Our Trip with Whitney and Smith
down the Thomsen River
Aulavik National Park
June 23 to July 6, 2008
Banks Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean north of Inuvik. It is part of the Northwest Territories.
Banks Island is approximately 1/3 the size of the UK. It has a population of 120 indigenous people. They all reside in Sachs
Harbour, on the south eastern side of the island.
Aulavik National Park is Canada's second largest national park, but because of its remoteness, is one of the least
visited. In the calendar year 2007, there were zero visitors to the park as the island was fogged in during the short Arctic
summer. This year, 2008, Parks Canada expected 25 visitors. That number includes researchers and Parks Canada
employees. We were privileged to be two of the 25 visitors.
Banks Island has half the world's muskoxen--approximately 70,000 muskoxen.
Running through the north end of Banks Island and the full length of Aulavik National Park is the Thomsen River. It is reputed
to be the most northern river in the world that can be paddled. It has a solid flow for a few short weeks after the ice melt in June.
We met the rest of our group at the Inuvik Airport.
We were a group of eight, two guides, and six
guests. There was also an additional passenger
riding with us who had arranged to backpack
across the park and meet us at the end of our
After a meeting with a representative from Parks
Canada for a briefing, we drove our Subaru over
to Aklak Air. The pilot told us to carry our
baggage to the plane. We told Aklak Air that the
rest of the group was ready, and they sent a
pickup truck to get their baggage. The rest of the
group soon arrived and the pilots loaded all our
gear in the airplane and then pulled down seats
in the empty places for us to sit.
After a two hour flight, our airplane stopped in Sachs Harbor (below) for refueling.
Most of the plant life on Banks Island is two inches or less. There is no plant life taller than 12 inches. Curiously, the northern
part of the island where the park and Thomsen River is located is the most fertile part of the island. Besides the national park,
there is a bird sanctuary there. From Sachs Harbor we flew another hour to our put in spot on the Thomsen River.
It was June 23, and some of the lakes still had ice. The dark green colored portion of the lakes is ice frozen to the bottom of
Our landing spot was on the tundra. When we arrived, the pilots flew over it three times to confirm that it was suitable for
landing. On the fourth pass, they bounced the plane off our intended runway, and then came in a fifth time for a landing. We
quickly unloaded all the gear from the Twin Otter.
The water level in the Thomsen River was high with a good flow, so we landed just outside the park. We would paddle
approximately 100 miles and take day hikes on the tundra as well.
The Twin Otter was fitted with DC-3 tires shaved almost bald and
under inflated to take the hazards of the tundra and gravel bars
on which it lands.
The little blond gal was our pilot, and a very good one.
She also did a great job of hoisting the heavy baggage on and off
That night, Dave showed us how to set up our tents. The information sheet for the trip stated that we would meet the next
morning to have fun assembling our folding kayaks--Kleppers designed some 90 years ago in Germany for the German navy.
After Dave showed us how to assemble his kayak, we all had "fun" struggling to assemble our Kleppers. Fortunately, Dave
was patient and frequently came to our assistance.
I would have preferred a canoe. They take a lot more gear. Using the Klepper, we had to put all our clothes and sleeping
bags into two small stuff sacks which we used as seats. There were two reasons for using the kayak shaped Kleppers. They
are easier to load on the plane since they can be unassembled, and they are less vulnerable to the wind, a big issue on
Banks Island. Fortunately, the wind was usually benign on this trip.
The biggest challenge was packing. Every inch of the Kleppers was filled with stuff and we set more stuff on the bottoms to sit
in and more stuff between our legs. When we thought we had stuffed in as much as possible, Dave came over and kept
sticking more gear in the Klepper. Unlike regular kayaks, there was only one hole to stick in stuff, the hole where th
passengers sat. With his long arms, Dave could stuff more stuff in the bow and stern than we thought possible.
There was even stuff on top of our Kleppers which made them somewhat top heavy. Fortunately, we completed
our fourth consecutive Arctic paddle trip without turning over.