“Paddlenorth”, by Jennifer Kingsley, describes a canoe journey of nearly two months in the region of the Back River, in northern Canada. Six friends dropped off by float plane face the rigours and hardship of an Arctic summer, in addition to the challenges of having to cover a significant daily mileage, if they were to reach their destination on time.
Besides the pleasure of reading this book it made me think that it was time that I went away on another canoe trip in the wilds of North America, it is has been too long since I felt the thrill of the paddle slicing through the water and falling asleep to the sound of running water and the occasional call of a coyote.
There is so much in the book that will hold the attention of the reader, one of the most memorable passages is when they find the remnants of another groups trip. Equipment abandoned in the north and a story which continued to haunt them, even after they had returned south at the end of the trip.
Dragging the canoes over the ice, struggling with hurricane force winds, paddling significant distances each day, were the physical challenges they confronted whilst at the same time experiencing the emotional highs of traveling across the tundra. The quality of light on the landscape, the migration of the caribou are all significant events.
Against the backdrop of the canoe journey are the emotional challenges with the evolving relationships between the members of the group. All of which is described in an open and honest fashion.
Kingsley also weaves in the stories of other people who passed through the area, mainly in the 19th Century, including George Back. The one book that I was inspired to seek out was “Death on the Barrens” by George Grinnell, which describes the 1955 expedition by 6 paddlers. A catalogue of misadventure.
This is a book which is well written by a fine writer but it is also recommended reading for anybody who is contemplating a long paddling trip, particularly canoeing in the Canadian north.