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Dangerous River: Adventure on the Nahanni

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In the mid-1920s Raymond M. Patterson left a comfortable position with the Bank of England for a life in with wilds of Canada. Here, he hunted, trapped, fished and prospected his way along the rivers he would later write about. This spellbinding book, his most famous account, chronicles his two journeys down the treacherous Nahanni River between the Yukon and the Mackenzie River, spurred on by his irrepressible lust for adventure and his quest for gold. The New Yorker called this "a truly enchanting book."

276 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1989

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R.M. Patterson

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5 stars
115 (53%)
4 stars
77 (35%)
3 stars
22 (10%)
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Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Kathy.
499 reviews10 followers
December 24, 2010
A six star book! It was written in 1953 and describes two trips that R.M.Patterson took up the wild and remote Nahanni River in Canada's Northwest Territories in the late 1920s. At that time, there were only three other white men who dared to enter the entire region due to a legend about the murder of the McLeod brothers who had previously traveled deep into the area, found gold and were butchered in "Deadmen's Valley" by Indians. It's not easy to write a book about canoeing and portaging and hiking beside a river, building a cabin, shooting game for food and trapping animals for their fur AND make it into a page turner! R.M. Patterson has an incredible gift for description, for gentle humor and for writing about very mundane tasks and at the same time creating great interest in his activities. He experienced any number of hair raising and near death adventures as well; the reader never knows when a simple trip up the river on a hunt for food will turn into a life and death struggle. I'm delighted to learn that the author has written several other books about his life!
Profile Image for Robyn Roscoe.
157 reviews1 follower
September 29, 2020
This is one of my all-time favourite books about the outdoors. A rollicking story of adventures in the Canadian North, Patterson details his summer and then full year in the South Nahanni region of the North West Territories in 1927-29. His explorations of some uncharted regions with (what we would see today as) very rustic gear are mystic and hair-raising, and his story telling and vivid descriptions are London-like in the way they capture the essence of the North. Things like:

"As I was finishing supper I heard a branch snap on the far bank, and there was a big black bear walking along...He saw my camp at last and scampered away up the hill, pausing now and then for breath and wheezing noisily like an aged gentleman." You can hear that huffing and puffing.

"The wet sand by the water's edge was hidden under a carpet of shimmering blue, a host of small butterflies delighting in the heat; gaudy black and yellow swallowtails flickered past, gay jockeys of the sunshine in their racing jackets." You can feel that summer heat.

"January was cold. The cold was alive, active and hostile like some visitant from outer space. It beat down upon the valley, watching its only human occupant as a cat watches the scurryings of a mouse - waiting patiently to see if he would make a mistake. It gave one a sense of pressure - of the presence of an enemy who had all the patience and all the time in the world." Perhaps the best description ever of the extreme cold. 

The book was written in 1954 (25 years after his travels) and published in England only. My copy is a first Canadian edition from 1966, but is different only in the foreword and the map frontispiece. Patterson's recollections are vivid and engaging, and I can confirm that his other books about his travels and life are equally exquisite in their stories and telling (especially The Buffalo Head).

These stories are wonderful glimpses of wildernesses that no longer exist (although this is protected (in 1978, it was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites), there are now three airports on the river) and adventures no longer had. No more do people venture into uncharted territory (for there is none left) with no hope or opportunity of rescue or of being missed. Indeed, finding a place where you would not be found is now a lost dream to many. But these stories give a chance to taste those adventures with a man who was there and can tell you captivating tales of a bygone age. 

Fate - this book is a treasure of mine, so I'm definitely keeping it.

