Embrace the nomadic life and the joys of a canoe, for it’s clear that good things happen when you go in search of adventure
When travelling through some of the Robe’s more remote locations you’re likely to have a moment of clarity Miles from normality, you feel like you’ve found another world, a place where only your immediate reality matters. For me this happened on the Keele River in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories. I’d been paddling in the bow of a canoe for ten days when, late on a sunny summer evening, the water around me became a reflected mass of rose gold clouds, the perfect mirror of the sky above. With no discernible hori2on, it was as if I was travelling through a dreamscape where down was up and up was down, the surreal setting a reminder that in this world there is true, untameable beauty. And to uncover it, I’d recommend travelling north.
Along the Keele River you’ll encounter the kind of landscape they envisioned when they first thought of the sublime. It’s a setting that makes you feel small, dwarfed by the surroundings. There are mountains chiselled away by wind and rain, the last patches of summer snow clinging to their peaks, and marbled diff faces seemingly painted into the scene. But rather than feeling overwhelmed, you’re honoured. It is difficult to find something so majestic, so much bigger than yourself. And here it is, not all that far from the Arctic Circle, a region where many landmarks remain nameless and a canoe is the most desirable form of transportation.
I was here on a 12 day Keele River trip with Canoe North Adventures, a travel company that began in 1987 because of a newsletter. A1 Pace, who founded Canoe North Adventures with Lin Ward, has been making pottery for decades and, from his Ontario studio, would send newsletters to those who purchased his works. One year, after paddling through Canada’s far north with friends, he decided to share his experience – and continued to do so in subsequent newsletters until people pointed out that they’d quite like to experience this wilderness for themselves.
It’s not surprising to learn that Pace’s words inspired wanderlust. He is after all the consummate storyteller. Around nightly campfires he’ll regale you with tales of his clambers over the Golden Stairs – a near vertical part of the Chilkoot Trail forged during the Klondike Gold Rush – and a Canadian youth spent upon the country’s waterways. His travels have infused his pottery, inspiring shapes, oxides and glazes that capture Canada. Look upon one of his adventure cups and you can’t help but picture the surrounding mountains.
Adventure cups are part of a vital ritual on Canoe North Adventures’ expeditions. These pieces of brown, blue and green stoneware are handed out each evening and filled, as the night progresses, with various forms of glorious alcoholic liquid. This is Happy Hour, a time to come together, cast aside thoughts of aching bodies and enjoy the company. Each cup bears an animal, matched to our group’s 16 trippers. These pairings seem increasingly fitting as the days unfold, a moose for the gentle giant, a wise owl for the quiet wit and for me, the foreign paddling novice, a caribou. As it turns out, this elusive animal isn’t the smartest being in the Northwest Territories.
We were joined on the river by Ranger, a content creature who is part Corgi, part Husky and entirely loveable. He bounded into canoes, only stirring when a wave is rude enough to crash over the bow, was unfaded by his surroundings and was besotted with bacon. As a result, winning his affection became more important to me than developing my canoeing capability. When he started accompanying me to the latrine, presumably picking up on my unnecessary bear paranoia, I felt nothing but affection.