03 Jul INTO AULAVIK NATIONAL PARK
This is the big day. Today we board a twin otter and fly into the Arctic wilderness of Aulavik National Park. Seems pretty straightforward, but in the north you have to be ready for anything. Case in point, there was another group here just before us trying the same thing. Unfortunately for them, bad weather kept them grounded for over a week before they had to call their entire trip off. You just never know.
After months of planning with clear skies, we pack our gear – including 2 canoes nested together in the plane – and we taxi down the runway. No turning back now, this is the real thing. Two hours of flying takes us over miles of tundra and a vast expansive ocean. We spot a beluga whale, and then the tiny Arctic community of Sachs Harbour, before touching down at the nearby airport to re-fuel. Almost another hour passes and we at last cross into the park by air. Now we’re very close. When a ribbon of turquoise water snaking through the endless landscape appears, we know we’re almost there. It’s the Thomsen River and it’s what we came here to paddle.
Pilot Allen drops the oversized tires onto the tundra. We’ve arrived. We step off the plane into glorious afternoon sunshine with the temperature hovering around 15ºC. We immediately reach for our bug jackets, as the heat is accompanied by hoards of mosquitos. We begin hoping for cooler weather and a little breeze. A Parks Canada team of 6 arrived here yesterday and we meet up with some of them at green cabin, a 15ft by 20ft plywood shelter that marks the beginning of most canoe trips here and serves as a Parks research base. They will be moving down the river over the next couple of weeks as well, taking water quality samples, counting lemming nesting sites, and sampling permafrost depths.
We settle in nearby, pitch camp overlooking the Thompson and have our first dinner together on Banks Island. By 10pm we’re all ready to turn in, it’s been a long day. The evening light just keeps calling. I grab a half hour power nap and Ryan and I head out, he with the video cameras and me with my sketchbook. We make it back to the tent by 2am and I have with me my first piece of art from the journey. It feels great to connect with this landscape, and even better to know that there’s a lot more to come.