Firth River Arctic Expedition
The Firth is an extremely remote and isolated region and home to the 120,000 caribou of the Porcupine herd. Fewer than 100 people visit the park each year, leaving the land entirely to its natural inhabitants. The interior of the park is dominated by the British Mountains, which rise to over 1800 meters along the Yukon-Alaska boundary. Since the National Geographic Society first descended the Firth in 1981, very little visitation has occurred. The Firth is a relatively small volume river wending its way gracefully towards the coast. The river features many lively Class III and small Class IV rapids with technical obstacles such as ledges and chutes. Utilizing the rafts as vehicles of access allows us to cover reasonable amounts of ground by river and select the best hiking regions for our base camps.
Camping on sunbathed gravel bars, grassy meadows, and sandy beaches, our pace will be leisurely with the focus on land-based exploration. The Firth corridor features barren mountain slopes and ridges that are accessible from our riverside camps. Easily gained ridges afford excellent views of the river valley and British Mountains. The higher ridges and those further downstream offer views of the Beaufort coast and Herschel Island. At this latitude, above the Arctic Circle, the sun does not set in the summer months and allows us endless opportunities for hikes, photography, and fishing.
|Trip Length||11 Days|
|Meeting Place||Inuvik, NWT|
|Gateway City||Inuvik, NWT|
- Itinerary at a Glance
- Our Firth River Arctic expedition begins with a flight to Inuvik, NWT for a pre-trip meeting and orientation
- Fly 190 miles to the headwaters of the Firth River, landing on a remote gravel bar in the foothills of Canada’s Brooks Range
- After a safety orientation, we raft downriver, drifting silently and scanning the landscape for caribou
- The pace quickens and we run our first major rapids, culminating with Fisher Rapid
- Sheer canyon walls begin to rise out of the river as we float past curious Dall sheep. We run a series of Class III rapids and stop for a hike at Sheep Creek
- Camp is set up on one of the many gravel beaches deep in this incised canyon. This portion of the trip holds the largest and longest rapids of the trip and we become engulfed by canyon walls, hundreds of feet high
- Hiking high above the river we are treated to a delightful view of the Arctic Ocean
- The river sweeps us out onto the vast North Slope as we pass through the summer aggregation grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd
- View icebergs floating in the Arctic Ocean, search for caribou, barren-land grizzlies and wolves
- Set up camp on the shores of the Beaufort Sea and watch for friendly seals and beluga whales
- Return to Inuvik and regroup for a farewell dinner to reflect on the Firth and its extraordinary wilderness
- Experienced professional guides
- Charter flights between Inuvik and the river
- Expedition equipment including: tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, floater jacket, rubber boots and dry bags
- All meals on the river
- Beer, wine and some liqueurs
- Park fees and necessary permits
- Detailed Itinerary
We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. The itinerary is subject to change as it is dependent on weather and participants’ ability. Our daily distances can fluctuate depending on weather, activities, and National Park notices. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:
Upon arrival please check in at our base, the Nova Inn. At 8:00 PM you will meet with your guides in the hotel lobby, go over any last-minute details, and prepare for the next day’s departure for the river. Overnight Inuvik.
Those arriving in Inuvik today will be met at the airport and transferred to our chartered aircraft, joining our guests who arrived the night prior. It is a 190-mile flight into the headwaters of the Firth. The plane’s large tundra wheels enable us to land on a remote gravel bar in the foothills of the Brooks Range. We’ll go through the camping procedures and then enjoy the first of many delightful meals in the wilderness. We will spend the day exploring the foothills, fishing for char, or you can just relax with your camera.
