First kayak descent of the lower Snowdrift River completed!


This past weekend, John Blyth and Ben Linaker completed the first (we think) descent of the lower Snowdrift River in whitewater kayaks!

The lower Snowdrift River, between Austin Lake and Stark Lake, tumbles rapidly down the MacDonald Fault in a series of rapids and falls. As one elder describes it, it is like “falling down a mountain”. This lower portion of the river is considered to be unpaddle-able in an open boat – canoeists will most often portage around for a gruelling few days of hard work.

I remember many years ago when Joseph Catholique, Marlene and Aileen Drybones, and late elder Noel Drybones canoed to Baker Lake in Nunavut up the Snowdrift River and then down the Thelon River. They were guiding a German film crew. The Germans insisted on trying to paddle up the Snowdrift from Lutsel K’e, but Noel said they were crazy. The Dene people said “go ahead, we’ll wait for you at Austin Lake”. And so the German crew struggled up the river for days carrying their heavy loads through the bush, and they eventually gave up and chartered a plane. When they got to Austin Lake, they found the people from Lutsel K’e comfortably camped and relaxing – nobody said “I told you so” but I am sure they thought it!

The community of Lutsel K’e has often thought that the lower Snowdrift would be feasible for running in kayaks or whitewater rafts. John and Ben’s descent was the first “proof of concept”. Their report is that the whitewater is excellent, frequent, and challenging. There is much Class 3 water, as well as Class 4 and 5 runs for the wild ones!

Access to Austin Lake at the top of the lower Snowdrift was a “morale buster”, according to John and Ben. Starting in Lutsel K’e, they caught a ride on 4-wheelers about 2/3 of the way, but then had to slog through swamp and bushwack through thick forest for about 14 kms to get to the a river access point. Of course the bugs were thick too!

Anyways, the wild descent down the river made it worthwhile, as the photos I will soon post attest! Congrats John and Ben for “taking the plunge”!

Nice Wild RapidBen Punching through The WaveNice SpotSecond Falls – Too Big to RunSliding In!John Entering the Whitewater!
  1. Sandy Briggs
    Sandy Briggs09-07-2016

    Well done!
    In early summer 2015 my friend John Dunn and I ascended Pike’s Portage from Lutsel K’e and crossed from Artillery Lake to Sandy Lake, then descended the Snowdrift River back to Lutsel K’e with inflatable pack rafts. It was a fun trip, and indeed we did a lot of portaging in the canyon parts. Beautiful country!

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