Yukon North Of Ordinary

Sports archive for May 25, 2012

Four men, two canoes and over 4,000-km of adventure

Pete Marshall, Winchell Delano, Steve Keaveny and Matt Harren are four men linked by two shared passions: canoeing and exploration.

By Sam Riches on May 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm

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Photo submitted

THE CREW – Pete Marshall, Matt Harren, Winchell Delano and Steve Keaveny stand on Tagish Lake. The four man crew are in the midst of a 4,000-km canoe expedition (top). WHITE OUT – The crew ventures through the Chilkoot Pass, where they conquered over 20 feet of snow and faced winds upward of 70 kilometres per hour. Photos courtesy of PETE MARSHALL

Pete Marshall, Winchell Delano, Steve Keaveny and Matt Harren are four men linked by two shared passions: canoeing and exploration.

The crew is currently in the midst of attempting a 4,000-kilometre canoe expedition across the territories and into Hudson Bay.

After boarding a ferry in Bellingham, Washington on May 4, the crew arrived to Skagway and began their adventure four days later, hiking through the Chilkoot Pass and launching into Lake Bennett.

As of Thursday afternoon, they were just past Carmacks.

They took a break from their journey last week to speak to the Star from Six Mile River Resort in Tagish, where they said they were enjoying great food and hospitality.

“We’re just addicted to canoe adventure,” said Marshall, who paddled over 4,300-km in 2005 with his brother Andrew from their homestate of Minnesota to the Arctic Ocean. That expedition took 122 days, ending at Kugluktuk, a hamlet located at the mouth of the Coppermine River in Nunavut.

“Canada is the best country possible to do canoe trips in.”

The goal is to complete the adventure by September 15, almost four months exactly from their starting date.

After making their way down the Yukon River, they will face one of the most challenging aspects of the trip: paddling against the current and venturing up Pelly and Ross River.

“We’re just going to be dragging the canoes up those rivers,” said Marshall. “We’re probably only going to make it 15, 20-km a day but they will be 12 hour days. They’ll be long days.”

From there the crew will venture down the South Nahanni River, where they will paddle past snow-peaked mountaintops, hotsprings and Virginia Falls. With a total drop of 315 feet, Virginia Falls is close to twice the height of Niagara Falls.

They will then follow Liard River and face another upstream challenge on the Mackenzie River en route to the open waters of Great Slave Lake where they will be susceptible to storms and wind.

The final leg of the trip will bring them deep into the tundra as they navigate the Hanbury Thelon River. Once reaching the hamlet of Baker Lake, they will travel through Chesterfied Inlet before reaching their final destination: Hudson Bay.

Marshall said the reasons for the trip are twofold; exposure and preservation.

“We want to bring awareness to the role that responsible recreation can have in the North and in wild areas so we can preserve these areas for future use. If you get enough people up here doing exploration, whether it’s canoeing, kayaking or hiking, that can create an economy that can sustain the national environment in a way that industrial development doesn’t necessarily do,” he said.

“It’s a damn shame; these lakes that we’re paddling on, you just look around and wonder how you never heard about it. It’s just absolutely gorgeous; it’s miles and miles of pristine water and amazing mountains. You want to be able to share it with the rest of the world.”

The crew is separated by only a few years, having all attended high school together. Marshall and Keaveny were seniors when Delano entered his freshman year. By the time Delano became a senior, Harren was a freshman.

Their love for canoeing was birthed from the same place, Les Voyaguers, Inc., a non-profit outdoor leadership program operating in Ontario and Manitoba.

“That’s where we got our start,” said Delano. “I don’t think it happens very often but we were just a group of special characters that wanted to go out on our own. We didn’t want to follow the same mold. I think that’s the common thread with all of us, we want to add our own personal touch and do it ourselves.”

Harren, the youngest member of the crew, is a budding documentary filmmaker, and is capturing the journey through his camera.

Marshall holds advanced degrees in Eastern Classics and English Literature; he’s hoping to combine his passions into a book exploring the evolving relationship between the wilderness and the human experience.

With over three months of adventure awaiting them, Delano said the crew is in good spirits.

“So far it’s been great and morale is high, especially considering the conditions we’ve already encountered,” he said.

“Just getting onto the lakes has been tough,” said Marshall. “The ice is just rotting, we’re dragging canoes across and wadding through. It’s really hard progress but in a trip like this you’ve got to keep moving. So far it’s been whipping us into shape pretty good and that’s completely what we expected.”