Days Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six
After breakfast and a thorough safety orientation, we will head downriver, drifting silently and scanning the landscape for caribou. Soon after, we pass Joe Creek and the hills begin to close as we approach the British Mountains. The pace quickens and we run our first major rapids, culminating with Fisher Rapid. The unglaciated, cone-shaped mountains provide fantastic hiking and a dramatic backdrop for our camp. On the fourth day sheer canyon walls begin to rise out of the river as we float past curious Dall sheep. We will run a series of Class III and IV rapids and perhaps hike at Sheep Creek. Camp will be set on one of the many gravel beaches deep in this incised canyon. This portion of the trip holds the largest and longest rapids of the trip, and we become engulfed by canyon walls that are hundreds of feet high. We will call our camp tonight Grizzly Camp, as on all our previous trips we have seen grizzlies in this segment of river. Hiking high above the river we get a delightful view of the Arctic Ocean.
Days Seven and Day Eight
After breaking camp we are swept by the river out of the canyons and onto the vast North Slope. Here we pass through the summer aggregation grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The energy of the Firth is finally lost as it begins to dissipate into a number of channels across the coastal plain in a wide braided delta. We may camp on the riverbank adjacent to the Knoll, a 200-meter bump on the coastal plain. Hiking to its summit we can view the Arctic Ocean and its icebergs, and search for caribou, barrenland grizzlies, and wolves.
Day Nine and Ten
The ninth day will take us through the braided delta. Generally this is a leisurely affair, with plenty of time to gaze at sandhill cranes flying overhead and ground squirrels chattering from the riverbank. On occasion, water levels may necessitate a short haul of the boats. The coastal plain is a 15-20 kilometer stretch of tundra that gently rises from the Beaufort to the foothills of the British Mountains. This mosaic of wet tundra, ponds, lakes, and river deltas is one of the most important wildlife habitats in the park. The coastal plain continues west into coastal Alaska and is considered to be the “Serengeti of the North” because of the caribou and prolific birdlife. Drifting further west down the Noatuk Spit, we will set up camp on the shores of the ocean. We will spend the balance of day exploring the beach and watching for friendly seals and Beluga whales. Fragmented pieces of the polar ice cap provide stunning photographic opportunities.
After breaking camp and packing our gear, our plane arrives to transfer us back to Inuvik where we will check into our hotel. We will regroup for a farewell dinner and reflect on the Firth and its extraordinary wilderness, having just completed the most remote river trip in North America, Canada’s ultimate river adventure. Overnight in Inuvik.
Depart for home at your leisure.
- About the Region
Ivvavik National Park is a 10,170 square kilometer wilderness area tucked away in the most northwestern corner of Canada, 950 kilometers north of Whitehorse. Established in 1984 with the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, it is the first national park to arise from the settlement of comprehensive native land claims.
The park has a unique character. It is based upon a conservation and preservation principle that will preserve this arctic wilderness, but which will also help maintain the traditional lifestyles of the aboriginal peoples of the region. In dedicating the park, the Inuvialuit (meaning people) hoped to ensure the maintenance of aboriginal lifestyles and to express the native peoples’ desire to share their natural and cultural heritage with the rest of Canada.
Ivvavik National Park is thought to be one of the least changed landscapes in Canada. The area remained almost entirely unglaciated during the last major ice age, unlike the rest of Canada, which was scoured by great sheets of ice. The ancient landscapes of the park, which has been vegetated continuously for almost 60 million years, provide scientists a rare opportunity to study Canadian terrain shaped almost exclusively by wind, water, and frost.
These climatic forces have smoothed the British Mountains, giving the landscape an almost surreal quality. The softly sculptured, gentle slopes and ancient, symmetrical valleys have changed with monumental slowness. Instead of landscapes like cirques and U-shaped valleys or upland moraines so common elsewhere, the British Mountains show the results of uninterrupted river-related landscape forming processes. Such forces feature V-shaped valleys, inselbergs, and pediments, gently sloping land surfaces, cut in bedrock and covered in thin layers of alluvial sediments. This region also displays exceptional permafrost phenomena, which have evolved through millions of years of weathering, mass movement, and fluvial processes.
