Serengeti of the North
The Baillie River forms the western boundary of the Thelon Game Sanctuary, the largest wildlife reserve in North America. Established in 1927, the reserve encompasses 26,000 square miles and is home to a variety of large animals, including caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, fox, wolverine and muskoxen.
We were early for the major caribou migration, but witnessing some small bands of scouting caribou proved as spectacular as we had hoped. On perhaps the coldest day of the trip, as blowing sleet forced our eyes closed to barely a sliver, we rounded a bend and came across two arctic wolves feasting on a fresh caribou kill. We backed off, watching the wolves pull a hunk of warm meat off their plates and leave the water’s edge.
We traveled the Baillie River swiftly on clear, fast water. Making up for our slow progress through the icy tributaries, we took full advantage of gorgeous sunny days and the high water level. We paddled 140 miles in just five days, pulling over early at our last camp on the Baillie to admire the view of a natural amphitheater carved in the opposite hillside.
After dinner we marveled at the evening’s entertainment. The curtains pulled back to reveal three adult wolves exiting their den across the river. Soon after, a wolverine grabbed an arctic ground squirrel in its jaws and loped offstage. The grand finale was an all-white arctic wolf coming down to the river’s edge for a drink and a bow.
By the end of our expedition we would see 23 wolves, including three pups and two other dens.
As we floated into the confluence with the Back River, our 25 mile-a-day pace changed abruptly. We were beginning… (continue…)