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Published On: 01/14/2016
by Austin Danicic

Canoeing the Back River

We were all talk... most of the time.

It wasn’t easy to justify, with the constant buzzing of millions of mosquitoes and blackflies right outside of our bug tent each night. Besides the bugs, we were in the Canadian Arctic and the waters up here were cold -- really cold. But we had to do it.

Canoeing Canada's Back River pano

Swimming after a long day of paddling and portaging your canoe was always worth it. The reward for this heart-stopping task was approximately 30 seconds of bug free bliss. After dunking your body in the frigid waters, the delight of your skin being too cold for the bugs to find appealing was one of the many fleeting moments we experienced on a daily basis.


Buggy portage around Sinclair Falls at 11:30pm

Fleeting moments happen everyday. Most times they barely register. I was fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of this summer canoeing in the Canadian Arctic with three friends. It was there that we became hyper-aware of all the fleeting moments passing us by.


Passing rain storms (Photo credit Nat Shepard)

Flowers and Rapids

Flowers and big rapids on a cold dreary day

We paddled the Back River, in northern Canada, starting out in the Northwest Territories and finishing in Nunavut and the Arctic Ocean. A chartered floatplane from Yellowknife dropped us off at the river’s headwaters on Sussex Lake. We paddled our 2 canoes over 1,100 km through lakes, wide rivers, fast currents, whitewater, and the ocean. Two fishing boats transported us across the Northwest Passage to the hamlet of Gjoa Haven. From there, we boarded a commercial flight back to Yellowknife and commenced the long drive back to Minnesota (a trip within itself!).


Marooned. The last people we saw for thirty eight days

Escape Rapids

Escape Rapids


Splashy Hawk Rapids (Photo credit Emily Myhre)

Over these 38 days, we became very aware of everything we take for granted and what passes us by without even knowing. Consider, for instance, the effects of the sun. The sun was a stranger to us the first three weeks, so much so that we referred to the 12th day of the trip as ‘sunny day’ because we could all vividly remember how glorious it had been. Having only Gore Tex rain gear, synthetic filled jackets and nylon tent walls to shelter us from the elements, we really channeled our inner weatherperson, willing the sun to come back out. The fleeting moments of intermittent sunshine would lift our moods and warm our souls as we traveled through the vast tundra landscape.

Bug Tent

Bug tent life, sewing, cooking and reading

A Snowy River

The Back River (Photo credit Nat Shepard)

Being exposed to the elements day in and day out you become very attentive to what is coming on the horizon. The Back River is the longest river located entirely above tree line in the Canadian Arctic. Canoeing on big lakes allows you an unencumbered view of the entire 360 degree horizon. The Back River travels largely to the east before heading straight north. For most of the trip we encountered headwinds out of the east to varying degrees, sometimes rendering us wind bound.

Arctic Ocean

Looking out over the Chantrey Inlet on the Arctic Ocean

Sussex Lake Esker

Esker hiking near Sussex Lake


The Back River

Those wind bound days made me think of living in Duluth, MN during November or December and looking out over an angry Lake Superior full of whitecaps. All those headwinds really made us appreciate the fleeting moments when the wind was pushing us from behind. The glorious tailwind... Pushing you effortlessly in the direction you want to go. Combined the wind with some current and you might just get motion sickness from going so fast! We didn’t waste a single tailwind or smooth current to help us get our food and gear laden canoes downriver, providing minor relief for our achy backs, hands and arms. Paddling a strong tailwind would produce fits of uncontrollable laughter. How many times could something so simple as this produce such elation and amazement?

Musk Ox Rapids

Scouting Musk Ox Rapids

Lining the Canoes

Lining Escape Rapids

Hawk Rapids

Hawk Rapids

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Fleeting moments like this happened all throughout our trip. We came to realize that we were very present, aware, and appreciative of all of them. I think about all the fleeting moments I take for granted back home everyday. Out on the river I appreciated how important these moments were to making an enjoyable trip.

Hashbrowns and Bagels

Bagels and Hash Browns on a windbound day


Tundra flower

Sinclair Falls

Campsite overlooking Sinclair Falls

Minnesota summers are the quintessence of fleeting moments. There is so much anticipation throughout the long winter and wet spring, then suddenly it’s Memorial Day. But all too soon it’s Labor Day. What happened? The more we can be present in our everyday lives, the more enjoyable we’ll find all the things we take for granted each day.

Fishing for Lake Trout

Lake Trout


Small herd of Caribou (Photo credit Nat Shepard)

Fishing Boat Pickup

Getting picked up to cross the Northwest Passage

All that being said, one of my trip mates astutely pointed out, ‘that all these ‘fleeting moments’ we keep boasting about are just can excuse to ignore all of the crappy weather we’ve been having’. Well, there’s that.

The Crew at Sinclair Falls

Our group at Sinclair Falls (Photo credit Nat Shepard)

Austin Danicic
Austin Danicic

Austin Danicic splits his time, when not canoeing, between working as an outdoor instructor in the United States during the summer months and construction/logistics worker at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica in the winter. Check out videos of his many adventures on YouTube.

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