The Firth River flows northeast from Alaska through the British Mountains and coastal plain of the Northern Yukon and drains into the Beaufort Sea southwest of Herschel Island. The entire watershed of the Firth is contained in the boundaries of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and Ivvavik National Park in Canada. Together these organizations protect this wilderness and ensure the long-term preservation of the natural and cultural resources of the region. The Firth River is likely the oldest river in Canada and definitely one of the wildest. Bisecting this incredible national park, it is the summer home for 120,000 caribou of the west Porcupine herd. Migrating in small bands from their southern wintering grounds, the caribou congregate in coastal calving grounds before moving in huge herds across the Firth River. By special permit and in the company of professional guides, participants may witness this amazing spectacle.
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of native occupation dating back thousands of years. The Inuit based their economy around the marine resources of the Beaufort Sea and would venture inland to hunt caribou and moose and to fish for char. The most significant site for the early records of man in the Arctic came from Engigstiak, a bedrock knob rising almost 200 meters above the coastal plain. This site, which we will hike to, has been a look-out post, butchering spot, and rest site for prehistoric hunters for at least 3,000 years. Remains have been found there of animals which have been extinct for 10,000 years. Two active mineral licks on the northwest side of the outcrop are still used extensively by caribou.
Signs of occupation are visible throughout the river corridor, in the form of tent rings, rock shelters, stone houses, remains of meat caches, and portions of stone fences that were used as guides to drive the caribou to a designated kill site. Like the natives, non-native activity has focused on the more easily traveled coast. From Sir John Franklin’s first traverse of the area in 1826 through to the whalers of the turn of the century to the military’s present interest in sites for the North Warning radar stations, the coast has been witness to change.
Wildlife and Flora
This part of the country is probably the most productive wildlife area in Canada’s Arctic. Within the northern tree-line zone, stunted white spruce and dwarf poplar of the boreal forest melt into the vast expanse of the arctic tundra. With this variety of geoclimatic zones come the associated wilderness icons such as barrenland grizzly, wolf, the most northerly Dall sheep population, and arctic fox. Musk ox, once eliminated from the North Slope, are slowly re-establishing themselves following a re-introduction of the species. The Porcupine caribou herd, one of the world’s largest at over 150,000 animals, is the park’s most prominent wildlife feature.
Several species of raptors can be found along the Firth River corridor including golden eagle, gyrfalcon, peregrine falcon, and rough-legged hawk. Along the arctic coast, where the shoreline is splashed by the Beaufort Sea, hundreds of thousands of snow geese and whistling swans gather in the lagoon estuaries and barrier islands to molt and fatten for their autumn migration to the southern US.
The conjunction of three regions within the Firth Valley presents an exceptional example of vegetation diversity in an arctic environment. The majority of the park is treeless arctic tundra composed mainly of sedges and low-growing shrubs such as willow, dwarf birch, Labrador tea, and cranberry. However, with increasing elevation, the arctic tundra grades into alpine tundra of scattered patches of mountain avens, saxifrages, alpine bearberry, and crustose lichens. Taiga is found on the valley floors of the Firth in sections, which are protected from the Arctic Ocean.
- Trip Planner
Planning Your Trip
We have prepared this Trip Planner to help you get ready for the adventures ahead in this truly unspoiled part of the world. We have tried to anticipate questions you might have concerning travel arrangements, what to bring, and getting in shape. If any of your questions remain unanswered, please don’t hesitate to call.
Personal Equipment Notes
The personal equipment list we provide you with has been developed through years of practical experience. It is important that the clothing you bring will withstand the rigors of the trip. Your personal equipment should not weigh more than 40 pounds and all clothing should be quick drying and be made of synthetics. Warmth and comfort are the main objectives with this outline. Weather conditions can vary considerably in the North. It’s important to dress in layers so that you can maintain a comfortable body temperature no matter what Mother Nature may have in store. The inner layer should move perspiration outside, where it can evaporate. The intermediate layer should insulate while the outside layer should act as a barrier to wind and rain.
On this trip we’ll be more likely to have the occasional shower than an entire day of rain. Still, you’ll be more comfortable if you stay warm and dry, so be sure to pack some rain gear-both tops and bottoms. They should be compact enough to fit easily into your daypack.
