Last January, Ben Orkin earned a place in paddling history when he became the fastest kayaker to traverse the 277-mile length of the Grand Canyon; the entire trip took less than 38 hours. Now Ben, 24, and his younger brother Sam, 23, have embarked on an entirely different type of adventure, a 1,300 mile, 95-day canoe journey from Great Slave Lake to the Beaufort Sea. Growing up in Denver, the brothers chalked up extensive paddling experience, but both are new to canoeing. We caught up with them before they left earlier this month.
CanoeKayak.com: When did you first start talking about doing a long canoe trip?
Ben: I think it started after our first rafting trip up to Canada in 2010 when we did the Firth, Tat-Alsek, and Babine. There’s something to be said about being on the river for a long period of time and at 95 days, this trip is definitely pushing our personal limits in terms of overall length. We started planning this trip seriously about 6 months ago when we realized that Sam would be graduating college and I would be ready to leave my job. We figured now was our one shot at doing a trip of this caliber.
Why did you name the trip ’95 Days of BS?’
Sam: Our initials are ‘BS’ so we kind of incorporated that into our trip name.
You are both new to canoe tripping, right? What are you looking forward to most?
Ben: Yeah, we’re both avid kayakers but don’t have any real canoe experience. The route we’ve chosen gives us a few weeks to hone our skills and get used to how our PakCanoe handles before tackling any whitewater. I’m looking forward to learning how to canoe (hopefully not the hard way) and the physical and navigational challenges ahead of us.
Sam: I’m looking forward to being able to completely disconnect from civilization and everyday life back at home. We both have sacrificed a lot to go on this trip: jobs and girlfriends. We are excited to push ourselves and test our capabilities. When you are in the Arctic for that long you learn a lot about yourself and I am sure this time we will also learn a lot about each other. If we see 10 people over 95 days it will be a lot.
Why northern Canada?
Sam: Northern Canada is one of my favorite places to paddle. We’ve been lucky enough to have explored several rivers in northern Canada and really enjoy the variety and surprises such as being windbound for days, swimming in iceberg-filled lakes, rafting through ice canyons formed by aufeis, witnessing herds of caribou crossing the river in front of us, watching grizzly bears fish, and getting to do some amazing fishing. This will be our fourth time to the Arctic and we know well enough that even with its beauty, it is a place to take seriously.
Run us through your planned route.
Ben: We plan to start on Great Slave Lake near Bechoko and head upriver to the height of the land using the Marian and Emile Rivers. We will cross a series of lakes to the Parent River which is a tributary to the famous Coppermine River. We’ll head downstream along the Coppermine to where the Kendall comes in from the east. We’ll head upstream along the Kendall, through Dismal Lakes, across to Sandy Creek, down it to the Dease River to Great Bear Lake. From Great Bear the plan is to head overland to Horton Lake, down the Horton River to the Arctic Ocean and then head east along the coast to the coastal Hamlet of Palautuk. From there we will fly back to our car in Yellowknife.
Sam: The route includes a section of upriver-overland travel that hasn’t been attempted before (to our knowledge), and we’ll get to spend 10 days or so paddling on the Arctic Ocean.
What do you think will be the most difficult part of the journey?
Sam: Not killing my brother. The elements of the Arctic will take a toll on us physically, mentally and also will be hard on our gear. We have to make sure that we take care of ourselves from the start.
Ben: Generally, I think the most difficult parts of the journey will also be some of the best parts of the journey. Isolation, self-reliance, unpredictable weather, unknown ice conditions, and navigation all come to mind. I always say that there are only four seasons in the Arctic: wind, sun, bugs, or rain (or any combination of those). Even the sun can be brutal when it never sets for 24 hours. Specifically, I’m most nervous about the long portages and those hot, windless days on the tundra when the mosquitos are swarming and there is absolutely nothing you can do to cool off or escape the bugs.
Ben: Just a huge thank you to everyone who has helped us get this far, specifically our parents, Arthur and Mari, who have been our sounding board the last several months and have given their two cents worth (even when we didn’t want it). And to my mom who spent countless hours dehydrating everything from eggs to sriracha sauce to make this trip happen.
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