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Firth River Rafting Trips, Herschel Island, Yukon Territory Rafting Tours, Firth River Raft Camping Tour, Yukon Escorted Wildlife Viewing Tour
Yukon Native Heritage Tours, Canada Arctic Ocean, Nunavut, River Rafting Yukon Territory, Guided Outdoor Adventure Tours Yukon
12 Days Firth River Rafting Tour
  RBC#05 Firth River Rafting
Overview: Out of the vastness of the Canadian North we have selected a jewel of a river trip to showcase the abundance of life on the Arctic tundra. The Firth River flows from Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge through Ivvavik National Park at the northern tip of Canada's Yukon Territory. An ice-free refuge in the last Ice Age, the Firth is thought to be Canada's oldest flowing river. Virtually at the continents northern most extent of trees, the open landscape and 24 hour daylight make for limitle ss hiking and superb wildlife viewing. Though above the Arctic Circle, the weather is generally surprisingly hot and sunny. Ivvavik is part of the famous Porcupine Caribou herd's range and each year some lucky rafters find themselves in the midst of tens of thousands of migrating caribou. The trip starts with a bushplane flight to a riverside meadow deep in the British Mountains. After scouting the lay of the land, we meander downstream past wildflower-carpeted tundra as golden eagle and gyrfalcon soar overhead. The broad valley eventually gives way to pretty canyons cut through mountain flanks. Pure white Dall's sheep climb above, while arctic char and grayling swim in the clear waters below. Approaching the Arctic Ocean, the lively river breaks free of the mountains and spills onto the coastal plain. Looking over the tundra at roving herds of musk oxen, it doesn't take much imagination to envision woolly mammoths living here back in the Pleistocene. The rafting ends on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, among seals and beluga whales. On our flight back to Inuvik we stop at the turn of the century whaling relics on Herschel Island.
Meet the trip leader and guides in Inuvik the night before the trip starts.  While the Firth is in the Yukon Territory, Inuvik, situated in the very northwest corner of the huge Northwest Territories, is the closet town with a jet-serviced airport. At the pre-trip meeting in Inuvik we introduce ourselves, distribute duffel bags, mosquito-proof shirts and camping gear.
Access to the River: The flight in is in a deHavilland Twin Otter aircraft (the current workhorse aircraft of the north). The route takes us over the maze of the Mackenzie River Delta. The myriad channels and thousands of lakes are home to many nesting swans, ducks and geese, which are easily spotted from the air. Once out of the delta we'll keep our eyes peeled for larger mammals. The Yukon is shaped like a tall pointed triangle wedged between the Northwest Territories to the east, Alaska to the west and the Arctic Ocean to the north. The 275 km flight into Ivvavik (formerly Northern Yukon) National Park takes us virtually across the narrowest part of the Yukon almost into Alaska. (The Park was established in 1984 and as yet is not shown on many maps.) A little over an hour after leaving Inuvik, we land near Margaret Lake on balloon-like "tundra tires" and taxi almost to the river's edge. Margaret Lake THE PUT-IN AREA sits at 410 meters and we'll wind our way downstream for 130 kilometers through the British Mountains to sea level at the Beaufort Sea. The put-in is very close to the border with Alaska and just over the hills to the south lie the Old Crow flats
The Upper River: At first, the Firth has a quiet nature. The low banks permit unobstructed views up the valley sides and imposing limestone crags rise from the river to 1680 meters in elevation. Our rafts glide over deep crystal clear pools full of grayling and char. In this area, one finds many coral fossils which further attest to the sedimentary nature of the geology. The river valley provides prime habitat for many birds: phalaropes, sandpipers, plovers, jaegers, terns, buntings, longspurs and even robins make it up here in summer. All along our route, we'll hike back to small lakes and ponds to look for nesting loons and ducks. We should see grizzly, caribou and moose. As in much of the area, caribou migration trails line the hillsides. Red fox and ptarmigan are common. There are many other areas, such as the Tatshenshini, with higher bear densities but the Firth may be hard to beat in terms of watching them on the open tundra. On rivers with thick brush, sightings of wildlife are usually brief as the animals wander through vegetation as they feed. On the Firth we carry a spotting scope on a tripod to take maximum advantage of wildlife viewing opportunities. After a couple of days of travel we reach the area of Joe Creek, which is the Firth's largest tributary. Here, as along much of the route, there are ancient signs of human use of the valley. The Inuit would leave the coast where their culture was centered to travel inland and hunt caribou and moose and fish for char. When we pick a nice campsite for the night - one with good wildlife viewing opportunities or perhaps a great fishing hole - we may find remains of old meat caches and the stone rings that once held down skin tents. The realizations that this land has been used by numerous native cultures for thousands of years evoke powerful visions
The Middle River: Once past Joe Creek the river enters a beautiful canyon. For several days the riverbank is primarily canyon with scattered breaks. Here the Firth is a combination of quiet pools and calm stretches between exhilarating rapids. The tortured strata of the geology is beautiful and contrasts with the round river rock and gravel on the bars. There are ten species of raptor in the Park and the canyon walls are ideal nesting sites for some, including golden eagles and gyrfalcons. Snow-white Dall Sheep - North America's northernmost population - inhabit the canyons, as well as the mountain crags. We may float literally a stone's throw from a band of big rams. Wolves are found throughout the watershed and are seen on many trips. Just above the confluence of Sheep Creek are some of the bigger rapids of the trip. There are good opportunities to photograph the rafts coming through from the cliffs. Sheep Creek is where the National Park Service has unfortunately committed overkill with the construction of a large incongruous warden station. The good news is that they built it on the site of what was once a small fly-in placer gold mine. Claim posts and artifacts are still visible from the Firth's mini-gold rush.In July the Porcupine Caribou herd migrates across the Firth River. We've been lucky enough to see 30,000 animals cross the river around our camp. In places there are still remnants of the stone caribou fences that Inuit hunters used to funnel the caribou into tight enclosures where they could more easily kill the animals with ancient weapons.
