Turns out you don’t have to go that far north of the 49th parallel to find true wilderness. Ontario and Manitoba’s “Little North”—a vast Texas-sized chunk of roadless boreal forest that’s thick with rivers and lakes—delivers a lifetime supply of canoe tripping. Adventure filmmakers and photographers David Hartman, Adam Biehler and Matt Perpick joined passionate canoe-tripper and born-again coureur-de-bois Ryan “Turbo” Forsyth on a 600-mile, monthlong journey across the Little North that pushed all four men to the breaking point. The outcome: Nine Rivers, a stunning short film that captures the essence of an epic canoe trip in the most visceral manner. — CONOR MIHELL
Give yourself a half-hour to journey into a true wilderness-tripping adventure. NINE RIVERS is debuting here, exclusively on CanoeKayak.com, through tomorrow.
CanoeKayak.com: What was the impetus behind the Nine Rivers expedition?
Ryan Forsyth: The summer before Nine Rivers a group of friends and I attempted a similar trip. On the first morning we encountered thick smoke and ash falling from the sky. When the wind changed direction, you could see water bombers, spotter planes, and helicopters. The canoe trip had turned into a goddamn airshow. Some of us had paddled through forest fires before and there was talk of having a go at it. In the end, a brief discussion with the authorities and the worsening situation caused us to turn around and head back upriver to our starting point.
We managed to salvage the summer by doing another trip, but it still bothered me. Up until then I’d always finished every trip I’d started. I felt defeated and I knew it would always gnaw away at me until I did something about it. The following winter was particularly cold and long, but thankfully Matt, Adam, and Dave were looking for another summer adventure. Slowly and methodically we planned our route. Needless to say, I was pretty determined to make it back and it set the stage for what would become Nine Rivers.
What do you find so attractive about Ontario’s “Little North”?
David Hartman: Ontario’s Little North is a canoe tripping paradise, so much so that it seems the entire idea of an extended river canoe trip is modeled around the river systems that exist there. These waterways—ranging from small creeks to massive bodies of moving water—are of great historical importance and in many cases seem relatively unchanged from past times. Of course, you run into signs of human activity along the way, but these are likely the same portage trails and natural campsites that have been used for thousands of years by the people who inhabited the area. The landscape is so expansive and wild that you can’t help but feel alone up there, and that is what we are looking for.
Why was it so important for you to film the journey?
Matt Perpick: Northern Ontario is so rugged and beautiful; everything feels so cinematic there. I can’t count the times I’ve been on a northern river and dreamed of turning what my eyes could see into a movie. And expeditions are such damn great adventures. Each week in the bush, you collect more stories to share with the world—the portage from hell, the whale that swam below your boat on Hudson Bay, the bender when you hit the bar on your first night back in town. It’s about sharing this with the world—the beauty of the land, the rhythms of traveling there, the adventure of it all. It’s something most people will never see, so we wanted to bring a small piece of that home with us. It’s also important personally. We now have a record of our lives in that place and time, out in nature in the prime of our lives. The world changes so fast. In 20 years, those rivers could be dammed, we could be dead. But we can show our grandkids this and they can know what it was like.
What’s the film all about?
Hartman: The film is all about celebrating the rugged beauty of the area while telling the story of our route. In the final hours of our preparation we decided to add a few hundred kilometers to the route because we feared it wouldn’t be challenging enough. This new section involved primarily upstream travel into an area that sees little human activity. It became clear to us a few days in that we were on a “push trip.” We bit off more that we could chew and our decisions were now based on traveling as far as we could each day without hurting ourselves. We got what we had wished for and were learning to live with and enjoy that. We paddled up and down nine rivers and creeks in three different watersheds in 27 days. The second we figured out one river we were onto another. The challenge of shooting a film in these conditions became apparent, but only added to the excitement.
Any plans to return to the area for a sequel?
Hartman: I think that once you have a taste for this lifestyle you spend a lot of time dreaming and talking of new routes. Ryan spends much of his winter with maps strewn across his living room floor, contemplating new routes with a beer in hand. We have no shortage of ideas, but sometimes getting away for a month can be more difficult. The reality though is that all it takes is for someone to call you on the right day with the right idea, and once you say yes all the rest seems to fall into place. Who’s it going to be?