Canadian rivers are locked in ice most of the year. During the summer they offer a brief window for paddling.
Those willing to brave the unknown attributes of these diverse rivers are rewarded with unique encounters of wildlife, the fluctuating moods of rapids and ancient historical sites. In his book, Canoe Trip: North to Athabasca, author David Curran was lured by those discoveries. But first, he had to find the river.
After paddling numerous river in Maine, author David Curran set his mind on paddling a Canadian river. He had specific interests in mind, and throughout the winter months he’d research rivers by scouring the library, internet and the few reports he could find. He wanted something that had a minimum of lake travel. He looked for stretches where there was little portaging and Class III rapids. He also searched for a river that didn’t dry up too quickly, a notorious characteristic of northern rivers. Finally, it had to fit into a two week window of travel. Finally, he found the McFarlane River. A 140 mile ribbon of flat water and rapids that dump into Lake Athabasca in northern Saskatchewan.
In early June of 2002, Curran and his paddling partner, Walt were flown in by float to Brudell Lake. Undeterred and with sketchy maps, they set out down the McFarlane. He describes the familiar feeling of being dropped off in the middle of nowhere, questioning his ability and skills to make it to the mouth of the river. It is a wonderful story of discovery as they run unmarked rapids and bushwack through overgrown portages. The open boreal forest and wildlife is diverting and captivating to them. They expect to encounter black bear as they’ve been told it’s prime habitat. Appreciating the history of the Dene nation, who call this area home, they encounter remnants of trapping cabins and prehistoric sights. The mouth of the river takes them to massive Lake Athabasca, whose 176 mile length seems to swallow them up. They fret about locating an ambiguous point of land where a float plane will pick them up.
It is an inspiring story for those scrutinizing over their own plans to tackle a remote, wild, river. David Curran’s narrative is an easy to read trip report about what it is like tackle your first, big, remote river and encounter areas less traveled.