Click on the image below to view an interactive map of our intended route.
Our final route will likely look a bit different from this planned route and depends on the weather, the sea-ice, and our motivation.
The Route in 2022
On May 31, 2022 we launched our kayaks onto Great Slave Lake and paddled 1800 km down the Mackenzie River to reach Tuktoyaktuk on July 15. We rested in town for a few days as we waited for ice to move off of the peninsula. On July 20, we left early in the morning for the distant community of Paulatuk. We followed the coastline for over 650km and did not see another human or boat until reaching Paulatuk 25 days later.
The Plan for 2023
In July 2023, we will return to Paulatuk and begin paddling east towards the next community, Kugluktuk. Our goal for the season is to reach Gjoa Haven, but as we learned in 2022, it is difficult to make reliable plans in the Arctic!
The Arctic Coast is an incredibly remote and wild place. In 2022, from Tuk to Paulatuk we did not see another human for 24 days. The coast is dominated by wind, weather, and ice – which remain our primary concerns – and much of our trip will be subject to the movements of the sea ice. Unpredictable weather, dangerous wildlife, and a very short window of opportunity make success on this trip much more challenging than on a standard sea kayaking expedition.
Marine mammals of particular concern are walruses, although we do not expect to encounter any until we reach the Gulf of Boothia. Walruses have been known to attack small boats and be aggressive to kayaks. They have also been sighted thousands of kilometers outside of their range.
By far the greatest wildlife we are most concerned with are polar bears and barren ground grizzlies. The area between Tuktoyaktuk and Kugluktuk has a large population of barren ground grizzlies: aggressive brown bears that roam the open tundra. In 2022 between Tuk and Paulatuk we saw two polar bears – both swimming – and five barren ground grizzlies. We expect our encounters to increase as we paddle east.
See the gear section to learn more about the growing body of science suggesting non-lethal bear deterrents are just as (if not more) successful at protecting from polar bear attacks.
We love climbing mountains and although the landscape is quite flat in the Western Canadian Arctic, there are numerous low hills and bluffs that were named by early European explorers and highpoints that have been used as landmarks by Inuit for millennia. As we pass these named peaks, prominent bluffs, or large pingos, we will do our best to climb them. Kayak trips are often lacking in lower body exercise and these points of land will offer great vantages of the coast.
In 2022 we managed to hike up two peaks along the Dehcho, five pingos along the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, and one named summit near the Horton River.
Along the Mackenzie River, we passed through eleven vibrant communities: Hay River, Fort Providence, Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson, Wrigley, Tulita, Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope, Tsiigehtchic, Inuvik, and Tuktoyaktuk. Many of the highlights from the river happened in the communities, where we were always welcomed warmly. After leaving Tuktoyaktuk, the next community we stopped in was Paulatuk – one of the smallest communities in the north – where we ended our trip for 2022. Our time in Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk were both highlights of the trip.
In 2023 we will leave Paulatuk when Darnley Bay is free of ice in mid July. The next community is Kugluktuk, about 700km away. We hope to continue past Kugluktuk another 400km to Cambridge Bay or 1100km to Gjoa Haven. Depending on conditions, we will either cross Dolphin and Union Strait and paddle to Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, or we will continue along the mainland coast past Kugluktuk and use the Itibiaryuk Portage to reach Gjoa Haven or Taloyoak.