The Hart is known for its castellated tors and ridges that soar right from the rivers edge. Green waters shimmer and limestone ridges beckon, luring hikers to their lofty heights. Mountain sheep find refuge amongst rocky crags. And moose and bear frequent the valley bottom.
The Hart river has incised a path through the western perimeter of the Wernecke Mountains and the eastern edge of the Ogilvies. It is one of seven main tributaries of the Peel River, which crosses the Arctic Circle before flowing into the Mackenzie, Canada’s second largest river, and then draining into the western Arctic’s Beaufort Sea. The Hart is a class 2 river, with some class 3 sections, offering a variety of paddling conditions, from an abundance of tranquil waters, to fast flowing shallow stretches, braided channels, and a series of rapids formed by ledges of sedimentary rock.
The Peel watershed lies at the northern edge of the North American Cordillera, the 5000-km long chain of mountains that form the back bone of the continent. The Richardsons, Mackenzies, Werneckes and Ogilvies comprise a sea of peaks stretching north to the Arctic. The Peel is a land of mountains and plateaus, rivers and wetlands, boreal forest and tundra – a remote wilderness, accessible by road only in its far western parameter, and still relatively pristine. It is a wilderness enthusiasts paradise and offers home to barren-ground and woodland caribou, moose, grizzly bear, wolf and mountain sheep, to name a few, and of course myriads of songbirds, birds of prey, and migratory species. The 77, 000 square kilometer Peel watershed has been the focus of a major wilderness protection campaign, spear-headed by the Yukon Chapter of CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society) –Yukon, and actively engaged in by First Nations communities whose ancestral lands are in the watershed, as well as by wilderness tourism outfitters, many members of the Yukon public, and the Yukon Conservation Society.
“With its isolation and rugged beauty the Peel River watershed is one of those special places that can influence how we view the world, and our own place in it” (Sarah Locke from ‘Wild Rivers of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed’)
(This is a sample itinerary. An exact one will depend on when our float plane ride into the Hart is scheduled for (afternoon of day 1 or morning of Day 2) , and also the length of the trip. This itinerary assumes a 15 day journey.
Day 0: Make sure you arrive in Whitehorse by the afternoon so that we can meet (at a pre-arranged time and place) to discuss the trip, and go over the clothing and equipment lists to make sure you have everything you need for the journey.
Day 1: There will be time today for you to look around the thriving town of Whitehorse, stroll along the Yukon River, possibly listen to some live northern music, and do any necessary last minute shopping. There are several outfitting shops in Whitehorse that are well stocked with any gear you may need. We plan to leave Whitehorse by late afternoon to drive to Mayo. It will take us about 5 hours and we’ll stop for supper along the way. We’ll camp at Black Sheep Aviation’s floatplane base on the scenic Stewart River, just upstream from town.
Days 2 & 3: We are booked to fly out of Mayo in the morning of Day 2, in one or more of Black Sheep’s aircraft – a Single Otter, a Beaver and a Cessna 185. There is no float plane access to the Hart River itself so we will be landing at Elliot Lake, 23 kilometers up Elliot Creek from the Hart River, and about half an hour from Mayo. We aim to start paddling shortly after we arrive and it will take us up to 2 days to negotiate the shallow waters of Elliot Creek. There will be sections we can paddle and some that will need to be lined, even portaged (in dry years the Hart can even disappear underground for a stretch!) Our experience traveling down Elliot Creek will allow us to appreciate the “clear sailing” once we reach the Hart itself! All going well we’ll camp at the confluence of Elliot Creek and the Hart River on the night of Day 3.
Days 4 -13: Our day to day itinerary will vary depending on weather and water conditions. We aim to spend the bulk of our time in the mountain stretch of river, where the views and hiking possibilities are best. We intend to have 2 to 3 double overnight camps where we can enjoy some day-long hikes into the high country, where winding ridgelines offer outstanding views of the surrounding sea of peaks and valleys. The upper river varies between slow meanders, boulder gardens, fast moving braids, and beautiful tranquil stretches. There are a series of ledge rapids on the lower river after it leaves the mountains and enters the Peel Plateau. We’ll be traveling over 250 kms of river over these 11 days to the Harts confluence with the Peel. We’ll camp on an island on the Peel just below the confluence on day 13.
Day 14: We need to paddle 18 kilometers along the Peel to reach our pickup site at the mouth of Canyon Creek. It will be a full day negotiating a series of ledge rapids, of higher volume than the ones on the Hart due to the greatly increased volume of water coming in from the Ogilvie and Blackstone Rivers, the two upstream tributaries of the Peel. All the rapids can be portaged or lined if necessary. We aim to camp on an island just upstream of Canyon Creek.
Day 15: We are scheduled to get picked up in the morning and flown back to Mayo. It will take us about 2 hours, at first flying over the Peel River lowlands and then rising up and over the Werneckes, with range upon range of jagged peaks, punctuated by sinuous creek and spectacular river valleys, and then finally over the Beaver and Stewart River lowlands on the final stretch back to Mayo.
Paddlers need to be comfortable paddling Class 2 waters with some Class 3 experience, with well-developed skills reading moving water. Experience with lining, portaging, and negotiating sweepers is important. Sweepers and even log jams may be encountered, particularly in Elliot Creek and in the braided stretch of the Hart where new channels through the forest may have been cut by high waters.
Like any northern wilderness river the Hart is remote, the waters are cold, and groups need to be self-sufficient. Water levels can change dramatically with rain, whether it is falling close by or in the distant basins of tributary rivers. Your guides will ensure you are aware of what is around the next corner and prepare you as best they can for the sections ahead. River and weather conditions will determine our progress down river and the flow of our days.