largest lake in Nunavut (and there are countless lakes in this region), and then portaging in to the Hood River drainage. But the lake was still covered in ice. We thought about landing on the south end, which was free of ice, and then making our way up north as far as we could and then waiting for the ice to melt. But we feared that we wouldn’t be able to make it to the ocean if we spent too much time on the lake. We ended up flying past the lake and putting in on the first lake in the Hood River drainage proper. We landed and set up camp just in time for a storm to roll in and spent the first two days of the trip hiding in the tent until the storm cleared.

Lake Takiyuak iced over

Landed just before the storm

The first week of the trip was on a series of large lakes interconnected by short spans of river with moving current and rapids. The difficulty of the rapids in this section ranged from class 2 to 4 and one stout waterfall. For the first week the boats were heavy and we had a bow and stern dry bag full of food and extra fuel. The drop down skeg was essential for paddling on the lakes in the wind with the heavy boats.

Rapid on the upper river

Fish watching between lakes

As we continued into the second week of the trip, the river began to take shape. We caught giant lake trout and we saw a grizzly bear and a wolverine!!! We still had to paddle a few lakes, but we also got to see (and portage) three amazing gorges with huge rapids and waterfalls. Portaging usually took two trips. We used an NRS Bill’s Bag as a bulkhead that could easily be removed and filled with gear and carried as a backpack. Then, on the next trip the boat was light enough to drag over the tundra.

First major portage

Second major portage

Third major portage

The amazing waterfalls didn’t end. At the beginning of the third week we arrived at Wilberforce Falls. Wilberforce Falls is the most prominent waterfall above the arctic circle. In two drops, it plunges 197 feet into a deep gorge. The top drop looks runnable, but the second drop looks stout and you can’t see the bottom of the drop. Good luck to whoever gets the first D!!!

First drop Wilberforce

Entrance into the second drop

The long portage, second drop in background

After Wilberforce we could tell we were nearing the ocean. The geology and the vegetation changed to muddy river banks and willows instead of granite and bare tundra. We had one last epic campsite on an island surrounded by waterfalls with an amazing fishing hole.

Island camp

Lake trout

As we paddled our last day, the river became very wide and silty with the entering tributaries and the mud hills. The last set of rapids was formed by a river-wide set of ledges and it actually made a few good surf waves!!

Surf session above the arctic circle

On day 20 we arrived at the mouth of the river and we could stare out into Arctic Sound from our campsite. The river corridor was busy with wildlife near the mouth. There was numerous grizzly bear tracks in the sand and a wolf came right through our camp.

Camp at the mouth

Wolf in camp

We spent the last day hiking through the surrounding hills and out to the ocean past the mouth of the river. Arctic Sound on Bathurst Inlet is a beautiful place. It has a rocky, barren shoreline with glaciated hills that look like flat-top mountains. With binoculars we could see the pack ice way out beyond the inlet.

Arctic Sound

The weather held for our charter flight back to Yellowknife. I helped the pilot refuel the plane and load the Fusions and the gear. Overall, it was a great trip and it was really fun to go on such a long kayaking adventure, and the Fusions were fantastic. Pyranha has even made some updates with the Fusion 2 that would make a whitewater expedition even better. Now there is a center pillar and hull stiffener. The center pillar would have made packing the bow a little more challenging, but it’s totally worth it for making the boat easier to carry and this would have helped a ton during the portages. With a heavy load, the hull stiffener adds needed support because the boat will flex if you pack as much gear as we did. The skeg was absolutely essential on lakes on windy days. Now the skeg control has been moved to in front of the paddler, which would be a lot easier on cold days when your hands barely work. There are also new forged aluminum handles that would have made tying on our auxillary food bags even easier. We definitely want to go on another Arctic trip with the Fusions!!

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