July 26 – day 18 – Thelon Bluffs

Its 5am…still half asleep, I hear Canada geese honking as they fly overhead. It seems a change is in the air – not the coming of fall (yet!) but the sense that days here on the river are numbered. Sadness threatens to come – I push it away and focus on Ron’s light snoring. Hmm. Not much more sleeping for me. I get up and exit to the tundra tunnel, making myself a cup of tea while waiting for the others, watching the day bloom into fullness.

Another hot and sunny day with a few navigational challenges. The big sandy island shown on the map just south of camp, does not exist, either washed away or under water. According to the map, there should be a large tributary on the north side of the river but also doesn’t exist. And to further complicate things, just before enter the main Thelon river, a huge amount of water comes pouring in from the south side. What’s going on? Grounding the canoe in the shallows, I study the surroundings with binoculars.

The flatness and wide river makes it difficult to match map to land. Of course we could use the GPS but that’s cheating! Eventually, we figure out that the river cut a new channel which the map doesn’t show.

There, a large shallow lake, some six of seven km long and 90 minutes of paddling dumps us through a narrow channel. Finally, the Ursus island north channel rejoins the Thelon proper. Two moose on shore mark the main river but scarcely glance at us, busy with tender twigs.

 With the faster water current and different colour, there is no mistaking we are back in the main river again. We sail a bit, taking advantage of a tail wind.

The countryside is more rolling than upstream, and with few trees, it has a real barren lands feel. Rounding a huge gravel bar, 10 muskox graze ridge grasses. We beach the canoes and sneak up on them. Alfred, being the little guy (with the biggest camera and lots of patience), gets closest.

Two juveniles playfully head butt each other, circling each other and dashing around the adults before coming together. A large male tries to make nicey-nice with a female but she doesn’t take kindly to his sniffing her rear end. After an hour or so, they tire of being watched by us and wheel away across the tundra, long hair flying in the wind.

A few kilometers upstream, the Thelon making a pronounced bend to the east. There, robins egg blue ABS canoe marked “Trailhead” lies abandoned, buried in sand up to her gunnels. I wonder what event caused this boat to be left as it couldn’t have been the whitewater (unless far upstream).

Happy and relaxed, we let the wind and current carry us. Much despised, the bug shirt still worn, this time as sun protection. Seems I can’t go a day without wearing the thing! 

Eventually, we come to the archeologically significant stretch of river about 1 km up stream from the Thelon Bluffs. Tent rings, chert flakes, wood stakes, midden fields decorate the river terrace. Unfathomable to us but significant to others, stone markers on the slopes beg further investigation. The views are magnificent in all direction from this natural hunting, er, camping/vantage point.

Oddly enough, adjacent to this historic site is an unmanned weather station complete with solar panels. A few beat up canoes, upside down wooden boat and rusting oil drums wait to be rescued.


The river narrows and the current begins to pick up. The bare rock has an undeniable red hue, jarring against the green flora. This collection of spear points, scrapers, arrow heads were left under a rock. If you find a Euro coin with them, well, it was us who left it there.

Views upstream from the weather station on the north bank of the Thelon River.

After some debate, we decide to camp here. It’s an easy walk along the south shore to look at the Bluffs, across the river. Tomorrow is a layover day, a double camp, thus care is taken to select level site. Particular attention is paid when setting up the tent to take best advantage of the river views.

By 10:30pm the light is fading, the sun a red ball sinking behind heavy grey clouds. It’s been a long day and a long paddle under hot sun. One last look outside the tent and then gladly, I retired to the tent.