“To The Man Who Is Not A Lover Of Nature…”

We have been spending these long winter nights by the wood fireplace, pouring over topographic maps and books about the Barrengrounds. In Morten Asfeldt and Bob Henderson’s book Pike’s Portage – Stories from a Distinguished Place John came across this passage.

“To the man who is not a lover of Nature in all her moods the Barren Ground must always be a howling, desolate wilderness; but for my part, I can understand the feeling that prompted Saltatha’s answer to the worthy priest, who was explaining to him the beauties of Heaven. My father, you have spoken well; you have told me that Heaven is very beautiful; tell me now one thing more. Is it more beautiful than the country of the musk-ox in summer, when sometimes the mist blows over the lakes, and sometimes the water is blue, and the loons cry very often? That is beautiful; and if Heaven is still more beautiful, my heart will be glad, and I shall be content to rest there till I am very old.”

This is from Warburton Pike’s 1892 book. The Barren Ground of Northern Canada.

We struggle to describe why we yearn to return to the Barrens despite the mosquitoes, black flies, incessant winds, the cold. Perhaps it has a little to do with our comfort and happiness in being outside. We have been travelling northern Canada for twenty years. We are quite happy travelling in a wilderness among muskoxen and loons.

Can it really be as simple as that?

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Yukon River – Paddling Story Tuesday

From the riverside of Whitehorse paddlers can slip their boat into the Yukon River and watch the city drift away within minutes and paddle into wilderness. Paddlers have the option of drifting downstream for an afternoon to the Takhini River, a week to the village of Carmacks, two weeks to Dawson City or, if time allows, several months down the entire length of the Yukon to its frigid end in the Bering Sea.

Whenever we paddle this river, every other year or so, we fall into a pattern of early morning paddles, hikes in the afternoon and campfires in the evenings. In the early morning the rising sun burns off the evening’s cold while ducks and wildlife are still active. The birding and wildlife viewing is what draws us out of snug sleeping bags on those chilly mornings. As we drink our coffee and break down camp, a family of beavers towing poplar branches might swim by or a red-breasted merganser might float in an eddy, a dozen chicks following. Drifting by shorelines day after day, wilderness abounds. Ravens and bald eagles perch in snags above the river. Black bears forage the beaches. Grayling leap at the mouths of creeks. Pike hide in weedy shallows. We have paddled beside wadding moose and their young calves. Once we drifted silently by a napping grizzly spooning a mule deer carcass. Caribou are flighty when we have come upon them in a back slough. Peregrines nest in the cliffs.

The Yukon River is a great and easy (and lazy) paddle for anyone with a little bit of paddling experience. And the wilderness is unparalleled.

Birding On The Barrens

We spent 60 days paddling a landscape known as the Barrenlands, a treeless swath of rock and water in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. It is a land of caribou, muskoxen and barrenground grizzlies. The big fluffy pretty animals get all the attention but anyone who is an avid birder would be envious of the summer we had traversing this land that is not at all barren.

Birds – arctic terns, yellow-billed, common and red-throated loons, sandpipers of all sorts, snowy owls, peregrine falcons and so, so many more birds – fly thousands of kilometres to feast and breed here. Each species reacted to our presence differently, from aggression (peregrines) to curiosity (yellow-billed loon).

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A peregrine falcon none too pleased about us paddling beneath the cliff it was nesting on.

Flocks of arctic terns, a hundred or more, chased in unison schools of fish. Yellow-billed loons curiously circled our canoe. Peregrine falcons nesting in the cliffs along Artillery Lake and the Hanbury River took to the skies at our approach, the speeds they reached as they rushed above our heads had us ducking, anticipating talons. Snowy owls too took to the skies from their glacial erratic perches, flying inches above our head before returning to their granite boulder. We sauntered about the glacial erratics seeking their pellets to dissect. Along beaches, while rotund arctic ground squirrels consumed river beauty blossoms and Lapland longspurs and savannah sparrows gathered grubs for fledglings. Continue reading “Birding On The Barrens”

Téix’gi Aan Tlein/Atlin Lake – Paddling Story Tuesday

Cathedral Mountain.

She commands attention.

In Téix’gi Aan Tlein/Atlin Lake Provincial Park, tucked in the far northwest corner of BC, paddlers are likely to meet a moose, a grizzly, a wolf and arctic terns and gulls nest on the windswept rocky islands. Paddle quietly and it is possible to float alongside a river otter family or watch a pine marten hunt along the shore. A full one-third of the park is cloaked in glaciers, the Llewellyn Glacier only a short hike from the lake.

It doesn’t take twelve days to paddle Atlin Lake but with mountain views like this and turquoise waters there is no reason to rush. The park is so close to Whitehorse and yet is so wild and untraveled.

As I was reviewing photos from our trip I was stunned all over again by just how incredibly beautiful the lake can be on a sunny day but it is easy to romance wilderness until she turns furious. One moment she lulls us into bliss by her beauty, the next moment she turns cruel, whip the water into snarling whitecaps, leaving us to curse her ability to let us drop our guard when we know better.

And what is a post about Atlin Lake without a picture of Llewellyn Glacier. It is a fine place for an afternoon nap.DSCF4135

Paddling Story Tuesday – Kusawa Territorial Park

Kusawa, a Tlingit word meaning Narrow Lake, snakes through the Coast Mountains seventy kilometres toward the BC border.

Many years ago we stood on the northern shore of Kusawa with twelve days of food and gear packed in our kayaks. Strong winds are notorious on Kusawa so we allowed plenty of time to sit out windy days but also time to roam the woods and paddle about, following whim. Renowned for its thirty or so sandy beaches we wanted ample time for lounging after a day’s travel.

The paddling was remarkable, our days filled with blue skies, clear blue waters and mountains. The scent of juniper and soapberry bushes drifted on the wind. We paddled alongside red-breasted mergansers and flocks of orang-billed surf scoters. Shorelines were littered with wolf and moose tracks and blooming purple fireweed.

We spent one sun-kissed evening cooking lentil pasta and watching a pair of common loons fishing in a little cove. Another evening we watched a black bear foraging along an open grassy knoll above camp. Dragonflies buzzed by our heads, hunting mosquitoes. It was quite an idyllic paddling trip but backcountry travel isn’t always so tranquil. Sometimes the fear of what creeps in the darkness seeps into what had been an otherwise restful sleep. Midway through our trip we were startled awake at 3 am to a loud rustling against our tent. We bolted upright, throwing off sleeping bags. John reached for his faithful Swiss Army knife. I grabbed the bear spray. We both called out in our most courageous, friendly voices, “Hello?”

No snarl. No peep. Continue reading “Paddling Story Tuesday – Kusawa Territorial Park”

Paddling Story Tuesday

Each Tuesday we’ll be posting an update to our paddling preparations or random thoughts and observations on our love of paddling.

Two summers ago we paddled across the Barrens of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for two months. My favourite piece of gear ended up being a tattered old ugly green fleece I bought in a thrift store years before. It kept me warm and endured so many abuses.

I wrote a piece, I want to say ode, for She Explores about that fleece. She recently died as Tenacious Tape and Jiffy Sew patches could no longer keep up with the material wearing away to nothing. She was a good fleece and had a long, adventurous life. I have missed her warmth this winter.

The story can be found here.

We have begun crafting our gear list, which usually involves lengthy discussions and debates. Our current focus is on our need for a new tent but we have yet to come across one that ticks all our boxes. It needs to be light but sturdy enough to endure the fierce winds of the Barrens and shrug off the rain, hail and sleet inevitable to come.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Just find us on Facebook – Anna Tupakka.

Shopping

I am not much of a shopper but when it comes to preparations for a big paddling trip and when a lot of what we are after is on sale, well then, I become quite giddy. There are some things we cannot buy in Canada so just before we left the US to return home, we hit up several grocery stores and wandered their aisles buying goodies that we’ll appreciate on the Barrens.

Variety with our food is important. And calories. High calorie foods seem harder to find which I suppose is a good thing given the growing rise of obesity but for long distance backcountry trips, it’s all about high calorie foods. The higher the calorie the count, the better it is for us.

Five Months To Plan and Pack

A new year has arrived and a new year means a new summer paddling trip to look forward to.

Some time in June, as soon as the ice has left we plan to be pushing our canoe, Patchwork Princess, into Great Slave Lake for a three month adventure. Our original plan would have seen us leaving from Yellowknife but we are leaning towards beginning and ending our trip out of Fort Smith instead. We have paddled the Yellowknife to the East Arm along its north shore so by beginning in Fort Smith we will be exploring the southern shores of Great Slave instead and it will allow us to visit the small community of Łutsel K’e on the western edge of what will be Thaidene Nene.

We have five months to make our preparations, gather up gear, finalize our route and most importantly, get into paddling and portaging shape.

As this will be our third big paddling trip, the preparations this time around are not quite so daunting. Our gear lists are thorough, our menu tried and tested. At the end of the first two trips we made notes on what gear we wish we had, what we didn’t need to carry and what food we enjoyed (or loathed to eat or grew bored with). As long as we adhere to our lists and double check them, we hope to avoid the frantic stress that descends as the departure date approaches.

We have five months to prepare and plan and pack and train.

Here’s hoping it goes as smoothly as I believe.

Fifty Portages In Ninety Days

This is what we anticipate. The portage routes will traverse boreal forests and open, exposed tundra, both thick with merciless mosquitoes and blackflies. It sounds ambitious until we run the numbers from our first Barrens trip: twenty-six portages in sixty days. It was exhausting but cold numbers are deceiving. We were not overwhelmed. In fact, we still had plenty of non-paddling days to hike and time for afternoon naps after portaging or even in the middle of a portage when conditions were favourable and we were stricken with the impulse.

Some portages may only be a few hundred metres long across broad, flat tundra. These are ideal. Then there are the all day endeavours across tussocks or boulder-strewn canyon rims, terrain that threatens to toss ankles under the weight of heavy loads. All we can hope for is fair weather.

Despite the challenges of long distance travel in northern Canada, the wild expanse and beauty of Thaidene Nene will overcome any crushing defeat we may temporarily experience along a portage. Our excitement for this adventure, for this opportunity to trek across the boreal forest and tundra – into the realm of muskoxen, grizzly, wolverine and caribou – is greater than any dread we may harbour over portaging.

After twenty years of traveling in northern Canada, we’ve become more comfortable traversing the backcountry than walking Main Street. Gregariousness does not run in our blood. As introverts, spending months together without the company or entertainment of anyone else is not a challenge – it is preferable.

As long as there are enough books.

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