I’ve never really understood canoeing. For me, paddlesports is all about kayaking, whitewater or sea. Kayaks just seem more suited to the terrain, more streamlined, more moveable and stable in whitewater. Eight years ago I worked a season on the Ardeche River in France; open canoe was the obvious craft because I had to carry my share of food for sixty kids. Since then I’ve barely been in a canoe apart from the odd day at work, it just doesn’t appeal to me. However, when Loel asked me if I’d be interested in a twenty-eight day self supported trip to the Canadian wilderness, that did appeal. I tried to convince him that I could do it in a kayak, but canoes were the obvious choice considering the amount of kit and food needed. So in a week’s time I’m flying to Winnipeg, getting the overnight train to Thompson, a 300 km shuttle to access the Seal River, Manitoba.
The Seal is a Canadian Heritage River – the last one of the main four rivers in Manitoba left un-dammed. Even Samuel Hearne of the Hudson Bay Company found it was too remote for trading. The river passes through subarctic boreal forest and into arctic tundra, and the area is littered with glacial features. The undisturbed wildlife of the river includes seals from which the river is named, who travel 250 km upstream from the rivermouth and it is also popular with beluga whales. Don’t mention the polar bears.
The 650 km route will take us up South Indian Lake, portage into the Seal watershed, down the South Seal River to Tadoule Lake and then down 650 cumces of the Seal River into Hudson Bay. The Seal has Grade 3 to 4 rapids (is canoe Grade 4 the same as kayakers Grade 4?). A shuttle will bring us into Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world, and a two-night train back to Winnipeg should see me home in time for my own wedding.
The Seal has been paddled numerous times, the South Seal much less often. We have received lots of beta from friendly locals in Thompson; we are well prepared for bear country and have all our gear sorted including a specially made group bug tent (tarp – mosquito net combo). Wilderness Supply are organising canoes and Palm have equipped me with a new set of Gradient boots (that will be my only set of footwear, great on the water and in camp), an FXr PFD and Arcadia jacket.
I hope to send regular SMS updates Palm, so watch the Palm Facebook feed to keep track of our progress!