Day 109

August 25th, 2019

We made it! We reached the Polar Sea! What a journey it was. We awoke at 5:30 to a clear morning that promised warmth and sunshine. We took our time during breakfast, relishing our final minutes in the bug tent. We pushed off at 7:00 AM and Class #1 rapids sped our progress to Bloody Falls, which was only ten miles away. We reached this final obstacle in no time, not bothering to scout it as we had been told by everyone that it was not possible. We portaged up a steep slope on the river left side and followed a clear path over wooden planks and rock for one kilometer.

The portage was not terrible, but after over a week since our last overland carry, it wasn’t easy. Bram and I joked it seemed impossible to imagine how we had made it to this point if the Bloody portage felt this difficult.

At the end of the portage we ate some nuts and watched a fishing boat in the distance. With less than ten miles to Kugluktuk, there was no denying the approach of human development. We pushed off and began our paddle to the final destination. It was during this stretch of paddling that my heart and throat swelled as I contemplated the culmination of our efforts bringing us to this place. I was so proud of myself and of Zach, Bram, Quinn, James and Paul. A young southern wind blew in behind us as the sun reflected off the clear water. It felt like the world was ushering us forth, whispering encouragement and approval to our souls. Joy and love overcame me and I sobbed quietly in the stern.

We pulled over on a shallow sand bank only a couple of miles away from Kugluktuk. Zach and Bram switched positions in the boat so Zach could better record the final paddle strokes that took us to the ocean. We held the shore nearby as the horizon stretched before us one last time. We beached in the town and a man on an ATV drove right up to us. From a distance he looked like he was wearing a massive puffy but as he neared our boats, we realized he was simply morbidly obese and his outerwear was nothing special. We greeted him warmly but received no response or anything but a vacant expression hidden behind sunglasses. After twenty seconds of terrible awkwardness, Zach approached the man and began enthusiastically telling him of our adventures. He never received a response and our “moment” was effectively squashed.

Thankfully, another man named Donald pulled up in his truck and warmly greeted us. He directed us to a free campsite further down shore and assured us he would stop by shortly to help us find showers.

The boys explored town while Bram and I stayed with the gear. We met a local woman named Andrea and her young daughter Ayesha while they were fishing. Andrea invited us to her home to shower and wash our clothing. We accepted her offer and ended up sleeping on her floor after she assured us that Grizzly bears hung around the campsite on the beach. We bought our flight home for the following afternoon and called our loved ones. It was time to go home.

Day 103

August 19, 2019


Another drizzly morning, so slow getting out of the bags. No big deal though. Yesterday’s mileage illustrated the strength of this current. We can easily paddle 30 to 40 miles per day and arrive at Kugluktuk in 5 or 6 days.

We ate some raw apples with our granola this morning, courtesy of Max Ward. We paddled beneath cloudy skies all day, though it was not nearly or chilly as yesterday. Highlight of the day was spying a white Arctic Wolf on the shoreline. He seemed like a curious bugger, as he followed us along the river during our lunch floater. We paddled another stretch after lunch and heard at least two wolves howling with one another from a top the muddy eskers. The entire experience was quite splendid.

We camped at 4:00 PM. Our site provided an excellent sand beach and a beautiful view of the river and tall, white eskers. The sun peeked through and everyone used the warmth to bathe and dry their clothing. I cooked mac n’ cheese burritos and half a meal of pemmy mashy. The calorie intake has been well received, and we all enjoyed monkey munch for dessert. A relaxed day. I am fine with that as it is one of our last.

This trip flew by, but we all understand it is coming to an end. Winter is coming. What an adventure it has been. I am surprised to say that on a scale of bitter to sweet, I am quite strongly weighted to the sweet side. This expedition was a noble endeavor. It is a good thing, and being one, it must necessarily come to its own end. But there are many more good things to come. The next adventure awaits. Confront the unknown willingly and courageously, and you will find your target. Aim high.


Day 97

August 13, 2019

Big Lake, Height of Land, Starvation Lake

Today we summited the height of land. We are now in our final watershed of the trip, and we will follow its course to the Polar Sea. It is a major turning point for this section of our trip and I can finally say with confidence that the hardest days are behind us. The past fifteen days have been a gauntlet, but it only sweetens what is literally a watershed moment for the ardor and frustration it wrought.

We awoke at 4:30 AM, sleeping in just a tad after yesterday’s trials. We discussed our options to get into Big Lake over breakfast. We could either pull up some shallow rapids and then portage into a small arm of the lake, or we could portage up an ester and walk along it until cutting down into the lake. The majority decided to pull over and portage the shorter distance, much to Zachary’s chagrin. Fear of boulders and wet feet first thing in the morning can make a man go to great lengths to avoid them.

The morning was frigid but clear and by the time we finished pulling up the short rapid we were a bit warmer. The portage was more friendly than anticipated and Big Lake stretched out before us. We paddled 10 km in a cold side wind and reached the northeastern bay of the lake where we had decided to attempt our height of land summit. We chose this route because it offered fewer albeit longer portages.

We scarfed some nuts, took out the drone scout, and started humping over the barren lands. We elected to reintroduce our Methye system, going with six pieces of gear to what we believed to be the halfway point before splitting up, one group returning for the first load while the others continued to the end.


Bram, Zach and I took two boats and double load to the end. Turns out we had probably gone ¾ of the way before splitting up. We returned for the gear and everyone was at the pothole in less than two hours. The portage was probably 1.5 miles long, but it felt much easier than any of us were expecting. We had one more short portage into Starvation Lake and then did a floater for lunch.

The afternoon was sunny, the winds blowing. We threw up the sails and coasted to the end of the lake, camping on a small island before the river. I was even able to read my kindle while solar charging it while we sailed. 21st century canoe trip, baby. We dried our things and took a much needed afternoon rest. The boys are tired, hungry, excited. We are 8-12 days away. Wow.


P.S. Have not caught a fish in 40 days

Day 91

August 7th, 2019

Yellowknife – Reindeer Lake, Dissention, Porphiry, Hunter

Big day today. Seven portages in total. We awoke at 4:30 AM to a cool, overcast morning. Bugs still unfriendly. Quick cold spell should destroy them, but at the pace we are going, they may stick with us until the end. We paddled to the end of Reindeer and portaged on the river right side over the first piece of land we have walked over that you could argue looks to be tundra. Much of the area is burned out, the shrubs grow low and mossy tussocks sprout from the flat landscape. We had another short portage into Dissention Lake whose reputation had preceded it thanks to George Simmons’ log from the ’68 Arctic Trip. We paddled almost to the end of the lake before stopping for nuts. The next portage was a bit longer, perhaps 1/3 of a mile. We portaged on the river right side and stayed on a ridge-line which provided good footing and a clear line of sight through the charred, standing wood. James and Zach had a steamy spat over the put-in, one believing the other had portaged further than necessary and created a riskier loading spot over exposed boulders. These things happen. Ill temper or resentful stewing may last through the next paddle stretch, but rarely even that long. We do a good job of explaining, communicating, and apologizing. Tiny failings happen on the portage trail. When you have a double-load or the boat over your head, but we know that we depend upon one another and every man is attempting to help us reach the ocean. It just doesn’t always feel that way when you have 90 plus pounds on your back, and you get devastated by a boulder field or holes in the moss.

We continued into Porphiry, paddling to the end of it before stopping for lunch. We crushed some PB&Js and began the set of four portages into Hunter Lake. During the first portage we split up, Quinn and Paul portaging river left, the rest of us river right. River left seems to have been the right call, as those lads beat us. I am total blanking on the fifth portage, but that is a good thing, as it was most likely short and not extraordinary. We avoided another short portage as we were able to line up some shallow current, providing an excellent change of pace. We portaged a longer trail on the river left side, hugging another ridge-line before crossing 100 yards of large boulders to load our boats again. Thank god I played the hot lava game so much as a kid, as one false step with the boat or double load and you are in a hole of pain. The last portage of the day, on the river left side, was short and easy. We got onto Hunter and decided to look for campsites. We had to paddle until just about the end of the lake before finding a low-lying ester with great tent sites on the left side of the lake. Bugs bad all day, but it was a great day nonetheless. Traveled over 20 miles before calling it just after 6:00 PM. It would have been great to get to Greenstocking Lake by today, the tenth day of the Yellowknife section, but we are still moving fast. Seems like we might only have 15-17 days left out here. Pretty wild. The nearer we get, the more excited I feel. This is our moment. We have all sacrificed and worked so hard for this, as have all our loved ones. Body feels better than it did a few days ago, but this section has been a shit-kicker. Next seven days don’t promise to be much of a reprieve. All I know is I need to catch a fish before all this is said and done or Wiper will kill me.


Day 79

July 26, 2019

Great Slave Lake

Unsure of the mileage we clocked today, as we all fled to our tents after dinner before I could consult Paul, who has a handy watch which tracks just that kind of thing.  I would guess we paddled around 20 miles, leaving ourselves just 15K south of Yellowknife. The rain has begun pattering above my tent as I write this. I’m glad we finished dinner as early as we did.

We awoke at 6:40 AM, sleeping in because of our late night and sleeping in further because it was raining when Paul’s breakfast alarm alerted him.  The sky and light were gray, the weather cool and the rocks slippery. We paddled in light rain until lunch, island-hopping our way up the northern shore.  The rain besieged us before we could even begin digesting our lunch. Paul and I were able to inspire the other lads that with courage, strength and calories, we could indeed paddle in the rain, and they reluctantly crawled from beneath the boughs of a small tree and we slipped and slid our way down the treacherous, wet rock and back into our boats.

The afternoon rain started bad and only got worse.  We paddled for 2.5 hours after lunch but at around 3:00 PM a northern wind blew in and we decided to call it a day.  Everyone was soaking wet and a few were shivering in their soggy clothes while erecting tents.  

Bram cooked up some scrumptious, hot ramen in his vestibule using the stove (clever guy) and we hit the tents before 5:00 PM.  It should be an early wake-up tomorrow as we try to beat the winds and reach Yellowknife.

This lake, while cold and uncomfortable today, is as epic a body of water as any I have ever paddled.  I can only hope the tundra can stir my soul as this lake has. With the red, rock islands and the boundless horizon – the lake seems to fall into the sky. The North is special.  This journey is special. These guys are remarkable. They impress me everyday, all in their own way. I cant’ wait to see what this final chapter holds for us.


Day 73

July 20th, 2019

Slave River

We broke camp from the Fort Smith boat launch at 4:00 AM and had a relaxing breakfast on the water.  Some of the boys are giving silty Slave River water a go, but I’m switching to the gravity filter. We pushed hard all morning.  We paddled through a cool mist that clung to the river as if it were tethered to it, but that dissipated before we finished our first stretch.  It was a scorcher after that.

Slave River floating

We found out that the horseflies wake up just before 9:00 AM, our usual nut break time.  They have been bugging us this past week, but they were particularly oppressive today. We paddled hard all day, falling just seven miles short of our top daily distance, finishing 62 miles closer to Kugluktuk.

Yellowknife, our last stop in civilization, might only be a week away.  We draw nearer to the Yellowknife River – the crux of our trip – with every paddle stroke.  Firmly oriented north now, our path forward is straighter than ever. Visions of the approaching tundra glaze our dreams.  We are so close now.

P.S. It would have been a very straightforward day had we not discovered a 5 liter margarine explosion in a nut sack after we got to camp!  So devastating. We spent our evening wiping and cleaning all the nut and pemmican bags. Not a fun way to end the day. Pretty funny, but less so now as this was the third such instance this trip.


Day 72

July 19th, 2019

Fort Smith

A big day for Kooch history.  Day 72 of a trip. Never has this happened.  Unfortunately, we did not achieve anything as epic as would seem fit for such a momentous occasion.  We slept in and decided by majority rule to take a layover in Fort Smith. Paul and Quinn walked an hour across town to Tim Horton’s.  The rest of us lazed around until after lunch at Leif and Natalie’s. We then all met up at the museum of the North for some lessons in history.  Dinner was fiesta night with ground beef taco meat for an extra umph. After dinner we shuttled our gear and bodies to the boat launch so that we could get on the water bright and early in the AM.


Day 61

July 8th, 2019

Methye Part 2 & Clearwater

I fell asleep with my bag open, so I knew I would be waking up in the middle of the night to more adequately secure my slumber.  I did not know, however, that doing so would feel so wretchedly painful for the minimal movement such an adjustment required. If I had, I would have fallen asleep sweating within my fully enclosed cocoon.

The morning was stiff and slow going.  Paul and I had a moleskin party before eating oatmeal and Zach was the lucky guy who got to refill everyone’s coffee cups.  He sat right next to the pot, no one could find the inner strength required to move from their seated position and refill their own mug.

We paddled across part of Rendezvous Lake and reconvened with the muddy ATV trail we have all come to know so well.  We had our gear system down, so we got going without much delay. Zach, Paul and I suffered for the first stretches with the boats, our shoulders worn raw from the latter half of yesterday.  Padding with fleeces (or decomposing moss, in Zach’s case) seemed to help, and the group arrived at the halfway point rather quickly, considering our physical conditions. It is painful to watch some of us walk around.  I know I have been hobbled (and humbled) greatly. Our toes have blisters and our calves feel like they are pinched in vises. If people saw us waddle around, they would have no desire to canoe. This is what I wanted though, so I suppose it is just desserts.

