The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  SUMMER 2004










In this issue

Front Page



Labrador Tragedy

Summer Packet


From the Editor


Back page




Erik K. Hobbie adds to the fine collection of reaction emanating from the recent Pauzé and Barnes Torngats tragedy. His thoughts echo those of many readers on risk, reward and responsibility in northern adventure travel.

Although not a paid subscriber to Che-Mun (just haven't got around to yet, but will eventually), I have followed what has been available on-line ever since I became aware of you some years ago, and have enjoyed the HACC on-line accounts very much.

You do a very professional job of relating your wilderness river experiences to the public and should be commended for it.  If it weren't for zealots like you who fork out big bucks, time and energy to do these trips, the far north of Canada might be viewed as merely a big resource pool by the powers that be, and it is doubtful its integrity would remain intact.

I have been following the tragic story of the loss of two paddlers in Labrador, and after reading the letters recently posted by Cliff Jacobson and Alan Kesselheim, I felt compelled to “give my two cents worth,” so to speak.

I do this from what I feel might be viewed as a somewhat unique perspective.  I ask you to make of it what you will, and, if you have time and are so inclined, to give back your two cents. If you don't have time to read this, I understand and I still think you guys are awesome.

A "pre-Cambrian junkie" since I was a wee kid, I did my first arctic  trip in 1978 when I was 18 and have been a hopeless zealot ever since.  With the exception of a seven year stint in my 20's during which I was completely obsessed with white-water slalom and the goal of trying (unsuccessfully) to secure a spot in C1 on the US whitewater team, I have gone back again and again, often running the same rivers repeatedly.  The ‘unique’ aspect of my perspective is that since 1988, I have gone ‘late’, almost always in September, either alone or with one other much less experienced person. As an example, I was alone in the barrens NE of Yellowknife on Sept. 11 2001, on just the second day of a 16 day trip that took me down the Barnston River to McLeod Bay (I listened to all that madness unfold on a short-wave radio, often with tears running down my cheeks).  I sought that river out for the unique whitewater challenge that I knew it would offer, just as I did with the nearby Waldron, McKinley, and Beaulieau Rivers, all of which I have visited in September, sometimes repeatedly.  Like you, I would categorize myself as an ‘expert’ but am uncomfortable with the term. This year, my wife and I will run the Thelon from Lynx to somewhere near Beverly, starting Aug. 26 and finishing Sept. 14. We will carry both a sat phone and a VHF radio.

I have done this more or less in obscurity, and I have made mistakes along the way. On one early trip I bit off more than I ended up being able to chew and had to arrange and pay for an expensive charter to get out in time.  I have met loads of skepticism, and even scorn, from resort owners and bush pilots (although the folks at Air Tindi seem supportive and understanding).  I realize that many people like yourself would view this as irresponsible madness and would immediately ask "why"?  All I can say it is that it has nothing to do with risk and testosterone and everything to do with love.  I am obsessed with that country, that season, and all that it entails.  When I die (at a ripe old age, I hope), it is my wish that my remains will end up there, on an esker near treeline, so that I can watch the colors turn and the caribou pass forever.

Why that season? It is cold and wet and miserable and dangerous, but what stands out from this, at least for me, is the color, the lack of bugs and other paddlers, the dynamic nature of the wildlife, the aurora . . . I could go on. To me, there is nothing more inspiring than waking up to a thick coating of hoarfrost on the belly of a carefully overturned canoe. All of this wouldn't matter for a hill of beans, except that last year myself, my wife, and four others ran the Seal River from Nejanilini to the Bay in the second half of September, and one of the group members (a professional photographer from Ely MN) was contacted by Canoe & Kayak magazine to write a story, which she and I did together (it was just submitted for publication).

Upon reading your editorial on Risk and Responsibility, the thought hit me . . .”what if our glowing account of this trip inspires someone to run the Seal in September and they die of hypothermia? ...will we be accountable?” Fair question, and one which has kept me up at night since. Although we give a warning at the end of our article, there is nothing to stop the inexperienced from doing just that. 

It is my belief, however, that as our sport grows in popularity, more and more people will run these rivers, and I predict that 20 years from now, late and early season canoe trips in the far north will be common place. A result of this increase in use will undoubtedly be, increasingly, more tragic stories such as that of Susan Barnes and Daniel Pauze. But as long as people such as yourself convey their adventures with the proper sense of respect for the country, the residents, and the inherent risks, we are absolved.  It is merely a growing pain of an activity that is by its nature quite risky. Although some will surely view this growth with disdain, I believe it will be what ends up saving vast chunks of the far north from development, and that is something we can all live happily with.

Happy trails and keep up the fine work.


 Summer 2004         Outfit 117 

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