"As we were flying over the tundra, I kept seeing even more snow and thought ‘Oh, there’s not going to be any water at all’,” says Eric Binion. And for the first three weeks of a 70-day, 1,700-kilometre journey from Kugluktuk to Taloyoak, he and his group were pulling their kayaks over ice.
It was Eric’s first big wilderness paddle trip, which he took with his now-wife Susan, who’d gone on six or seven previous, and her dad Bob Saunders (Eric says it was his “I dunno, hundredth” trip.) Also along was Eric’s friend and fellow first-timer Karl McEwan.
They landed in Kugluktuk in early June, 2011, and travelled over the ice until about Canada Day, when they reached Bathurst Inlet and the ice finally began to break up. The reprieve was a long time coming. “We all started to get really bad tendonitis, to the point where when we were sitting in the tent at night I would move my ankle and it would make a squeaking noise and everyone would hear it.”
Once the travellers reached the Queen Maud Gulf, they were able to paddle more, but the navigable pathways were murky and confusing, and it was hard to find freshwater. “Sometimes we would only find maybe little puddles that would have all these chironomids and millions of bugs in it, and you just boil it and drink it.
“There’s tons of little islands in [the Gulf], and even with really good maps we’d [get lost]. One time we went five kilometres up a river [into the mainland]. All these wolves are suddenly on the side of the river. We couldn’t really tell. I was trying to taste the water and it was kind of brackish, not really salty. And then we check the GPS and we were in-land.”
In their kayaks, the group battled harsh, cold winds to Taloyoak as the brief Arctic summer reached its end.
This might not sound like a leisurely trip, but Binion was hooked. Between all the challenges were incredible scenery, countless caribou, birds and plenty of bears. Since moving to Yellowknife, he and Susan have been exploring the river systems of the North. This year you might see them on the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson.