Arctic Adventure Beckons Kooch-i-ching Men
By George Simmons
Samuel Hearne joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1766 as a mate on the sloop Churchill. Between 1769 and 1771, Hearne made three overland trips by foot and canoe from the Hudson Bay settlement of Churchill to the Inuit village of Coppermine (now Kugluktuk) on the Arctic Ocean’s Coronation Gulf.
Fast forward 248 years, and hearty souls are still plying the Canadian Shield’s vast expanse of lakes and rivers in search of fur, minerals and adventure. Hearne, in 1771, termed this region “The Barren Land of the Little Sticks.” In 1961, Sigurd Olson, the noted Minnesota author, canoeist and environmentalist, described it as “The Lonely Land,” a land with its own mystique—a land of emptiness, stark beauty, abundant wildlife and harsh weather extremes.
It is this mystique, adventure and challenge that has beckoned six Kooch-i-ching men to embark this summer on a source-to-sea canoe trip from Kooch’s base camp on Rainy Lake to Kugluktuk at the mouth of the Coppermine River.
Each of these men is a seasoned wilderness tripper, a former Kooch-i-ching camper, and a current or former staff member. Collectively, their skills, experience and 1,500 days in the Canadian bush are equal to those of members of previous Arctic expeditions, and well-matched to the challenges they will face.
The moniker for their trip, the Source Runs North, is “a personal reference to Deer Island as the physical source and to our history at Camp Kooch-i-ching.” Indeed, Kooch-i-ching is the source of the skills and knowledge that will help them accomplish their goal.
This past fall, the Source Runs North team submitted a proposal for partial financial support from the Camping & Education Foundation’s Arctic committee. The committee not only enthusiastically supported the trip, but agreed to fund 40% of the budgeted expenses.
Members of the committee, many of whom have made similar Arctic trips, lent their personal experience to assist the team in refining its overall plan. Both the committee and the expedition members acknowledged major concerns including the length of the trip (2,800 miles and 120 days), delays on big lakes (Lake of the Woods, Lake Winnipeg, Great Slave Lake), deadly rapids (four major sets above Fort Smith on the Slave River and numerous others on the Coppermine), and the early onset of winter in August.
The team considered all of these challenges in depth and built contingency routes, or “outs,” into their plan. One committee member asked the team: “How will you measure success?” Without question, the ultimate success would be all members reaching Kugluktuk safely.
But on challenging expeditions such as this, success is often measured rapid by rapid, portage by portage, mile by mile, and day by day as each individual wrestles with his or her own mental and physical fortitude. The words of Robert Service come to mind:
“But the Code of a Man says: ‘Fight all you can’.... Buck up, do your damnedest and fight. It’s the plugging away that will win you the day, so don’t be a piker, old pard! Just draw on your grit; it’s so easy to quit—it’s the keeping your chin up that’s hard.”
The expedition members are more than confident in their abilities, and the Arctic committee is confident that they will reach their goal. Travel safe, guys. The entire camp family stands behind you.