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dubawnt river

Back River

Back River (Thlewechodyeth, Haningayok, or Great Fish River), is a river that rises in the Northwest Territories at the outflow of Muskox Lake, enters the relatively small Sussex Lake which straddles NWT and Nunavut, and continues flowing through the Kitikmeot Region for 1,150 kilometres (715 miles) with a very tortuous course northeast, passing the Heywood Range, following the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary's northern boundary, passing through several large lake-expansions (Beechey Lake, Pelly Lake, Garry Lake, Buliard Lake, MacDougall Lake and Franklin Lake), as well as McKay Peak, before entering Cockburn Bay on Chantrey Inlet, on the Arctic Ocean. The entire river is above the tree line.

The Back River is the historic homeland of the Hanningajurmiut (or Haningayogmiut) Copper Inuit, also referred to as the Ualininmiut by their Caribou Inuit northern neighbors, the Utkusiksalinmiut.

Like the Coppermine, Hood, Dubawant or Kazan, which are other large rivers in this part of Canada, it is navigable only by experienced canoeists because of the numerous and challenging 83 rapids.

Its first known exploration by Europeans was by George Back in 1834 and again by James Anderson - a Chief Factor with the Hudson's Bay Company in 1856. After a hiatus of slightly over 100 years, it was again descended in 1962 by two groups. One a British group of four young men and the other a group of four young Americans. The British group was led by Robert Cundy who wrote a book about their descent called Beacon Six and the Americans were led by Austin Hoyt. The Americans started at the source of the River, Sussex Lake, with two Cedar Canvas canoes and reached the coast before the British team. Robert Cundy's group started lower down on Beechey Lake and were overtaken by the Americans. The British were paddling three foldup kayaks, one of which was destroyed on the expedition. Both groups filmed the trip and the British film - Beacon Six was shown on TV by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The area around the river is full of wildlife, with many fish in the river, and caribou, muskoxen, wolves in the area, with occasional sightings of Brown Bear, wolverines and Arctic Hares. As the river nears the Arctic Ocean, polar bears are also found, and bear repellent spray is recommended as a protection against all bears. However while the fauna are abundant, there are no trees in the area, all vegetation being low-lying and not good for cooking fuel.

Like other areas in Northern Canada, Back River is subject to very cold weather and a persistent Arctic wind that gusts up to gale force wind, requiring hardy equipment for humans in the area.

Modern canoeing on the river

The Back River constitutes a long and difficult voyage, taking over a month of hard work by strong and experienced Arctic (duo) canoeists. The Back is considered much more challenging than the Kazan River. Many rapids end in dense "rock gardens" rendering portaging often mandatory. Such portages must be conducted on bare rocks and occasionally unstable boulders. The need for portage is generally lower after a set of rapids known as the "Escape Rapids", thereafter very many rapids (but not all) can be run, as the river becomes less rocky and risky. Water level permiting, two further areas of runable rapids are notable: Sandhill rapids generally navigated on the left bank, Wolf rapids on the right.

The source of the river can be reached by floatplane from Yellowknife, N.W.T. At the end of the trip, a bush plane can be called in from Baker Lake in Nunavut for a landing in a prearranged spot in the tundra. If planning a canoeing trip on the river, due to the weather, it is generally recommended to have navigated Garry Lake by August 8, the mark of the seasonal change to worse weather. It needs to be noted that being windbound can happen at anytime. Due to the proximity to the Arctic Circle and the associated cold, any capsizing can easily conclude in hypothermia and death. A spraydeck-equipped canoe is strongly recommended both for lakes and rapids.


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