Revisiting the Dubawnt River

A new memoir about the ill-fated Moffat Expedition

Dubawnt River

Photo: Arthur Moffatt

In the summer of 1955, when Arthur Moffatt led five young men deep into the Canadian Barrens, calm days like this one were both a rare treat and a dangerous seduction. By early September, snow was falling, the food was nearly gone, and the rush to finish almost palpable. In their haste the team ran a powerful rapid in subfreezing weather, without scouting. Two of the three canoes capsized, the rescue took far too long, and Art Moffatt froze to death on the banks of the Dubawnt River.

In the decades since, the Moffatt Expedition has become a cautionary tale—an example of what not to do in the northern wilds. Skip Pessl, seen here standing in the green canoe, has had nearly 60 years to ponder the events of that summer. The insights he shared with C&K editor-at-large Alan Kesselheim for a May 2012 feature story in the magazine shed new light, and fresh understanding, on this remarkable saga.

Now Pessl has written a memoir on the expedition. Barren Grounds: The Story of the Tragic Moffatt Canoe Trip will be published in July by the Dartmouth College Press. It is available for pre-order now.

Click here for an in-depth story by Alan Kesselheim, the story of the Moffatt Expedition, revisited.

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