Pile or Fleece
The best we’ve found is 200-weight Polar Plus, which is used by a variety of companies. This fabric is warm, dries quickly and is not excessively bulky. It can be found in many different styles and colours.
Synthetic materials like polypropylene, polyester and natural fibers like silk and wool work well. Both are quick drying and bacteria resistant, as well. Do not bring cotton long underwear. When wet, cotton dissipates heat from your body and takes a long time to dry.
Choose lightweight, synthetic fabrics that breathe well for warm weather walking. Whatever you choose, be sure you have comfortable freedom of movement, especially for uphill and downhill walking.
Footwear for Hiking and Walking
The importance of good footwear cannot be overstated. What may seem like a good shoe at home could leave you with sore feet on your trip. Given that our trails are often gravelly or sometimes muddy, you need a good walking boot with a firm sole, good ankle support and a degree of water resistance. It’s now easy to find a “hybrid” walking boot, which combines the lightweight, ventilated features of a shoe with the support and durability of a boot. If you buy new walking shoes or boots for the trip, make sure you break them in well before you go.
Bring at least one pair for each day unless you want to wash them out each night. We recommend synthetic/wool blend as these tend to draw the perspiration from the foot and will keep your feet warm, even when wet. It may be a good idea to bring along some additional items such as foot powder, cushioned pads and/or bandages to place inside your footwear-just in case. Another worthwhile product is something called Spenco 2nd Skin, which provides cushioned comfort with an antiseptic for blistered and sore feet. Many people find a product called moleskin gives them great relief from blisters. The guides carry a blister kit as part of their first-aid supplies.
Bring a daypack that holds approximately 20-35 litres to carry raingear, camera and water bottle.
Personal Equipment List
• 1 pair light hiking boots with appropriate numbers of socks
• 1 pair river sandals (Tevas are great)
• 1 pair of high top rubber boots
• 5-10 pairs warm wool socks
• 2 long-sleeved shirts
• 3 T-shirts
• 2 long underwear tops (synthetic)
• 2 pile or fleece jacket (100-200 weight)
• 1 high quality waterproof rain jacket
• 1 Down or synthetic jacket or vest (for in camp)
• 2 pairs long underwear bottoms (synthetic)
• 2 pairs of light shorts (quick-drying)
• 2 pairs of quick-dry pants
• 1 pair high quality waterproof rain pants
• Undergarments (ideally 1-2 of them synthetic)
• 1 swimsuit
Head & Hands
• 1 sun hat or visor
• 1 wool or fleece hat
• 1 pair paddling gloves (optional)
• 1 pair of warm fleece gloves for in camp
• 1 day pack (for use on day hikes)
• 1 Litre water bottle with securing strap (Camelbacks are great)
• Toiletry kit (biodegradable soap and shampoo, personal medications)
• Small towel
• Sunscreen, lip salve, insect repellent with DEET
• Sunglasses with safety strap and/or extra prescription glasses (if necessary)
• Stuff sacks or plastic bags to separate clothing, etc.
• Notebook, journal, reading material
• Camera (don’t forget extra batteries)
• Binoculars (optional)
• Fishing rod, with case and tackle (optional)
• Pocket or Swiss Army knife (optional)
Equipment Provided For You
Expedition quality tent (2-person, shared), deluxe sleeping bag & pad, floater jacket, waterproof gear bags for personal clothing, waterproof day bag, and camp commissary.
Your guides will meet you in Inuvik and help you transfer personal equipment into waterproof bags. Any luggage or clean clothes for immediately after the trip will be stored. The gear you’re taking on the river should not weigh more than 40 pounds.
Getting Insured -Trip Cancellation Insurance
R.O.A.M. strongly recommends that you purchase trip cancellation insurance. You risk forfeiture of all monies paid, if you cancel your trip. You have the option of purchasing an insurance policy that meets the specific needs of our travellers. http://www.travelinsure.com/what/imedhigh.htm?32931.
