People & Culture

Coppermine 2012: The decision

  • May 27, 2012
  • 552 words
  • 3 minutes
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Map: The planned expedition route from Yellowknife, N.W.T., to Kugluktuk, NU

How does a weekend trip from Montréal to Ottawa become a 50-day expedition from Yellowknife to Kugluktuk? By watching hockey, of course. As excited as I was to reconnect with my old trip staff Stef Superina for a couple of evenings of live NHL action in beautiful downtown Kanata, Ont., I had no inkling of the grand plans which had been inspired by Stef’s reading of Keith Ross Leckie’s historical novel Coppermine.

They say that if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball. Well, I say that if a Habs fan and a Leafs fan can support the other’s team as they take turns whipping up on the Senators, then they can probably overcome any wilderness-related obstacle.

So there it was: as the proverbial “manly banter” transitioned from commiseration over our respective teams’ on-ice futility to the awesomeness of canoe-tripping, Stef fleshed out a rough plan to retrace some of the footsteps of past travelers. And by “rough plan” I mean that Stef had already mapped out a route from Great Slave Lake to the Beaufort Sea. He said it could be done; all that was needed were some other experienced paddlers. I said sure, I would love to be a part of such a promising adventure; but I would have to defer, having already signed on for another summer guiding at Camp Wabun, a canoe outfit for youth based on Lake Temagami.

Nevertheless, another round of YouTube videos depicting caribou herds migrating under the midnight sun could not help but make a lasting impression. I returned home to Montréal with images of the Coppermine River running endlessly through my mind’s eye. Even a cursory overview of the proposed route was enough to make me certain this trip would put all my previously acquired tripping skills to the test: the terrain, the cold and the remoteness, to say nothing of the unknown unknowns.
Filled with uncertainty and anticipation (and thinking it would be a good idea to bring some more friends!) I recalled a slideshow put on by a Wilderness First Aid instructor following the completion of the course. He and his friends had spent an autumn poling up the Churchill River, reached the Churchill Falls before freeze-up, then built sleds by hand and returned overland across the ice. Suffice it to say, it was an impressive account; I had wondered in that moment whether myself and any tripping buddies would ever have the skills to plan and execute a trip of similar magnitude.

As it turns out, two people who also watched that slideshow, Andrew Stachiw and Jesse Coleman, will be paddling the Coppermine with me this summer. Two non-Wabunite free agents, Seth Wotten, the LeBron James of wilderness travel and Jon Metcalfe, the self-described “sixth man,” jumped at the opportunity.

At the risk of making sweeping comparisons, let me be the first to say that this group are the Miami Heat of wilderness canoeing. Though we all had to drop other plans, ultimately it was a very easy decision: we’re taking our talents where they belong.

Follow @coppermine2012 on Twitter, find them on Facebook and visit the expedition website

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