Monday, January 18, 2021

Rescue on the Thelon River, NWT Canada

This incident took part whilst we were on the The Clarke / Thelon rivers  in 2007.  

Not exactly a rescue in the way us British canoeists would know it - but this demonstrates how difficult access/egress is for many of the remoter Canadian rivers.

Our 3rd day of paddling with a small group of paddlers on  the  Thelon and we encountered ice which went right across the river.  A combination of hauling the canoes across the ice and by portage and we were making slow progress. 

On the river bank a lone middle aged canoeist was sitting next to her small tent, and her collapsable canoe.  Alex our guide went to talk to her.  It transpired that she had been  having problems with her satellite telephone and  she told Alex she was; “waiting for the ice to melt or break up. ”. And had been on the river for three days.  We  also discovered that she had  called Fort Smith Royal Canadian Mounted Police as she wanted ‘rescuing’ as the thought of three or more weeks of isolated paddling  through remote wilderness had become far too intimidating for her to cope with and didn’t want to paddle any further, and had given up any idea of paddling to the only settlement on the river at Baker lake a few hundred miles downstream.

Alex told her that no plane could land on the broken ice, nor on the rapids downstream and that she’d have to paddle back a mile or so where the water was flat enough for  a float plane to land safely, but she appeared unwilling to move.  She had plenty of food and supplies so we left her where she was knowing she’d made contact with the RCMP in Fort Smith.  Alex told us that to ‘rescue’ her would cost her $6000 Canadian dollars for the 2 hour flight from Ft Smith!!  

Alex told us that Kevin, whom we had met in Fort Smith was flying out to the river and would probably paddle down to help her move her camp to a place of rescue.

We paddled on.

When we eventually finished our own trip and flew  back to Fort Smith we heard the rest of story.  It transpired that she was from California and  had been rescued  the previous year on the Mckenzie River after her collapsable canoe had sunk - and this was the same canoe she was using on the Thelon!!.  

A  plane had flown out to her the day after we met her, and dropped a message to her telling her she needed to move to a safer place so the plane could land which she refused to do.  

Later another plane overflew her and reported that she had moved her tent, but not to the correct place and that she could not be seen.  At this point it had become apparent to those in Fort Smith that she was in need of mental health care as well, so Kevin took with him a Psychologist & Psychiatrist,  and after a days paddle eventual found her and helped her move to a place where a float plane could come and fetch her back to Ft. Smith.

When I later called in to North West Air, to confirm our own arrangements for flying out of Ft Smith the woman was talking to a representative from the North West Air and wanted to know about getting a job in Ft Smith and for advice on where she could pitch her tent!  Mmmm?

No comments: