In May four adventurers decided to set out on a dangerous canoeing expedition that would begin in the Pacific Ocean near Alaska, press through Canada’s three northern territories, and then finish, 2,600 miles later, in the Hudson Bay. It was a route that would involve falling through ice, trekking through snowstorms, battling up strong currents and against fierce winds, and much more.
The expedition begins; photo courtesy Canoe and Kayak
Then, in mid-September the adventurers–Pete Marshall, Winchell Delano, Steve Keaveny, and Matt Harren–completed their route, announcing it first on their Facebook page and earning them “their place in northern lore,” according to Canoe and Kayak magazine editor-in-chief Jeff Moag.
“This team isn’t the first to cross the continent in a single season, but they picked a tough way to do it,” Moag said. “Almost the whole route was north of the 60th parallel, where the season is awfully short for such an ambitious trip. They started on snowshoes in May, went like hell for 130 days, and just beat the ice to Hudson Bay.”
During the journey, Marshall wrote a series of dispatches about the expedition for Canoe and Kayak. He is skilled with words and paints a vivid picture of the northern territories’ beauty, the hardships the crew endured, and the euphoria he felt after achieving what he called “the proudest accomplishment” of his life, when he crossed the continental divide midway through the journey.
The expedition began with a trek through Alaska’s Chilkoot Pass, where they encountered whiteout conditions. “The wind was screaming at over 40 miles per hour, and almost every bit of rock and earth, save for a few black outcroppings, was engulfed in snow and ice,” wrote Marshall for Canoe and Kayak. Photo courtesy Canoe and Kayak.
Of some of the early hardships on the Pelly River, Marshall wrote: “We developed a strategy of hugging the shore. Jolting our muscles, tendons, and bones against the ever increasing, ever flowing current. Over and over we had to make long and exhausting ferries as we chased after the little bit of slack water that hung in the inside bends of the river. None of us had ever paddled so hard only to average about one mile per hour. In the morning I would wake up, look at the river (the speed of the river must have calmed in my dreams) and think, ‘How the hell are we paddling up this thing?’”
Paddling the South Nahanni River, which Marshall found so beautiful that he wrote: “Words fall short. Photographs are two dimensional.” Photo courtesy Canoe and Kayak.
The crew’s journey included moments of calm happiness, too.
“Just east of where the Slave River enters the Great Slave Lake, something magical happens,” Marshall wrote for Canoe and Kayak. “The quiet and humble shore, (let’s be honest, it’s a boring shoreline) transitions to the spectacular rock formations of the Canadian Shield. This is the East Arm of Great Slave Lake, and in many ways it is a completely different lake than the western portions. Seven years ago I paddled this area with my brother. At the time the raw beauty of the endless maze of rocky islands and deep cold water struck me. I told many people that it was my favorite place I had ever canoed. And indeed, returning to the area only confirmed these feelings.”
The crew endured howling winds on the Great Slave Lake; photo courtesy Canoe and Kayak
To read the full series of dispatches and view four galleries of photography taken during the expedition, click here.
Artillery Lake in the Northwest Territories; photo courtesy Canoe and Kayak