We hiked the Canol in 13 days (12 days if you consider that it took us one whole day just to get to MP222 where most people begin their trip), but we strongly urge others to take more time. This is a very fast pace under difficult conditions, but Dave, Roberta and I are seasoned long distance backpackers and know our limits. If you can't make it to your rendezvous on time, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will begin searching for you and guess who pays for it in Canada? You do! Also, this kind of a pace can lead to injuries and if you hurt yourself on the Canol, you might be in for a long, long wait before someone finds you. According to Backpacker magazine (August 1996), the Canol is typically hiked in 22 days. We figure 18 to 22 days is a pretty reasonable length of time.
We used the guidebook "Hiker's Guide to the Canol Heritage Trail" quite extensively. Although we wished it contained more detail, it proved to be critical to the success of our hike. You can order this free from the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development (see Contacts section). We also used five 1:2500,000 scale topographical maps:
Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development
Government of the Northwest Territories
Norman Wells, NT, Canada
Ram Head Outfitters Ltd.
Warburg, Alberta, Canada
Contact: Stan Simpson
We had two food drops; one at Godlin Lakes (MP 169) and the other at Pump Station #4 (MP 108). After our pilot (Blair from Ursus Aviation) dropped us off at Macmillan Pass he flew back to Godlin Lakes and dropped both food drops off with Stan and Debbie Simpson at Ram Head Outfitters. Because we had three people in our group, Blair needed a little bigger plane so he couldn't land at Pump Station #4. After we hiked to Godlin Lakes, we gave Stan 250 dollars (Canadian) to fly a food drop to Pump Station #4. It would be cheaper to have the same pilot make both drops if possible, but either way works well.
You will have wet boots for almost the entire trip. When you get blisters, they most likely won't go away. Take good care of your feet and wear boots that you have hiked in wet before.
There are plenty of those out there. Pepper spray is the most common combatant, and you would think that you could buy pepper spray in Norman Wells, but you can't. You also can't transport it on the plane. Although I thought this kind of left me out in the cold, I did manage to borrow pepper spray from a nice person I met in Norman Wells. I have heard of people just packing it and hoping airport security doesn't ransack their bags. I also brought an air horn, which you can bring on the plane.
Airplane problems here too. The rules say that if your stove has ever been used, you can't bring it on the plane. We aired our stoves out and filled the fuel bottles with water. But I made the mistake of packing my gear in a box, so airport security asked me what was in it, and I naturally told them the truth. I got the third degree and it took awhile to convince her that there was no gas residue on it. People who pack their stuff in suitcases tend not to be asked questions.
We recommend starting at one of the Macmillan Pass airstrips, not at Norman Wells for the following reasons:
There are three locations that are called Macmillan Pass. There is the pass itself on the border between the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Then there are airstrips on either side of the border (MP238 and MP222) that are both casually referred to as Macmillan Pass. The web site would have you start at MP238 and the guidebook (and most everyone else) would have you start at MP222.
The Twitya (see next section), Little Keele and Carcajou rivers are the three big crossing of this trip, but the other countless crossings characterize the big picture. Sturdy footwear is essential for some crossings; when that water gets to your crotch, you need all the help you can get. We usually crossed in our boots since they were always wet anyway, but some crossings just required them since our only other footwear was sandals.
When the crossing was more difficult, I would try to minimize the balancing challenges by looking at the shore as much as possible. I always kept the rocks at hand in my peripheral vision, but when I had to examine my way more closely I avoided looking at the rushing water between me and the shore by quickly looking downward. Not only did this avoid much of the perceptual "pull", but it also made me explicitly focus on my balance and footing. I also tried to face upstream as much as possible, usually at a 45-degree angle to the shore. This gave me a firm back foot and the ability to control my hiking stick with two hands if necessary. The stick (an absolute requirement for many crossings) also enabled me to have two points of contact at all times.
After leaving Dodo Canyon you have to walk a few miles before arriving at the Carcajou River. Stay on the right side of the canyon until you see the road leave the river wasteland.