The Nahanni Valley
Following the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890’s, brothers Willie and Frank McLeod set out to chase their dreams of gold and fortune during the early 1900’s. They chose the obscure South Nahanni River Valley which had been tried as a short cut to the ardous overland route from Edmonton to Dawson’s Creek and the nearby gold fields. Earlier western explorers who had passed through the area reported a tropical valley free of snow due to the local hot springs. Stories also came from the hunters and trappers returning from the Nahanni with large prehistoric bones, tusks and pelts from mammals thought to be long extinct.
While the allure of prospecting in the valley was understandable, little did the siblings know they would end up a decade too late and two heads short to collect their riches. The Mcleod brothers skeletons were discovered intact by others several years after they embarked on their journey, but their heads were no where to be found. The Nahnni Headless Valley owes it’s sinister name not only to the McLeod brothers, but also to the numerous other prospectors and fur trappers who over the next half century, would end up missing entirely or be found in similar states of headless demise by future explorers. None of these cases has ever been solved. Today the Headless Valley is part of the Nahanni National Park Preserve in the remote southwestern corner of the Northwest Territories near the borders of the Yukon and British Columbia provinces.
The national park was established in 1972 and was recently voted one of the “7 wonders of Canada”. It was is also one of the original twelve UNESCO World Heritage Sites designated in 1978 along with the likes of Niagara Falls and Yellowstone National Park. To emphasize the remoteness of the the park, Nahanni NPP receives 800-1000 visitors per year while Yellowstone averages over 4 million visitors.
The South Nahanni River is the centerpiece of the park as it carves deep gorges and canyons on its path through the layered sedimentary and volcanic rocks of the Mackenzie Mountain Range.
The park is renowned for it’s white water rafting, climbing and hiking despite its extreme remote location.
The animals feared to roam the Nahanni Valley included the Waheela or “bear dog”, a ferocious animal thought to have gone extinct 5 million years ago. The large hairy men encountered by the Dene and western explorers were known locally as Nakani. Nakani is thought to reside in the numerous limestone caves present throughout the Nahanni River valley. The large creature is nocturnal and known to kidnap those that venture into the valley, often beheading and devouring their victims.
Entering the park today is generally done via float plane as the entire park is roadless, however it can be also be entered via an arduous overland hike from the Yukon side to the west. The remote location of the park may explain why the mysteries of the McLeod brothers and the other explorers that came up missing or dead have never been solved. The area was originally inhabited by the Dene and Naha indigenous people. The Dene inhabited the lowland areas around the Mackenzie River and traditionally avoided the South Nahanni River valley due to the frequent raids by the Naha tribe who lived in the mountainous areas above the valley. The Gate – South Nahanni River The Dene also stayed out of the valley because they believed it was cursed, and they feared the large prehistoric animals and giant hairy men thought to reside within the forested canyons.
The historical reports and sightings of these large prehistoric mammals and Gigantopithecus-sized hominids roaming the remote wilderness of Northern Canada in many ways, does not seem far-fetched. The South Nahanni River Valley would have have been on the initial migration pathways for species crossing the land bridge at the Bering Strait. The Nahanni National Park and it's extreme isolated location may have allowed these prehistoric species to thrive well after the ancient mammals had gone extinct in other, more populated areas. If finding new species or rediscovering those thought to be extinct is a step too far in today’s populated world, we can use the discovery of the Korowai people as an example of success. The Korowai people lived in isolation in the jungles of Papau Indonesia without contact with the western world until 1974. Prior to that, it is believed they did not know other humans existed outside of their community.
So for your next adventure, perhaps you wish to plan a trip to the Nahanni Headless Valley??. With only 1000 visitors per year, the area may be on of the last, best places on earth to discover Nakani/Sasquatch and perhaps see creatures from prehistoric times.
By Kevin Weberling,
Research Writer - Sasquatch Syndicate Inc.