UpNorthica Reads: Canoe Trip: North to Athabasca


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.

Buy here.

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6 Responses to UpNorthica Reads: Canoe Trip: North to Athabasca

  1. Dave Curran says:

    Thanks for noticing my book. The review was particularly beautifully written. Now that I know of this excellent website I’ll be on it all the time

    Dave Curran

  2. Pam says:


    Are you planning any more remote paddling trips?

  3. Dave Curran says:

    Not right now. I’d planned one on the Pelly River in the Yukon but TWICE had to cancel! Meanwhile I will continue mostly solo trips in Maine.

  4. Dan O'Keefe says:

    Dave, I bought and have read ‘Canoe Trip’ twice — really an enjoyable read. I’m from New Jersey and would appreciate your recommendation for a first time Maine canoe trip assuming my canoe partners are myteenGe son and daughter.

  5. Dan O'Keefe says:

    Oh, and I plan to buy this newest book of yours this weekend!

  6. Dave Curran says:

    Hi Dan,

    Well I’m sure glad you liked the book well enough to go through it twice. I personally think the latest one is better, but that’s what all writers say.
    As for Maine, I’d say that for wildlife sightings (especially moose and eagles–guaranteed. That oughta keep the teens satisfied–maybe), beauty, wilderness quality and ease of paddling (no significant rapids and minimal portaging), the Allagash would be my recommendation. But unless you like to start with 40 miles or more of mostly brutal lake paddling, I’d suggest getting flown in to Umsaskis Lake as I describe in that book you have and going the final 55 miles from there. Get the AMC Maine River guidebook and the DeLorme Allagash Map as guides. One last thing. The river starts to get very low through July so the earlier the better. I did it last summer in August and it was fine, but that’s rare.
    Good luck and feel free to send any other questions.
    My wife’s maiden name is O’Keefe.


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