Home>News, Travel>Petr Nedvídek with Baraka in Canada on the Liard River
Petr Nedvídek with Baraka in Canada on the Liard River
There is not much news about the Liard River in the media, even though it is a massive, 1,200-kilometer-long river that drains water from a huge area three and a half times larger than the area of the Czech Republic. The reason for this is probably the fact that it flows through the true northern wilderness and, with the exception of two small villages, the smaller Upper Liard, which today has only 125 inhabitants, and Fort Liard, which has 468 inhabitants, there are no settlements near it. Its source is located in the Yukon Territory on the slopes of Mount Lewis in the Saint Cyr Range, which is part of the Pelly Mountains. It flows in a northeasterly direction at first, and after it hits the Saint Cyr Range, it has no choice but to turn southeast. After crossing the border with British Columbia, it curves to the north to cross the Northwest Territories border and continue another four hundred kilometers on its unfettered, wild pilgrimage to the mighty Mackenzie River. At its mouth lies Fort Selkirk, the former important headquarters of the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) from where the company administered a vast area of the entire District of |Mackenzie. The brown current of the Liard resists for several hundred kilometers before it finally surrenders to its fate and mixes with the clear water of the mighty Mackenzie River.
Following the Liard River, the first palefaces penetrated into the interior of the Yukon Territory. The first European to travel the Liard in 1829 was John McLeod, an HBC trader who established Fort Halkett at the mouth of the Smith River. However, it was abandoned in 1860 after the discovery of much easier routes into the interior of the Yukon. Robert Campbell, the intrepid Yukon river traveler and founder of the historic Fort Selkirk at the mouth of the Pelly River in present-day Yukon, also traveled on the Liard.
Richard McConnell and George Dawson were sent by the Geological Survey of Canada, an esteemed Canadian institution, in 1887 for the first well-founded survey of the Yukon Territory. They sailed down the Dease River to Liard. McConnell made his way to the Mackenzie River downstream of the Liard and had to cross many dangerous sections of the river at high water. Dawson went in the opposite direction, traveling up the Liard and Frances Rivers to the Pelly River, which he crossed into the Yukon.
In the years 1897 and 1898, several hundred men went after Liard to the Klondike in search of gold, but they had no idea what would await them on the way. They chose the hardest possible route to Dawson. Upon entering British Columbia, the Liard River is a wild, wild river adorned with numerous rapids, flowing through several long canyons and requiring numerous and long portages. Their names, such as Devil’s Gorge, Rapids of the Drowned, Hell Gate, speak clearly. Future would-be gold diggers would not be able to reach the Pelly River in one summer, after which they would reach their goal relatively easily. They were forced to winter on the Liard, or return to Fort Simpson after the wild Liard. Their suffering, hardships and their superhuman feats are hard to imagine today. One successful Klodiker, later Canadian Deputy Minister of Mines Charles Camsell, described the brutal journey up the Liard in the book Son of The North.
On the other hand, in the territory of the Yukon, above the settlement of Upper Liard, the Liard River is a very pleasant, fast-flowing river, which is perfect for water tourism. The river has found its way through the lovely landscape and its clear water washes the pebble-lined bottom.
In 1978, two studies were completed, certifying the excellent economic results of the dams on the wild Liard. There was a lot of interest in taming the Liard from B.C. Hydro. Managers at the British Columbia-based company saw the beauty of Liard in its power to turn turbines and generate 4,800 MW of electricity. They would be able to destroy its hundreds of thousands of years old existence, a unique, fantastic work of nature and build a two-hundred-meter-high dam behind which the lake with an area of 870 square kilometers would spill over. This would destroy once and for all untouched Nordic nature, rapids, canyons and the habitat of numerous animals. The predatory Liard would turn into a flatwater reservoir after a length of about four hundred kilometers, which would also reach into the valley of numerous tributaries flowing into the Liard. Fortunately, in December of 1986, B.C. Hydro has said it will not work on the project for the next twenty years. It’s calm for now, but hopefully the Liard River project won’t wake up again in the future.
Our group of three, the two Peters and I, spent eighteen beautiful days on the upper Liard. In mid-August, we were flown from Whitehorse by seaplane to the larger of the two Caribou Lakes, about two hundred kilometers away. As soon as we settled down on the shore of the lake, it started to rain. Leaden clouds lay over the lake and it continued to drizzle the next day. We prepared our trekking canoes for the journey, repacked provisions and personal belongings into waterproof barrels and sacks, successfully fished and enjoyed mushroom fritters from the quartzite, of which there were countless in the forest. In the afternoon, the clouds started to break and the sun even smiled at us in the evening. This then accompanied us on our 300-kilometer trek to the Indian village of Upper Liard, where the Alaska Highway crosses the river and thus offers a simple option to end the journey through the Canadian wilderness, for sixteen whole days.