We switched up the team roles.  For the next part of the day, Bram, James and Quinn took a granite gear, tin and boat down to the river while the rest of us went back for the gear.  We met back up at the rendezvous point literally within seconds of each other. Pretty incredible. After scarfing some nuts, we took off to finish our last two miles.  Only, about one mile or so is straight downhill, and boy is it steep. Jimmy tripped over a rock while carrying the cumbersome granite gear and banged up his knee pretty good.  Quinn took it slow on the downhill on account of his tweaked knee, and I made it down aided by a sorry-looking walking stick that wasn’t much higher than my hip. It was rough for everyone.  

We reached the bottom at 12:45 PM and took a team photo.  We had what I would generously describe as a muted celebration of the accomplishment.  I screamed a victory roar as loud as I could upon setting my boat down beside the river, but only Zach released a joyful yip.  I get it though. We were shot and we still had some miles on the Clearwater to get behind us in order to reach Fort Mac early on the 10th.

Methye Victory

The banks of the Methye greeted us with a severed moose head whose face meat had been hemmed off and two monster, swollen pikes – likely remnants from the friendly hunters who drove by us on ATVs the day prior.  A large black bear was entrapped on a strand, belly up, only 200 yards from our put-in on the Clearwater. It’s mouth was agape, revealing an engorged tongue and gums between its jaws. It’s eyes were half submerged in water and looked like the texture of deviled eggs.  Its large claws stuck into the air, feeling menacing even in their inanimate state. We figured hunters had shot the beast and dumped it in the river where it flowed down until it became entrapped. It had been dead for days, judging by the smell of it.

We paddled on the beautiful and esteemed Clearwater River for a few more hours.  For most of us, it was the furthest we have ever paddled from Deer Island. The fast-moving river is rimmed by verdant hills and towering poplar trees over its banks.  It definitely feels like a new chapter in the book. I’m so proud of everyone on this trip. We suffered together, helping one another on the way and laughing about it afterwards (and during!).  I have no doubt we will finish this trip with bonds that are tighter than our calf muscles.


Day 55

July 2nd, 2019

Buffalo Narrows

We intended to break camp by 4:00 AM but the torrid winds dissuaded us from any pretensions we might have about paddling Peter Pond Lake.  We slept in until 8 AM, our bodies welcoming the unexpected rest. After eating oatmeal, we separated into two groups. James and Bram stayed with the gear and tents while the rest of us accepted a short ride into town with a friendly local elder named Izadore.  We stopped at the “Friendship Center” Buffalo Narrow’s community center, where we were gifted with some small pendants made of beads and paperclips. The beadwork displayed a white symbol upon a blue background, an image we had seen displayed all over town, it is the Métis symbol.

Izadore showed us how turbulent the lake’s waters were.  We would not be paddling today. Izadore gifted us with 6 blankets and 6 more pendants before we said our good-byes.  He is extremely kind and we were all moved by his solicitude. We spent the rest of the morning in Subway drinking coffee, eating cookies and charging our electrical devices.  The weather remained cool, cloudy and rainy all day. Plan to have an early dinner and hit the tents. Ideally on the water by 3 AM.


Day 37

June 14th, 2019


Another good day today, 28 miles and much shorter as well.  We woke up at 5:00 AM, getting an extra hour of beauty sleep to recuperate from the 40 plus mile upriver day.  We got on the water at 6:30 AM and Quinn and I chose to try to attain the rapid beneath the road rather than pullover it as we had all done yesterday. The current ripped past our boat, pushing us toward the more shallow right shore.  I told Quinn we might need to bail and he thought I wanted him out right then. He tried to get out but it was too deep. We lost the lunch sack off the top of the wannigan and were lucky not to swamp. Everything worked out, but it could have gone south. We saw Dave on his lawn and bid him farewell one final time.

We knocked out some long morning stretches through burnout between the hillsides that cupped the river, making for a rugged aesthetic on the drone footage we captured.  We continued along the river following this pattern of long, upriver stretches followed by short, well-groomed portages. We attained one more rapid with a couple of fishing boats hollering support and portaged into Morand Lake.  We knocked off about 60% of the lake and camped at 4:00 PM, tired from the previous day and not wanting to push closer to Pelican Narrows. We bathed, ate and were able to connect on our phones. I called Wiper and we pivoted to a live drop on the 10th, as it is a much more attainable date for us to reach him by.  Hit the tents early to wake up early.

Lets get it.