The Lower River: After a few days, the British Mountains merge into the Buckland Hills. Soon the canyon walls are left behind and the Firth emerges onto the coastal plain. A few hundred yards from the river rises a rock knoll known as Engigstiack. Though only one hundred feet high, Engigstiack provides great views over the plain. The top is littered with the pellets of rough-legged hawks, gyrfalcons, snowy owls and golden eagles containing the undigested hair and bone of lemmings, ground squirrels and birds. For thousands of years - probably back to the time of the Bering Land Bridge - hunters have stood atop this rock and gazed out over the tundra looking for the coming the caribou and other, now extinct, game. Engigstiack is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in the Yukon Territory and we'll see signs of digs conducted by archaeologists on the nearby tundra At this latitude the land is underlain with permafrost so that only the top meter of the soils thaws out in the summer. This creates some interesting features such as polygons on the tundra but, because there is nowhere for the water to percolate to, the flat areas tend to be wet. Arctic ground squirrels and other burrowing creatures are consequently limited to areas on hills or along riverbanks where the soil does not freeze and is well drained. Wolves and foxes tend to den in similar areas. 

When we walk across the tundra, we hear the subterranean squeaks of voles and lemmings. Shortly after Engigstiack, we leave the canyon-like nature of the Firth behind as it splays out into the Firth Delta. The tenth night is usually spent at the head of the delta where musk ox wool drapes the willow bushes. The musk ox herd is growing and we're almost guaranteed to spot musk ox. The herd is descended from animals that were reintroduced into nearby Alaska after having been extirpated by whalers looking for meat at the turn of the century. The delta is quite broad and intricate. It's prime habitat for turnstones, Golden Plovers, Snowy Owls and Tundra Swans. Bird species exotic to North America such as the Siberian Tit and Yellow Wagtail are often seen. As we approach the ocean, the channels get smaller and narrower. We may ask you to walk along the flat, flowered tundra for short distances to lighten the boats so they can float over the shallower bits. There may be a few spots where everyone has to pitch in to drag the boats a few feet.
The Arctic Ocean: We camp on the beach of Nunaluk Spit at the mouth of the delta for our last night. Here we'll enjoy the first campfire of the trip. As the forests are so sparse and spotty and the rate of growth so slow, the Parks Service has wisely restricted the use of campfires along the river for emergencies only so we will be cooking on propane stoves. The coastline, however, is lined with driftwood that has floated to the Beaufort Sea from points far south by the Mackenzie River and then floated to the west to the Firth Delta and Herschel Island. The brackish, barrier-island lagoon system is very an important moulting and staging area for scoters, oldsquaws, eiders, and shorebirds which thrive in the coastal lagoons that are formed by a series of shingle spits just off shore. Thousands of snow geese congregate here on southward migration in September. Ocean currents bring rich, nutrient laden waters from the Mackenzie River to the east. This mix of fresh and saltwater helps support rich populations of fish which in turn are preyed upon by seabirds, waterfowl and ringed and bearded seals. It's very rare to see a polar bear in the summer because, while they do roam the coast in winter, in summer they are typically found hunting seals out on the pack ice. But seals and beluga whales are commonly seen right off the lagoon's barrier islands.
Herschel Island: On the last morning of the trip the Twin Otter will pick us up off Nunaluk Spit’s beach. It will fly us across and over Herschel Island to Pauline Cove. While the plane returns to Nunaluk Spit to fly the rafting gear back to Inuvik we'll have time to check out Herschel Island. Herschel Island (or Qikiqtaruk as the Inuit call it) is the Yukon's first Territorial Park and the only offshore island. Known for its abundant wild flowers and wildlife as well as interesting history, Herschel is essentially a large lump of permafrost and consists of 50% frozen water. Nearly eighty species of birds are found on Herschel. There's even a colony of black guillemots in the abandoned mission school. Pauline Cove has a number of historic buildings that date back to the turn of the century when American  whalers would spend the winters between short whaling seasons. Whaling in the Beaufort Sea was as short as it was lucrative. In the 20-year period (about 1890-1910), the western Arctic population of bowhead whales was brought to the verge of extinction. The bowhead is slowly making a comeback but is still very much an endangered species. (If you're lucky you may see some on the flight back to Inuvik.) Many of the heritage buildings have been painstakingly restored and the backdrop behind the cove consists of graveyards - whalers, Inuit and Royal Canadian Mounted Police - that attest to the harsh times. But Herschel also shows signs of Thule Inuit occupation going back 1000 years and may have been used by peoples migrating from Asia across the Bering land bridge, perhaps as much as 30,000 years ago. The Inuvialuit people of the North Slope have strong family ties all along the coast from Barrow Alaska to the Mackenzie Delta. Herschel will be quite luxurious, as the Territorial Park staff have constructed outhouses and even a fancy sauna!
Inuvik: Later on the afternoon of the final day, the Twin Otter aircraft will arrive back at Pauline Cove for the last leg back to Inuvik. Once back in Inuvik, we will transport you from the airport to your hotel in time for a final dinner with the crew.
Rates per Person in CAD$
 Departure Dates
Services Included
Transportation from/to Inuvik
• Flights from/to River
• Professional Guide Service
• GST Tax
• PST Tax
• All Rafting Equipment
• All Meals
• Drybags
• Paddling Jacket & Equipment
• Safety Equipment
• Park user fees