Coastal Mountaineering

exploring BC's coastlines and mountain ranges

The Plan

Click on the image below to view an interactive map of our intended route.

This route will likely differ drastically from our final trip, based on weather, ice, conditions, and motivation. We will consult with local advice to determine our route for the second and third stages of the trip and are still undecided on the best strategy for entering the Gulf of Boothia and for crossing into Labrador.


The Route in 2022

At the end of May we drove to Hay River, NWT where we left our truck and launched our boats onto an ice-covered Great Slave Lake. After a few challenging days of battling ice, we reached the river and paddled 1800km to Tuktoyaktuk. It was a humbling and amazing experience.

We spent a few days in Tuktoyaktuk as the sea-ice was quite late this year. After leaving Tuk we spent 25 days on the coast and reached the community of Paulatuk 650km away. We chose to end for the 2022 season in Paulatuk where we have stored our kayaks.

2022 Distances: 1800km on the Dehcho; 650 km on the coast to Paulatuk

The Route in 2023

In July 2023 we will return to Paulatuk, do some maintenance on our boats, and continue east with the goal of reaching Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, or ideally Taloyoak.

As we learned in 2022 it is difficult to make plans in the Arctic, so we will let the weather and ice conditions determine our final destination, but we hope to bring better gear to extend our season into mid September.

Challenges

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, and much of our trip will be subject to the movements of the sea ice – especially as we move east. 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.

A main concern is that weather, wind, and ice will keep us stuck and unable to complete the route within the timeframe where ocean travel is possible. As we approach Hudson’s Bay and the Eastern Arctic, we are considering hauling our kayaks over the ice in the spring to avoid some of the longer exposed crossings.

Marine mammals of particular concern are walruses, although we do not expect to encounter many in the first, or even second, year as we will be travelling between the traditional ranges of the larger Pacific walrus and the smaller Atlantic walrus. Walruses have been known to attack small boats and be aggressive to kayaks.

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, which are large and aggressive brown bears that roam the open tundra and Arctic coast. 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 towards Kugluktuk and Gjoa Haven. We are not carrying a firearm, but intend to trust bear spray for any close encounters, and common sense for anything else.

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.

Mountains

We love climbing mountains and although the landscape is quite flat along the western section of the Arctic Coast, 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 climb two peaks along the Dehcho, five pingos along the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, and one named summit near the Horton River.

Ibyuk Pingo, the world’s second largest pingo, near Tuktoyaktuk (credit: spectacularnwt.com)

Communities

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 – the smallest community in the north – where we ended our trip for 2022. Our time in Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk were both highlights of the trip.

We were able to resupply in most communities, although prices were often very high. We sent a box of food to Tuktoyaktuk through Canada Post.

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.

Hamlet of Paulatuk; our final settlement before reaching Cambridge Bay or Kugluktuk.

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