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People & Culture

Expeditions with kids

Dan Clark explains the motivation behind going on Arctic paddling expeditions with young children.
  • Jul 07, 2015
  • 432 words
  • 2 minutes
Together to the Tundra finds it's first campsite Expand Image

Last week Dan Clark and his family set out on a 55-day paddling journey through some of Canada’s most remote northern landscapes. They call their expedition Together to the Tundra; here, Clark explains the motivation behind going on such an adventure with young children. Follow their progress using this map.

It’s never too early to get out in the wilderness with kids—our family is proof of that. Since our kids were born, we’ve embarked on annual self-propelled journeys, paddling in the desert southwest, Alaska’s fiords, and down the longest rivers in Canada.

My wife Alice recalls a pivotal moment on our first northern canoe trip on the Yukon River when our daughter Ava Fei was a year old: “She pulled herself up on the gunnel of the canoe as a couple passed on the river. When they saw her they exclaimed, ‘We never thought of bringing the kids!’”

There are challenges to overcome to get out as a family, but the rewards are worth it. Koby, 7, and Ava Fei, 5, have spent hundreds of happy nights camping as a family. The simplicity, adventure and purpose of these trips provides us with authentic challenges and memorable learning experiences that enhance our family connections.

This summer’s expedition won’t be easy. Following historic routes used for millennia to access the tundra, our family, along with our friends Bruce Bembridge and Marilyn Toulouse, hopes to complete a 1050 km circuit starting and finishing in Yellowknife, NWT.

We’ll paddle along Great Slave Lake, pass through the proposed Thaydene Nene National Park on the historic Pike’s Portage route, and then follow a chain of windswept lakes across the tundra. We’ll return to Yellowknife along a thread of minor waterways called the Beaulieu River system.

It’s our most challenging northern trip yet, with exposed lakes, portages, upstream travel, and whitewater rivers. And that’s saying something considering their last trip with toddlers was a 3500 km paddling marathon from the mountain town of Jasper, AB to the Arctic Ocean.

Our kids aren’t going to pick up much about the wilderness or history at home where they are surrounded by cell phones and cityscapes. It is only on lengthy trips in lands unchanged by people, where solitude still cloaks the land, that we can see the world through the eyes of explorers of centuries past. Maybe we will get a chance to stare into the eyes of a living breathing caribou or muskox or wolf.

This expedition is supported in part by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.


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