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Expedition documentary fights for northern river protection

This article was first published in the March issue of Paddling Magazine

The six-man expedition team, Paddle For The North, is entering the final stages of production for a documentary based on their 1,500-kilometer journey through northern rivers. Last year’s two-month trip took the team through the northern Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska, and found them paddling the Yukon and Peel river watersheds, filming as they went.

“The main goal of creating the documentary was to show how beautiful and unique the North is, so that people who don't have the chance to visit those places connect with what's up there,” says team member Gabriel Rivest. “The North is a very fragile ecosystem,” he adds, “and if development is done thoughtlessly, it could create irreversible damage.”

Many of the rivers the team paddled entered a new stage of fragility in January when the Yukon government recently announced that they’ll be opening a large portion of the Peel watershed to industrial development, against considerable environmental and First Nations opposition.

Rivers that could be affected are dream destinations for many canoeists, including the Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers.

“It’s definitely frustrating, it's been a real political battle,” says Rivest of the announcement. “But the news wasn't a big surprise. The First Nations communities had seen it coming, and now the whole case will be brought to court.” It makes the conversation message of documentary that much more important, he adds.

Filming along the way definitely slowed the pace of the expedition, and added about 200 pounds in equipment.

“Often the best shots are taken in times when things aren't necessarily going well or easy. Everyone needed extra patience to be able to capture those moments,” Rivest says.

That patience was sorely tested in Aberdeen Canyon, on the Peel River, the most difficult section of the trip, according to Rivest. The group traversed a five-kilometer portage using a swampy, muddy game trail full of tussocks and tight willows. “It took us over five hours to get the canoes through and three trips in total for all the gear. It was a great accomplishment, but I don't think any of us will want to be back there soon,” Rivest adds.

The first few days on the Rat River were equally challenging. They group had been warned that the Rat was torture, swarming with mosquitoes, and the group expected to push their canoes upstream for 12 to 16 days.

“It started rough, on our first night we got flooded and lost six paddles. We got stuck in camp for three days and needed to carve a paddle from a spruce tree. But after that, it cleared up and got really warm.

It was hard work, but the area was incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Big rolling green hills, tons of caribou, and the view, once we reached the top, was breathtaking. That’s what we want to share with the viewers.”

Get up-to-date news on the documentary at www.paddleforthenorth.org

 

 

Watch the trailer:

 

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