The Nass is one of those rivers I kept hearing the name but still knew nothing about. Strapping my kayak on my back and about to begin hiking, it dawned on me I still knew nothing. Looking around my star crew of David Bain, Maranda Stopol and fellow Kokatat ambassador Jordy Searle, I asked “does anyone here know what we are in for?” All I get in reply is “Two days of hiking then three days of Kayaking, and we will figure the rest out as it comes.” The evening before, while last minute plans were being made, a quick session on google earth revealed what was hopefully the easiest hiking path. This was transferred to GPS and was our only guidance to the river.
The hike started in high spirits, walking up a meandering creek a few miles before turning off into dense shoulder high growth. This quickly tested our motivation with every branch rewarding a new scratch or bruise onto increasingly bloodied shins. After an hour or two of this, the growth dispersed and the terrain opened onto wide rolling fields of wild blueberries and easy walking.
As the day wore on we found ourselves back in a creek, dragging our boats downstream until light faded and it was time to make camp for the night. Camp consisted of a small flat clearing just large enough to sleep 4, a cooking fire in the creek and freeze dried meals. Needless to say spirits remained high and everyone was fired up to make it to the river and begin paddling the next day.
Day two had us trudging down a creek, bashing through the woods then two miles of kayaking until the final obstacle between us and Nass Lake. Looking across a 3 mile flat meadow/marsh land, which stories told of torturous hours to cross, all we could think of was how many moose we might see along the way.
Unfortunately no moose showed themselves, but as luck would have it, a maze of waterways created by beaver dams made for an easy two hour crossing, and put us at the very top of Nass Lake and our camp for the night.
Awaking to clear skies and a two mile lake paddle to start the day, we all keenly anticipated our first sight of the river. Making our way to the outflow however, the mighty Nass was nowhere to be seen.
Some hard searching revealed 5cfs flowing over an inch deep gravel bed. It was at this point we realized that maybe we should have put in a little more research before embarking, and that checking the online gauge may have been useful! Nevertheless there was only one way out now, and we love carrying our boats anyway.
Five unplanned hours walking downstream and we finally had enough flow for our boats to float. It was scratchy but at least we were kayaking, and the miles started to fall away behind us. As evening approached we finally entered a canyon and the first glimpse of whitewater. It was certainly on the low side of low, but still enough to get us smiling again and forget the day’s hardships as we pulled into camp at another major tributary.
Having covered far fewer miles on our first day of kayaking than expected, we knew we would have to push to make it out on time, especially considering we still had low water. Our second day on the water consisted of long flat sections followed by stretches of fun class III-IV, seeing moose, bears, bald and golden eagles along the way.
Late in the afternoon a storm erupted out of nowhere and the heavens opened on us. Unsure whether to be happy for rising water levels or miserable about the cold damp night ahead, we persevered on downstream until a gravel beach jumped out at us as the perfect camp site. Motivation levels were at an all-time low as we began collecting wet firewood and setting up tarps, not wanting to change into dry clothes until it was time to sleep. Then suddenly the rain ceased and the skies opened revealing a stunning sunset and miraculously turning the somber mood a full 180 degrees.
Discussing options around the fire while trying to conserve some of our rapidly depleting food stocks, we tried to decide if it was feasible to make it out the next day or if we should save some food and take two more days. The GPS told us it was over 60 miles to the take out and much of this was expected to be flat. Regardless we woke early and pushed on determined to make the distance.
Class III-IV and monster log jams filled the first part of day before the river flattened out and paddle strokes became harder and harder. Knowing that around 45 miles into the day the river would at least double in size at the confluence with the Bell-Irvine River, every corner we rounded was in hope that we would finally see faster flowing water.
Around 6pm the water arrived and not only did it double our flow but at least quadruple it. Incredible boat scoutable big water class IV followed, however we were all a little too exhausted to properly enjoy it and the take out bridge could not come soon enough. Just before 9pm we pulled into our takeout, tired and starving but stoked on the adventure.
For anyone considering going into the headwaters of the Nass, it is one of the most spectacularly beautiful trips I have ever done. The walk is surreal and we enjoyed nearly every step. Don’t go in expecting a solid class 5 trip, this is an adventure wilderness trip and consider the whitewater a bonus. At 800cms on the gauge at the road bridge, the run was on the low side of low. It’s hard to say what flow you want, but I’d not consider going back under 1200cms.