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The Leader

Expedition Update: Arctic Canoe Odyssey

By Jack Buchanan
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2001, Vol. 17, No. 1

Last summer, Sam Moulton, Mike Wolfe, Brook Yeomans, and Luke Manger-Lynch embarked on an expedition that took them from Reindeer Lake in northern Saskatchewan to the Arctic Ocean. Their route was 1,600 miles long and took them 87 days. Their objectives were to complete the lengthy route in only one season and to raise money for scholarship funds for Camp Manito-wish. They were successful and in the process crossed nine different watersheds, fourteen rivers, and innumerable lakes.

To link all of these waterways, the team often had to portage all of their gear. These portages (in which the canoeists haul boats and gear overland) typically ranged from one half to three quarters of a mile but could reach up to three miles long. Additionally, the members occasionally lined their boats upstream, pulling canoes past unnavigable sections of river in order to attain their goal. All in all, their trip represents a true canoeing odyssey, and the more technical aspects were complemented by days of pristine paddling through one of the most beautiful wilderness areas on earth.

The four canoeists met while working in northern Wisconsin at Camp Manito-wish. This camp is founded on many of the same principles as NOLS, namely a strong belief that wilderness experiences have overwhelmingly positive affects on young lives. In fact, Brook Yeomans and Mike Wolfe work as NOLS instructors and teach courses ranging in diversity from mountaineering and rock climbing to whitewater paddling. Luke Manger-Lynch works in Jackson, Wyoming as a protection assistant for the Jackson Hole Land Trust while Sam Moulton is an assistant editor for Outside magazine. Their idea was to raise enough money to start an endowment that would allow one camper per year to attend Manito-wish for free every year from now to eternity. They have raised $40,000 and need only $2,000 more for the endowment to be a success.

The group set out from the small Woodland Creek Indian community of Southend on May 30. They were lucky enough to be greeted with nearly two months of continuous fair weather though they did have to reroute the early sections in order to avoid ice on the larger lakes. As they approached the Arctic Ocean they left the boreal forests for open tundra and encountered more precipitation and northerly winds. At this point, temperatures were often below freezing and paddling was arduous but the prospect of the ice cap kept them going. Water levels were high but not impassable. They spent the majority of their travels on water that was rated at Class II (on a scale of IV) or less. However, even Class II water can be tricky given the enormously heavy boats they were paddling.

A primary focus of the expedition was to be self-sufficient. They hired a bush pilot to fly in and cache only one ration of food. This ration consisted of two fifty-five gallon steel drums with all the provisions for the second half of the trip. Otherwise, there was no outside assistance provided.

Along the way, the expedition encountered several forms of wildlife. They were charged by a sow grizzly and three cubs and had to fire a warning shot from a shotgun but the scene didn't escalate into an incident. They did, however, move camp immediately. Another memorable encounter came when the group was able to immerse themselves in a herd of caribou that was literally thousands strong. The caribou were perhaps just as curious of the paddlers as they were of the caribou. The animals stopped and sniffed the visitors and took pause shortly before launching en masse to cross the Thelon River.
Truly a magical moment.

To learn more about this expedition, its members, or to contact any one of the group, visit their website at Email Sam Moulton at or Brook Yeomans



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