Please make sure you understand what the insurance will and will not cover. Please consult the policy for exact coverage, details of other risks insured, and for other benefits and limitations of the insurance.
Getting in Shape
Our trips are designed for people who enjoy the out-of-doors, rather than for fitness fanatics. Still, they are active holidays. Age is unimportant when it comes to your ability to do the kayaking, walking, and/or hiking-the more important consideration is your physical condition. . If you haven’t attempted the kind of exercise levels required by our trips within the last couple of years, please be aware of the sort of trip you’re taking. It’s an active one, and you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve been doing some exercise before you go.
Your guides will give you an orientation to expedition practices and teach you all the basic skills that you’ll require to enjoy the different aspects of the trip. Our prime consideration is to provide you with a trip that is as safe and comfortable as possible while still maintaining the integrity of a wilderness experience. Activities that involve aerobic conditioning, such as swimming, walking, jogging, squash, and tennis are great for overall physical conditioning. Keep in mind the relative topography of where you live compared to the region you will be visiting. If you live in flat country, for example, consider supplementing your training with artificial hill training on a treadmill or stair-master.
A Thumbnail Training Program
• Two-three months before the trip starts: try to do exercises that involve aerobic conditioning three times each week-swimming, walking, jogging, squash, cross-country skiing, tennis, biking.
• One month before the trip: go for a couple of longer walks each week.
• The week before your trip: try to go for three long walks.
• Be sure to stretch after exercising-it reduces the chances of injury, muscle pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
To ensure your comfort while in camp, our trips utilize spacious expedition tents, a deluxe sleeping pad, and a warm sleeping bag. In times of inclement weather, we deploy a series of tarps that cover the kitchen and eating areas, allowing a more comfortable and enjoyable camping experience. We are equipped with a propane kitchen, comfortable camp chairs and portable privy. Because we carry ample propane, we will be able to provide clients with a reasonably hot shower each evening in camp.
We use state-of-the-art self-bailing rafts. These rafts have been designed with centre-mount oar rigs giving participants the option of just soaking up the views. For those unfamiliar with self-bailing boats: as water enters the boat, it collects on the inflated floor and then drains out through grommet holes along each side. Self-bailing boats offer invaluable advantages, such as greater portability, stability, capacity and maneuverability.
Canada’s Goods & Services Tax (GST)
Canada has a Goods & Services Tax (GST) of 5%. However, for non-residents of Canada, most of these taxes can be recuperated. Be sure to keep receipts, and ask customs officials on your departure from the country for the necessary forms and information.
While on the river, our guides carry satellite communication for emergency purposes. Folks at home can get word to our travelers through our reservations office. The satellite phones are battery-powered and have limited standby and talk times. The phones are used for medical and evacuation purposes only. Should you need a phone at your disposal, you should make arrangements for your own satellite communication. Because of our remote locale, cellular phones are not an option.
Our guides are as impressive as the scenery; passionate about their work, they are delighted to pass on their knowledge and skills. They have an intimate knowledge of a region’s wildlife, natural history, culture and folklore. Trained in wilderness first aid and professionally certified to the highest provincial level in British Columbia, our guides are eager to please and will ensure you have a memorable experience.
Tips and Tipping
• Tipping is common in Canada, and fairly similar to U.S. practices. Of course, there are some exceptions, which we have noted.
• Taxis – 5% is appropriate for good service and 10% is generous.
• Porters – $2 per bag.
• Restaurants – It is appropriate to leave 15% before tax.
The tipping of R.O.A.M. guides is entirely discretionary, and we feel strongly that gratuities should not be offered to them if they lead anything less than a great trip. However, we expect that our guides will do a great job in making your trip memorable and, when they do, it is not uncommon for our travellers to offer a gratuity. The guides very much appreciate it. We are often asked what is appropriate. In general, we have found that when our travellers offer a gratuity, it is in the range of a “thank you” to 10% of the trip cost per person. But again, tipping is entirely at your discretion.