About Our South Nahanni Wilderness Hiking Area
FACTS | ENVIRONMENT | BEARS
South Nahanni's Solitude Excursions take place in the south-western part of the Northwest Territories of Canada, where they leave the low country of the Mackenzie River Valley and climb ever higher into the South Nahanni mountains of sheep and caribou, get lost in a grey maze of humped camel backs and soar into the goat dotted peaks of the glacier crowned Ragged Range on the Yukon border. In this forgotten land of northern silence giant rivers and streams dissect the land, washes carry gravel and shale and rock, exposing fossils of ancient seas, pushing towards the Arctic Ocean, and legends lie in the lonely air of mountain wilderness, leaving their names in the wind; North- and South Nahanni, Broken Skull, Thundercloud, Ram Plateau; speak of gold and fur and fame, of fortunes sought and nature found.
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Some of the places we invite you to might bear a famous name; South Nahanni, Virginia Falls, the karsts of the Ram Plateau, the Cirque of Unclimbables, Rabbit Kettle Hotsprings; but mostly this country is unnamed, unvisited, unknown; lying there cloaked in its own beauty, beckoning with camp spots and making you want to hike and hike and see.
Fort Simpson, NWT, on the mighty Mackenzie River is the gateway to South Nahanni National Park Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A one hour bush flight will take you from this tiny outpost of civilization into the Mackenzie Mountains, crossing the Mackenzie River. The greater South Nahanni area consists of pushed together mountain ranges, northern spruce and wild rivers. Stitched into its immensity are Karsts (Ram Plateau), the largest glacier field in the NWT, the small eyes of stunningly green lakes, the spires of the Ragged Range with the Cirque of the Unclimabables, the tufa mounds at Rabbitkettle Lake, Virginia Falls – the highest in Canada, and the snaking green of the South Nahanni way down deep in 4,000 feet (1,200 m) high canyon walls.
You are invited to hike and climb and rest and camp in the breathtaking land of the greater South Nahanni area, in a place that the civilized mind cannot fathom any more. Here you may wander with the caribou, unmolested, in silence and solitude and emptiness, in the incredible world of true wilderness far away from any human trace, out there in the forgotten land of nowhere. An endless country of pure beauty at every step and vista is awaiting you, a country of space, unlimited space, hundreds of thousands of acres of space, a country of dreams that can come true.
It is an invitation to a very special place but also to a very special concept: Wilderness is a much trodden on word, yet most of us have never experienced it, have never felt and seen it with the eyes of the first fur traders or explorers, have never been an Alexander Mackenzie or Albert Faille, have never taken it for granted as a way of life as aboriginals around the world have done and do, and for the most part none of us will ever have that chance.
Take on our invitation then and sit under the rays of the midnight sun atop a mountain, some mountain without name, somewhere out there, far away.
The NWT and the Yukon share the Mackenzie Mountains, which straddle the continental divide. Rivers on the west side flow to the Pacific Ocean or the Beaufort Sea while those on the east run to the Mackenzie River. The bedrock of this rugged mountain terrain with its sharp ridges and narrow valleys is mostly sedimentary, having formed in a shallow sea half a billion years ago. Over time this country has lifted and folded into tilted ranges, while erosion and multiple glacial advances sculpted and sculpt these mountains.
Our hikes take place in the three ecozones of the Taiga Cordillera: In higher elevations lichens, mosses and sedges mingle with low willow and alpine saxifrage. Here you will find animals such as picas, hoary marmots and mountain goats.
At lower elevations the subalpine transition zone takes over with willows and dwarf birch forming thickets, interspersed with white and black spruce.
The even lower montane zone features spruce-lichen woodlands. Trembling aspen and paper birch mingle with spruce on carpets of feather moss, balsam poplar, willows and alders form dense forests and habitats for moose, black bears, lynx, marten, snowshoe hare as well as a variety of ducks and the rare trumpeter swans.
Winters in this country are long and cold; frost-free days over the year count only between 20 and 60 days and the mean daily July temperature lies between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius (in the 60's F). This doesn't mean you will be cold, when coming in July or August expect temperatures to go up to plus 30 C or into the 90s F.
Nahanni's Solitude Excursions operate in an untouched wilderness and we want to keep it this way. We are committed to this wild place as a business and by law, but most importantly because we ourselves love this wild and untouched place. The North, as enduring and everlasting and endless as it may seem, is very fragile; step on it harshly and it will show its scars for generations to come.
We, and with us our guests, tread this country very lightly. If you end up camping in a spot that previous clients have used as home base, you will never know it. We leave these places as we found them - absolutely wild. Our version of no trace camping might include the remains of a small fire pit on gravel bars close to the river, in itself part of nature as are humans, but we will not allow any other scarring of the landscape, no roads, no trails, no tire tracks, certainly no garbage, no permanent structures apart from the one base camp.
Our big environmental advantage is the low number of people who come to the greater South Nahanni region. While the South Nahanni River itself sees about 800 people a year, almost all places we will take you to see none apart from your group.
Our permanent Base Camp is regulated and controlled by the NWT government, Department of Northern and Indian Affairs, and features grey water pit, composting, fuel spill kits for emergencies and respectful distances towards the watercourse.
Our heli hiking adventures take place over a very large area, about 2,5 million hectares, or 12,000 square miles -about three times the size of Yellowstone National Park or the size of a small European country like Belgium. Our impact and our helicopter time are therefore much spread out and you will hardly find other places in this world that compare.
Yes, this is bear country, mainly grizzly bear country but a smattering of black bears can be encountered as well. And, yes, bears are potentially dangerous but so is driving down the highway in your own vehicle. We need you to be aware of the presence of the beautiful Silvertip and we will instruct you on safety measures concerning closer or close encounters. Our guides carry bear spray, we practice safe camping techniques and we have the opportunity of a quick scouting trip with the helicopter before setting down for the day's hike or the night's camp. We do not want to disturb the bears and we don't want them disturbing us. We also keep a trained Karelian Bear dog around main camp to be taken along on walks for protection.
Observing a grizzly bear roaming wild mountains is a grand experience, a thrill, a sight never to be forgotten. Seeing his effortless movements, his powerful, ambling gait will put your pile of flesh and bones into its perspective on the food chain and will leave you with a wish to leave wild places wild.