5 - a book about travel (non-fiction)
6 - an author's debut book
12 - a book set in a place I've never been (NWT)
22 - a memoir
Profile Image for Eugene.
40 reviews
November 9, 2020
What a crazy and fantastic adventure story. When I finished this book, it left me thinking, wow we have such a soft life. The author and his partner did things like pole and track canoes up through insane rapids of the wildest of rivers, build a cabin with the materials around them, along with a cache for enough hunted meat to feed them and their dogs while wintering in an isolated wilderness. They trapped and called the river home, ate Dolly Varden and grayling and moose and beaver and even wolverine. They had to become experts with a canoe, crack shots, carpenters, and even their own doctors. They lived free and at times were the only humans for hundreds of square miles. Rough men living a rough life. Dangerous River is a great read.
5 reviews
December 8, 2021
This is a true adventure story told with carefully chosen words. It's a well painted picture of another time in Canada's north. The land is wild and epic and so are the characters and their feats to move about and live on the land. As a canoeist, I also enjoyed Patterson's detailed explanations of the trials and triumphs of traveling a remote river with a canoe packed with everything for survival. R. M. Patterson certainly lived anything but an ordinary life and he presents himself and his story with a coating of humility.
Profile Image for Ben.
30 reviews1 follower
November 18, 2022
It was the right read at the right time. I enjoyed every page. I enjoyed how the author was able to put descriptions about the landscape together without being verbose. He really related his experience in away that we felt like we were there along side him. I more or less read this book in two chunks by taking a kind of one week intermission and I think this really helped with the flow of a book that might have gotten otherwise a little stale.
Profile Image for Callie.
4 reviews
March 30, 2021
A phenomenal read, took me to another time and place. The author spares no details of all the beauty and danger of the Nahanni. RM Patterson is a one of a kind individual and I appreciate him taking the time to record his adventures. The book started off slow at first but as I made my way through I loved it more and more.
Profile Image for Lorraine.
30 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2022
""Sometime", I thought, "this day will end, and I'll be lying by a fire, warm and comfortable, drinking hot tea." It was hard to believe, but it was true and it kept me going." If you have any interest in the mysteries of the Nahanni and people who navigated it in the 1920s-50s l, then this book is for you. 5 stars. I loved it so much I ordered a hard copy after borrowing it from the library.
Profile Image for Geoff.
336 reviews3 followers
December 12, 2017
Am amazing tale. Tells the story of exploring and trapping along the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories in 1927-29. Great adventures. Fabulous writing. Really captures the magnificence and awe of the land.
3 reviews
May 25, 2022
A great overview of thr adventures on thr nahanni, but they are viewed from one perspective and rarely talk favorably about the native people and their experiences.
Profile Image for Rick.
360 reviews8 followers
October 4, 2014
R.M. Patterson’s “Dangerous River” is an enchanting tale of one man’s travels along the remote South Nahanni River (≈300 mile long) in the far reaches of Canada, above British Columbia on the west side of the Northwest Territories. The tale was written in the 1950s but was the story of his two adventures that took place in the 1920s, way before many roads were available to ease the journey and to an area where few white men had ever ventured. Just to reach the region from Edmonton in the 1920s took over two months of travel. Once in the Northwest Territories Patterson made most of the trip by water, canoeing up rivers to reach the Nahanni and largely living off the land.

The book itself is a wonder…written in the first person from his diary and filled with arresting characters, some who preceded him and some that he met and befriended along the way. The narrative is a detailed chronicle of his explorations, replete with descriptions of the flora and fauna. Patterson went on two exploits: one in 1927 staying for three months during the summer, and the second in the following year staying in country and wintering over with weather reaching 60 below. Patterson was not stranded or trapped in this area, he went by design to experience it.

The entire tale evokes memories of Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories,” but anchored around canoeing rather than fly fishing. Yet with Dangerous River, there is nothing but the river and the surrounding majestic peaks and valleys and canyons. Whether propelled by pole or portage or paddle or tracking his canoe, Patterson struggles with nature. There is little bonding with friends, and no mention of family. This is a solitary tale of a solitary man — albeit sometimes with a traveling partner — on a personal journey of wilderness exploration.

In this tale it is always the water. To the landed man, water is pretty much water – sometimes rough and sometimes smooth. But to the canoeist, water is always changing – from eddies to whirlpools to falls to cascades to rapids to flat and placid … and that is when it is not frozen. The narrative describes the water on the river along the entire passage in astonishing detail. Patterson’s descriptions put the reader up to his hips in the water.

Patterson has a nice easy-going style of writing, drawing the reader back effortlessly. He also has an interesting way of using colons: his prose often sprinkled with them: sometimes right where you wouldn’t expect to see them. All-in-all this is a terrific read.
Profile Image for Matthew.
55 reviews4 followers
January 14, 2021
Favorite Quotes:

"There is something beautifully final in certain phases of river travel: you make your decision and pick your course, and after that the rest is all action. You are committed, and there is no turning back--you must make it or swamp. The result is a supreme peak of physical effort and a split-second awareness of changing water: and mentally a sort of cold excitement and exhilaration--a high point of living."

"The sun slid down the sky and the shadows swung and deepened, but time, for me, had lost its meaning, for I myself was lost in the fascination of this place of wild, chaotic beauty."

"I loaded up and let the canoe slip away down Caribou Creek: there was something unusually pleasant about this small river on such a perfect afternoon; through the glassy water I could see the stones fly past beneath me in the riffles and, in the pools, the shadow of the canoe gliding over gravel twenty feet down in the cool, clear depths. Here and there trees leaned out towards the center of the stream, and the canoe slid beneath them in the dappled shadows, green and gold."

"We drove the big canoe downriver at top speed, shot through the Figure-of-Eight rapid in one mighty surge and lunched at Faille's cabin."

About other men exploring the Northwest Territories: "Greathouse, Southard, and Quinlan. Carl Aarhuis and Ole Loe. The Nordic races were in the vanguard as usual. The first three had a cabin a little way down the Nahanni...Nothing would do but that I should pull in and stay overnight--never mind if it was still daylight. So I went into the warm, dark, crowded cabin and downed some tea with bannock and honey, and limbered up my tongue which had hand almost six weeks' holiday."

Profile Image for MICHAEL.
15 reviews
January 1, 2008
Dangerous River is no longer in print. It was originally published in 1954. It is based on a number of years spent in the Canadian arctic in a search for "the lost gold" of the Nahanni river region. The author and the men he encountered used survival techniques common in the 19th century (The story takes place in the 1920's). Raging rivers, sub-zero temperatures, tales of marauding indians still haunting a region known as Deadmen's Valley all make Dangerous River a thoroughly enjoyable tale.
Profile Image for Allan.
131 reviews12 followers
July 26, 2015
R.M. Patterson is essential reading for anyone interested in northern B.C. and Alberta exploration in the early 20th century. Emerging from the cauldron of W.W.I. he paddled, walked and rode through the largely unknown north west region of Canada. Dangerous River is his first and possibly his best book. As he said in the foreword to the Canadian edition of D.R. it was"written quickly and in a fit of wild enthusiasm". We are in his debt for this glimpse of real wilderness before civilisation made its impact felt.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Worboys.
257 reviews1 follower
December 2, 2017
An excellent, articulate, re-discovery of life along the Nahanni River, as it follows its treacherous course between the Yukon Territory and the Mackenzie River. One section is dominated by stories of Deadmen Valley. RM. Patterson ventured into the region in the mid 1920s with Gordon Matthews, where they spent the winter trapping. His narrative details their adventures. Well written, in full detail, and a pleasurable read.
Profile Image for Libby.
23 reviews2 followers
May 30, 2009
One of the last adventurers -- I am an armchair adventurer, truly -- my kayaking and camping pleasures do not involve dangerous rapids and year-long isolation, but I sure like reading about it and Mr. Patterson provides it.

Seeing the Virginia Falls and Nahanni someday are two dreams. I wonder if they're as magnificent as they were in his day.
Profile Image for Rebecca Schmitz.
203 reviews26 followers
December 23, 2010
I can't believe R.M. Patterson's account of his summer and winter spent in a remote corner of Canada's Northwest Territories was out of print for so long; thanks to his sense of humor and adventure, his love of nature, and his writing style--crystal clear like the South Nahanni River itself--Dangerous River ranks right up there alongside other non-fiction travel classics.
Profile Image for Gerald .
372 reviews6 followers
August 5, 2012
"Dangerous River" was full of man versus nature adventure in the untamed Nahanni River region of Canada and while I found the book entertaining, its journal-like writing style hard to follow at times. That said, Mr. Patterson and his cohorts proved to be equals to every challenge placed before them.
7 reviews
December 13, 2016
Wow, really enjoyed this more than expected. A first-hand account of one of the first white men into the Nahanni River region ... exploring, hunting, spending the winter trapping, and of course looking for Gold.

Really great read from the late 1920's, definitely looking forward to reading more by RM Patterson.
Profile Image for Anthony Meaney.
140 reviews3 followers
July 11, 2017
Beautifully written account of one man's (well two actually but the author writes more of his own adventures than his partner) year on the Nahani river in the Yukon Territory in 1929.

The author paddled up (yes up) the Nahani. Built a cabin and trapped and fished there for the year.

This book is a great armchair read for canoeists, wilderness trekkers and winter campers.
17 reviews10 followers
December 20, 2011
One of the best books that I have read about the Canadian north. It's informative, funny and a great adventure. I cannot believe the hardships he had to overcome. This is the second or third time that I've read it and will do so again in a few years.
Profile Image for Nate.
96 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2009
Excellent true adventure story. Details the journeys of some of the last explorers of an untouched wilderness. Well-written, fast-paced, and not over the top.
Profile Image for Oana.
40 reviews3 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
August 12, 2013
rather disjointed, colourful trip journal
Profile Image for Colin Climie.
54 reviews
November 24, 2018
The author had some pretty amazing adventures during his time in the Nahanni region.

It was more fun to read once I had been there.
Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews

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