Hiking through Chilkoot Pass, with over 25 feet of snow underneath them and 70-km/h winds at their backs, the crew realized how unforgiving the wild north can be.

“We had just massive winds,” said Delano. “We couldn’t even see the top of the Pass, we had to snowshoe out a place just so we wouldn’t sink down in the tent. I wasn’t expecting feet upon feet of snow. The whole time I was thinking ‘I’m going to kill Pete for not telling me what to really expect.’

“We’re not a mountaineering outfit, we’re four guys who’ve always liked to canoe. One of the advantages of canoeing is we get to take the mild descents, if we were looking for heights we’d be doing something else.”

Once the Pass was conquered, it didn’t take long for an appreciation of the experience to settle in.

“To me the austerity adds another element,” said Delano. “It’s one thing to see everything when it’s nice and bright and warm but it’s another when half the mountain is covered in fog. Sometimes, the harder it is the more you enjoy it.”

One of the factors keeping spirits high on the trip is the food.

With months of preparation on their side, Delano, Keaveny and Harren were able to create a comprehensive menu while Marshall focused on securing sponsorships.

Rising around 7 a.m. breakfast usually consists of seven-grain oatmeal or granola.

Lunch is a spattering of dehydrated fruit, jerky, mixed nuts and a ProBar or two, all natural power bars and one of the crew’s sponsors.

Dinner ranges from beans and rice, quinoa, pasta or couscous.

“The food’s been great,” said Delano. “We had to make sure we have the calories and the nutrition and our taste buds are enjoying it, I think this is the best job we’ve ever done of that.”

Along with ProBar, the crew also received support from their major sponsors: Granite Gear, makers of backpacks, compression sacks and canoe gear. Hilleberg, an all season tent manufacturer, WindPaddle Sails and Kokatat, who provided drysuits.

Without the drysuits, Marshall said the crew wouldn’t have been able to make it past Carcross.

“They’re a key component,” he said. “We can fall through the ice and stay dry and not get hypothermia.”

Each member also brings years of experience and knowledge to the trip.

“Eight of the last 10 years I’ve been on the river for at least 30 days, it’s the same thing with Steve and Pete,” said Delano.

“Looking at a frozen lake and having to get across it really is not that daunting of a prospect anymore.”

But like Marshall, Delano is weary of the upstream paddling that awaits them. Even with years of experience on their side, defeating the force of nature will not come easily.

“It’s going to be daunting,” said Delano. “It’s about 500 miles upstream and that’s going to dictate when we get into the Nahanni. Every hour we can give ourselves on the other end of the divide is going to dictate whether or not we’re going to make it.”

When it’s all over, Delano said he’s looking forward to unwinding at home.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with my nieces back in Minnesota,” he said.

“But in the end, this a lot of fun. I wouldn’t be doing this if I weren’t having fun.”

CommentsAdd a comment

Doug Webber

May 25, 2012 at 6:02 pm

I’ve spent almost 50 years on Hudson Bay and have not seen too many adventures come close to the one you fellows are having now. You’re part of a very special club. Safe journey and God Speed. I hope I get to see you in Churchill on the way out.

Ken Schaufelberger

May 25, 2012 at 7:11 pm

You go Winchell. We’re all proud of the group. Two of you from Cold Spring. I’m sure “Doc” and Mary Hennen are keeping close track of your accomplishments as are Steve and Patti. I envy you all!! Great job!!!

Tom Kalahar

May 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm

You guys are doing something very few people can or will ever do.  I can’t imagine the sites you are seeing, the hardships, and exceptional experiences you have already had and will have in the coming days.  I want to hear the whole story in person when you get back Win.  Good luck I wish I was along.

Uncle Tom.

jan keaveny

May 28, 2012 at 7:26 am

I think it is marvelous that there are still places like the Yukon for people to have great adventures!  I also think these four men are marvelous!  I pray for them daily and am eager to hear their stories!  Meanwhile, I like my running water and electricity!

Steve Delano

May 29, 2012 at 7:24 am

I just cannot believe you guys wouldn’t let me come with you….you need a liability like me to make the trip more interesting…..you guys rock…can’t wait to see the video, pictures and the documentary!!!!!

Karen Dzubay

May 30, 2012 at 8:23 pm

What another fantastic journey for all of you.  We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers - stay safe and enjoy your time with Mother Nature! I look forward to following your journey through updates from Steve and Patti.  Best to you all!

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