Eight Rivers North
Six trippers, eight rivers systems, one crazy expedition from Duluth to Nunavut
BY CONOR MIHELL
In mid-June, six young canoe-trippers depart Duluth, Minn., headed to the Canadian subarctic. From the end of the road in northern Saskatchewan, the team of Adam Maxwell, Ryan Ritter, Jake Bendel, Tessa Olson, Alex Compton and Kari Smerud will paddle over 900 miles on eight river systems north to the Hudson Bay coast and the Inuit community of Whale Cove, Nunavut.
The big thing with your 2012 expedition seemed to be to go on the cheap. Do you have the same intentions with this trip?
Adam Maxwell: Our crew is made up of several college students and recent college graduates, so price is a critical factor in trip planning. This trip will be cheap compared to many northern river trips, but significantly more expensive than our 2012 trip. This is due to the plane we will take from Whales Cove to Churchill. In order to save some money we plan to begin paddling were the road ends and work our way into the tundra. This option is great for any group that can afford an extra two weeks on the water and is willing to put in some hard work moving upriver.
Why is it important for you to share stories from the water? How will you do this?
Alex Compton: I think being part of the tradition of Far North paddling is important and by sharing we can help carry on a long legacy of paddlers. We hope to inspire, educate and assist future trips by documenting our travels and sharing them. I was inspired to join this trip by the stories Adam shared and articles I was able to read and we have received guidance and inspiration from paddlers who have experience on sections of our route throughout our planning process. We will apply to speak at the Far North Symposium, and we’ve relied heavily on the Minnesota paddling community to prepare. Our blog and publications like this help us share the message even further out in the community.
What’s the appeal of the landscape you will travel through?
Maxwell: We plan to travel eight rivers on our way to Hudson Bay; each river has something new and exciting to offer us. We will begin within the boreal forest on the Waterfound River. When we reach the Fond Du Lac River we will be surrounded by beautiful sandstone cliffs and outcrops. Along the Dubawnt we will transition out of the tree line and into the tundra. Along the Nowleye and Kazan we will be above the tree line and look forward to potential wildlife sittings including musk ox and caribou. After leaving the Kazan, we will enter the lesser traveled Ferguson and Wilson Rivers. We look forward to the Inuit artifacts that can be found this region. In our final few days on trail we will paddle along the coast of Hudson Bay. It will be a treat to see seals, whales and possibly even polar bears.
Do you carry a firearm in case of polar bear encounters?
Maxwell: Yes. In my opinion it is necessary to take all possible precautions in polar bear country. We plan to carry two 12-gauge shotguns. We will also carry three motion-sensing sirens, which will be set up around our campsite each night in polar bear country.
What sort of challenges do you think you’ll face?
Compton: This is my first time on a Far North trip, and it is amazing to have such experienced expedition paddlers in Adam, Jake and Ryan to ease the tension of northern travel. But I am actually really looking forward to the challenge unique to this trip that they have not encountered before. Being so far north and losing tree cover poses large challenges. The combination of not being able to restock food along the way as previous trips were able to do, with the presence of predators and the practical inability to protect our food, makes campsite security a big issue. Physical challenges will also present themselves early on, our second-longest portage, roughly 2.5 miles, is within 10 days travel of our put-in. That means we will be hauling a huge amount of gear and food. While freak snowstorms and low temps are expected, they might be welcome to keep the legendary swarms of insects at bay.
It seems like each big trip you do takes a step north. Is that by design?
Maxwell: Yes and no. In a way we are building skills to be safe and comfortable in harsher environments. There also seems to always be something that fuels me to travel further north and experience new things. The wildlife is a large part of the motivation to travel further north on this trip.
What are you most looking forward to?
Compton: Getting the see the north, the remote, inhospitable location where few visit and even fewer carve out a hard life will be amazing. Getting to share this trip with passionate, and knowledgeable fellow paddlers will be even better. The northern lights and searching for interesting glacial erratics (rock formations) will be personal highlights for the trip.
Maxwell: I am looking forward to seeing the tundra and I really like the fact that we are paddling to the tundra rather than flying in. I look forward to watching the change in the landscape as the trees begin to get smaller and eventually fade away. One way in which this trip differs from my previous ones is that we plan to paddle fewer miles each day. In doing so I am excited to take the time to hike and explore the tundra.
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