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11 Days of Whitewater Rafting
per person based on double occupancy
This trip is available
by request only.
Please contact us if you are interested
in joining this expedition.
(We require a minimum of 12 guests to run this trip.)
Deposit: $1000 Meeting Place: Inuvik, NWT Gateway City: Inuvik, NWT River Rating: Class III Age Range: 13-80
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.
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
What to Expect on the Firth River Arctic Expedition
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 & 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.
Days Nine & 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.