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 crossing into Labrador.
The Route in 2022
In late May we will drive to Hay River, NWT on Great Slave Lake where we will wait for the ice to break up at the head of the Mackenzie River. We expect to leave around the beginning of June. We have arranged to leave our vehicle in Hay River. When the ice breaks up, we will travel the Mackenzie to the Arctic Coast at Tuktoyaktuk. We will stop to climb peaks and pingos along the Mackenzie River and coast as time allows. From Tuk, we will continue east along the complex coast of the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula. We will stop in Paulatuk and then continue through Dolphin and Union Strait and on to Cambridge Bay. If weather, ice, and time are an issue, we can alter our course and head for Kugluktuk. We plan on reaching Cambridge Bay in mid-September where we will leave our boats for the winter and fly back to Hay River.
2022 Distances: 1800km on the Mackenzie; 1700km on the coast to Cambridge Bay; 2400km to Gjoa Haven
The Arctic Coast is a remote and wild place. It is dominated by wind, weather, and ice 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.
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. In the third year of the expedition, we have considered hauling our kayaks over the ice in the spring to avoid some of the longer exposed crossings and to give us more time to complete the route and enjoy the Labrador coastline.
Marine mammals of particular concern are walruses, although we do not expect to encounter many in the first 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. While we expect to see polar bears anywhere along the coast during summer, we expect our encounters in the first year to be minimal. 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.
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 the first stage of the trip we have mapped out nine peaks along the Mackenzie River, eleven pingos on the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula, and two named mountains in the Dolphin and Union Strait that we will try to summit.
Along the Mackenzie River, we will pass through eight active settlements and many more that have been abandoned. We plan to stop at most of these towns to resupply fresh food, meet locals, and learn the history of the area. Notably, we plan on stopping at Tulita and Norman Wells to do some hiking and summit some peaks. We are keen to stop in all the abandoned communities and Inuvialuit sites, including those more well known sites like Old Arctic Red River and Reindeer Station.
After leaving Hay River, the next largest town we will visit is Inuvik in the Mackenzie River Delta. Just a few days paddle down the river and through the inlet is the next town, and the first one on the Arctic Coast, Tuktoyaktuk. We plan to resupply food here with a mail-drop at the post office. Our next stop to resupply after Tuk is Paulatuk. At Paulatuk, we intend to re-supply with another pre-mailed food drop.
After leaving Paulatuk, there is no other settlement until our final destination. If the sea ice moves in early, we could find ourselves stranded between towns. Depending on conditions, we will either cross Dolphin and Union Strait and continue to Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, or we will continue along the mainland coast and turn south to Kugluktuk at the mouth of the Coppermine River.