I did this trip with my brother Ted. It was definitely one for the books. Have a look at my feature article on the trip for more details and pictures. Below, I share some of the things I learned along the way. Click the hyper links to view the how-to videos I shot while in the north.
We started our 18 day trip in Tulita, NWT, a small community on the Mackenzie River. Tulita is a remote hamlet that is only connected to road system by a long and dangerous winter road. This is the closest we’d be to civilization for the rest of our journey. Before we left town, our contact in Tulita, Brian Borrowitz, showed us the best way to load a toboggan and properly wrap a tarp around our gear.
Our route then took us along a winter road, that follows the Great Bear River to Deline, the only community on Great Bear Lake. We stayed in Deline for a couple days and made sure our machines were in working condition. While there, went over part of our route with local Leeroy Andre. And we spent some time in the bush around Great Bear cutting and splitting fire wood with Leeroy. We learned that the metal tow brackets on our Equinox Boggans have been known to break. Leeroy shared a tip on drilling holes in the toboggan’s bracket anchors, allowing us to tow them with ropes. He also showed us how to ride our machines in very deep show, steering by shifting our weight from side to side. And then, maybe more importantly, how to get them unstuck when that didn’t work out.
Thanks to the advice of the locals, we also abandoned our mountaineering style tent and bought an octagonal canvas tent from someone in town. Everyone was asking us, what are you going to do for heat? Knowing we’d soon be traveling well past the tree line, (we planned to finish our journey 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle), and that a wood stove would be useless, we bought a double burner Coleman stove and filled a jerry can with naphtha gas.
Another guy in town recommended taking a dry spruce pole with us to use it for checking the ice thickness around the pressure ridges we’d run into. It’s easy to tell how safe the ice is by the sound the spruce pole makes when driving it down onto the ice.
The Arctic Circle
Our journey continued onto the hard packed drifts of Great Bear Lake. With the constant thumping of our toboggans hitting the drifts, we were very happy that we’d been told to meticulously pack our gear and tie everything down tightly. Even still, the hours of riding over the drifts broke some of our gear.
Almost past the Bear, we ran into a group of Inuit From Kugluktuk who were camped on the Arctic Circle. In speaking with them, they recommended a safer route across the sea ice than the one we had planned. We took their advice; these people know the land and ice conditions better than anyone. Bumping into them may have saved our lives. The sea ice conditions on our original route had recently become unstable.
Passing the Tree Line we began making our way through the Barren Grounds until we reached Kugluktuk and the Arctic Coast. In Kugluktuk, we had to change the runners on our toboggans which had worn down to the thickness of a dime. I had no idea that snow could be so abrasive. We learned that our fiberglass toboggans were not ideal for the rocky, low show conditions of Inuit territory. Komatic sleds with steel runners are the way to go in the Arctic, but we were unable to buy any in Kugluktuk. It turned out that the initial route we’d planned from Kugluktuk, passes through rocky country which would have smashed holes in our fiberglass toboggans. Again, we were thankful for the advice of Gerry and Isaac who we’d met on the Arctic Circle.
We refueled in town and then headed out onto the sea ice. While riding over the rough ice of the Coronation Gulf, we crossed the Northwest Passage to reach Victoria Island, where we began traveling north along its coast. We were now in the Arctic Archipelago.
We continued over the Wollaston Peninsula of Victoria Island to a massive Sound. After crossing the sound, we pushed on through Safety Channel and completed our journey in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories. But it was not the first time we’d visited the small Inuit hamlet. Two years prior, Ted and I completed a month long canoe trip in Ulukhaktok. And it was then that local legend, Pat Ekpakohak, told us how to travel in the Arctic by snowmobile. It was Pat that inspired the trip we’d just completed. Pat was very proud of the trip we’d just made, it was good to see him.