The Mighty Nahanni River


Albert Faille in his Longboat on the Nahanni River

I spent several days last week with my youngest son hiking and camping along a 30-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, or the AT, as it is commonly called, in Georgia.  Most of the AT in Georgia is full of steep ascents and descents, so each mile takes its toll and leaves a big impression.  Hiking also lends itself to quiet reflection, which alone is sufficient reason to endure the inevitable aches and pains.

So it was that during one extended ascent along our route that I found myself thinking back to a video I had seen some months ago about the arduous life of an itinerant gold prospector named Albert Faille, who lived along the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.  The video documented Faille’s eighth unsuccessful attempt in as many years to navigate 400 miles up the magnificent Nahanni River to access a legendary gold mine.   What stood out for me was the tenacity of this fellow.  Among other things, he had to portage around the torrential Virginia Falls — falls that are twice as high as Niagara.  You could feel his effort as he carried the considerable contents of his longboat up a steep hillside and around the falls, which required trip after trip until it was all safely stowed.  He even brought with him extra lumber to build by hand another boat at the top of the falls, which took him about a week to do.  Unfortunately, between the delays in getting up river and the challenges posed by the river itself, Faille was forced to retreat 40 or so miles short of his goal.  Nevertheless, his dauntlessness served as a source of inspiration to me on my own arduous, albeit much milder, trek up a ridge or two of the Appalachians.

A link to the fairly short video (approx. 18 minutes) on the website of the National Film Board of Canada is here:  The video, which is characterized by overly wrought  music and a melodramatic narrator, both typical of the 1960s documentary style, does a nice job highlighting the unmistakable beauty of the region.  I suspect this is an area that not only is not well-traveled due to its remoteness, but is likely also not even very well-known.  Yet, as a testament to its magnificence, Nahanni National Park was the first place designated as a World Heritage Site by the U.N.  I have not had the privilege yet of actually visiting Nahanni National Park but I hope to at some point.

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