A narrow, shallow stream flows out of the Caribou Lakes, which of course is called Caribou Creek. Pure water flows through it, the amount of which naturally varies depending on the time of year. In August, there was not much of it, so we were initially forced to partially wade through the stream and pull the canoe on a rope. However, the bottom of the stream was solid, so it was easy to walk in it. Caribou Creek is about twenty-five kilometers long and flows into the still-young Liard. It initially winds through meadows, but soon enters a typical Nordic forest. There it is advisable to pay close attention to the trees lying in the live current of the stream, and in its sharp bends it is necessary to use a canoe as a hobby. Several beaver dams forced us to portage the canoe with our luggage. We partially dismantled the other beaver structures so that we could push the canoe through the opening and continue our journey. The numerous pools were teeming with grayling. Life in the stream was like in an aquarium.
We didn’t even register the mouth of Caribou Creek into the Liard River at first, as we were fully occupied with our orientation and navigating the labyrinth of various obstacles and fast side currents that rolled in from everywhere. When the currents merged into one, we knew we were finally sailing the Liard. It flows roughly fifty kilometers in a north easterly direction until it hits the wall of the Saint Cyr mountain range and has no choice but to turn southeast. The beautifully clear current of the river still flows at a speed of six to seven kilometers per hour. The weather was kind to us, and we sailed through a beautiful landscape along and among the nearby slopes of mountains of unknown names, the height of which I would estimate to be eighteen hundred meters. It was a relaxing ride and we enjoyed both the beautiful scenery and the clear, turquoise water of the river and the fish swimming in it. Not far before our eyes, a huge elk crossed to the other side of a relatively shallow river, and when the fountains of water hit the surface and the elk disappeared into the forest, there was a calm and it seemed to us that it was only a mirage.
Camping along the way was sumptuous. We could choose between the shade of the forest and soft, fragrant moss or a sunny spot on a wide bank with warm, soft pebbles. At hand was both clean water and dry driftwood, which the industrious beavers had prepared for us in such a way that it could be placed directly on the fire. Evenings and mornings were above average warm. During the day, temperatures were over twenty degrees in the shade, and uncomfortably hot in the sun. We experienced fog only one morning. Unpleasant smoke from a forest fire that broke out somewhere, perhaps a hundred kilometers away, fortunately only bothered us for one afternoon and one evening. The birds fell silent and the smell of the crematorium hung over the region. White ash flew lightly from the sky to the ground, and if it weren’t for the sweltering heat, one could believe it was snowing. The sun was drowning in smoke, and a strangely sad mood spread over the region. Fortunately, the direction of the wind changed during the night and there was no sign of the smoke in the morning.
One afternoon we witnessed a solar hall. The halo, as the sun hall is also called, is caused by the refraction, reflection and scattering of light in hexagonal ice crystals, the grouping of which is located at a very high altitude in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is an unusual phenomenon and we observed it for several hours. We had the opportunity to observe the aurora borealis only on one single evening, at the same time as the sun set, which is also not that common a phenomenon. I had the opportunity to see him for the first time.
At first fifteen or twenty meters wide, the Liard was taking daily streams and rivers such as Scurvy Creek, Cabin Creek, Black River, Allen Creek, False Pass Creek or Meister Creek. Her power grew. It grew in width at a fairly constant depth, which was just enough for our canoes. But her water remained surprisingly clean. This is probably because, all the time, she was washed by pebbles of various colors and sizes, with which her bottom was continuously lined. It was only when the Liard River joined the Frances River, which brought a comparable amount of water, that it became a mighty river, but in two days it brought us to the bridge of the Alaska Highway where our journey along the beautiful part of the upper Liard ended. Willy-nilly, we had to say goodbye to Liard and thank him for the beautiful experiences he gave us and which we will fondly remember even years later.
Travel information at a glance
Up to the Alaska Highway bridge is the Liard River, a pleasant, relaxing river with no rapids or dangerous canyons, suitable for water sports lovers who want to enjoy nature and not need to experience adrenaline rushes. The current of the water is decent and therefore it is necessary to pay close attention to obstacles and trees lying in the current. This is especially true for the upper course of the river, where there are numerous meanders that limit the possibility of a quick reaction. A journey along the Liard requires good outdoor equipment and experience of staying in the Nordic wilderness.
Canoe, kayak, trekking canoe, packraft.
The journey along the upper reaches of the Liard River begins at the Caribou Lakes. There is no other way to get there than to trust an experienced air taxi operator. In Whitehorse they are Alcan Air or Alpine Aviation. For transport from the bridge back to Whitehorse along the Alaska Highway, which is a distance of 450 km, it is necessary to arrange with a reliable company a day or even an hour before the start of the expedition.
Maps of the upper Liard River watershed can be purchased at Mac’s Fireweed Book-Store in Whitehorse. For orientation on the river, a copy of the Google Earth map or an old laptop with a saved map is sufficient.
Two weeks is ideal, but every extra day is not wasted.
Pike, grayling, whitefish, bull trout.
Animals and birds:
Moose, caribou, grizzly bear, black bear, wolf, fox, bobcat, beaver, otter, North American porcupine, bald eagle, swan, loon, various species of ducks.
Bring in an old Gumotex boat, get a 40% discount on a new one. Rules of the event: At selected points of sale, the customer hands in an old Gumotex boat and can buy a kayak or canoe with a 40% discount...