Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Heading to the Arctic?

By:  Tom

Sarah and I are not actively publicizing our Great Slave Lake trip.  After all, we're only in the planning stages.  No plane tickets have been purchased and no reservations have been made.  Our imaginations have been fired up, however.

I do talk about the trip to family members and acquaintances on occasion.  When I mention to people that I plan to be paddling next summer on the GSL in the Northwest Territories I often get the response that "Oh, you're going to the Arctic."  Well, not exactly.

The Arctic is generally defined as consisting of "regions around the North Pole," which is not real specific. The cartographers have drawn the Arctic Circle on the globe at 66 degrees 33' north of the equator.  This line marks the northernmost point where the sun is visible on the winter solstice (and southernmost point at which the midnight sun in visible during the summer solstice.  Everywhere north of the line is the cartographer's Arctic.

This one-size-fits all approach does not account for differences in temperature and vegetation.  Another way to define the Arctic is to place it wherever the summer high temperatures fall below 50 degree Fahrenheit.

This temperature-based definition transforms the Arctic into almost an oval-shaped area.

Another approach is to use the tree line as the marker for what is the Arctic.  The regions in the north where the land is too harsh to support trees make up the Arctic.

There are some subtle differences between the Arctic as defined by the temperature and tree line approaches.

As this map shows, the GSL lies just outside the tree line, which means that we aren't going to the Arctic this trip. (GSL is the lake at the bottom of the map.)
One of the appeals of paddling in McLeod Bay, at the far eastern/northern extreme of the East Arm of GSL, is its close proximity to the tree line.  I'm looking forward to exploring observing how trees get fewer and small as we get closer to the tree line.

While I've crossed tree lines on numerous mountains, there is something special, even a little ominous, about a tree line that marks the entrance to thousands of square miles of tree-less barrens.  The great presence of that land just miles from where we will be paddling will keep my imagination bubbling.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


By:  Tom

Sarah Hartman and I are two Chicago area paddlers.  We've paddled together a few times, including a little jaunt across Lake Michigan in early September, and know each other by reputation in the small Chicago kayaking community.  We share one big paddling goal in 2011, namely, to successfully accomplish a two-week unsupported paddle on the East Arm of the Great Slave Lake ("GSL") in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle our preparations, assemble information that might be of interest to others considering a paddling trip to the GSL and document the trip itself.  Hopefully, others can learn from our experiences.

I became interested in the GSL when Greg Loftus, a paddler from Yellowknife, NWT and the owner of Tundrsails (see links) contacted me early in 2010.  Greg was kind enough to provide a few pictures and some background information about GSL paddling, which were published in the blog of the Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association.

Through Greg and my own research I learned that the GSL is an extremely intriguing paddling destination.  GSL is one of the ten largest lakes in the world, bigger than some of the Great Lakes.  It was formed when the continental glacier came off the hard Canadian Shield and scooped out a deep depression in the softer rock to the south.  GSL is the deepest lake in North America, over 2000 feet deep in some spots.  It is perched in an area where the boreal forest is transitioning to the tundra.  The lake has a varied shore, monster fish, and plenty of paddling challenges.

The GSL area is rich in human history.  GSL and the big Mackenzie River which it feeds have long served as a key means of transportation and a source of food for many generations of people.  The history of relations between the aboriginal tribes and more recent arrivals is challenging to say the least.  Deposits of gold, diamonds and other minerals make the area a tempting but tough target for mining companies.  I simply don't know enough at this point to say anything about history/culture/politics of the area other than that things are complicated.

We plan to paddle the East Arm of GSL.  This is the most remote sector of the lake.  With the single exception of Lutselk'e there are no settlements in the East Arm.  McLeod Bay, the easternmost bay in the East Arm where we will be doing most of our paddling, apparently has nothing but a few camps along its roughly 165 miles of shoreline.

We have a lot of work to do to plan and prepare for this trip.  Neither of us are uber-paddlers or campers with extensive Arctic experience, but we have done a fair amount of kayak camping in the Great Lakes.  We thus have a lot to learn in order to ensure that we have mitigated and prepared for the physical and psychological challenges of this trip.  We'll use this blog to share what we're thinking, what we're doing and what we've learned along the way.