Treacherous waters of the Peel

Peel 201208Running a ledge on the Peel, innocent as they look at first sight, dangerous they can be in reality.

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One of many vicious whirlpools in the Peel Canyon.

While I was organizing and editing the video material of my Yukon Territory summer trip into a movie, I encountered some interesting snapshots while packrafting on the rivers. Most of the time an action snapshot looks more challenging than the experience really was, although at some times it’s quite the opposite.

The Hart and Peel river are well described in Juri Peepre’s guide book “Wild Rivers of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed“, a book I had studied well in advance. Both rivers contain many class II rapids. This may sound feasible in a packraft, although in reality a few of those rapids on the Peel are formed by bedrock consisting of a series of treacherous ledges which give birth to even life threatening back eddies. While for a layman to whitewater such ledges may seem innocent, I knew I had to take caution. Yet I have twice been seduced. Even though nothing serious happened, this was two times too many.

The Peel river also contains some class IV rapids and even a class VI rapid in Aberdeen Canyon where several people have already gone too far into the canyon before starting the portage above the canyon walls. All of them have lost their lives (otherwise Aberdeen Falls wouldn’t be rated as class VI by definition). While I portaged the unnavigable part of the upper Aberdeen Canyon, I was still surprised by a nasty boiling rapid deeper down the canyon. Here I have been balancing twice between keeping equilibrium or tip over, swim and fight against hypothermia. There was a specific reason why I was accidentally caught in this rapid, something I will keep for the report for now. What is certain is that on a wilderness trip not all dangers can be known beforehand.

Here are some snapshots of the boiling surprise down Aberdeen Canyon:

Peel 201208
What the hell is this?!

Peel 201208
Trying to escape to the right.

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Almost safe?

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A train of whirlpools sucks me back in …

Peel 201208
… and pulls me down sideways.

Peel 201208
Hit by the next wave.

9 thoughts on “Treacherous waters of the Peel

    • Hi Jörgen, I’ve read all your posts about your awesome trip on the South Nahanni two years ago but was never able to get a comment through on your blog unfortunately. I know you wore a drysuit. I think it is clear from this post that if I would do this trip over again, I would put one on my gear list now too. 😉

      • Yes, the light drysuit was a lucky stroke. Even better would have been if I had not used it so much for raingear while hiking in that it developed a number of big and small leaks. Some so small that I could not find and repair them. This was because I tried to save weight by not bringing rain pants. I thought I could do without rain pants and have the dry suit as a backup. Big mistake. But the drysuit from Ursuit certainly was a good buy. More about that and other gear for those interested here:

  1. Hi DZJOW,I have just read your crossing to Kautokeino,that was a very daring undertaking. I cant believe that equipment shot is all you took ,there is hardly anything there! Were you happy with the tent, what is it? Aren’t those exposed hoops a problem with snow? Was it hard to keep your hands from freezing? Thanks for sharing your experiences and best wishes

    • Hi David, “Paddling in the Yukon” from Ken Madsen and Peter Mather is a good book to get an overview from the major wilderness rivers in the Yukon.

    • I can heartfully recommend the classic Dangerous River by Raymond Pattersson, which has inspired many and brought me to the South Nahanni River a couple of years ago. Even more interesting is reading it parallell to the transcripts of his diary which gives you an insight into where the truth has been somewhat embellished 🙂

  2. Big water will make you its bitch when you’re in a packraft. I paddle the local rivers at flood for practice, but even with a drysuit and big foam PFD those surging boils and whirls are terrifying.

    Looking forward to the full, encyclopedic report.

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