30 Dec, 2015 Up Here Magazine Article Part 2 of 7: To The North

Cory’s Into The Arctic: The Last Chapter expedition field journals were published as a series in Canadian North airline’s Up Here Magazine beginning in November 2015. Here is part 2.

TO THE NORTH
by Cory Trépanier

The first strokes of my paddle slice through the shallow, clear waters as a sense of quiet exhilaration sets in. I have just begun two weeks of canoeing on the most northerly navigable canoe route in North America… the Thomsen River. Ahead lies over 100 kms of pristine Arctic waters, cutting a meandering ribbon through an austere landscape. What more could a landscape painter ask for?

Remnants of winter snow line the river bank as we boat by. Beyond, the tundra stretches on as far as the eye can see. Small hills give way to low lying mountains as we progress down river and I find it to be less at than my research suggested.

It’s the beginning of July, and at 73 degrees latitude summer in the north is just getting under way. Wild flowers abound, as do the impressive Muskox. Banks Island is home to the highest population of them on the planet, and tonight they are visiting us as we pitch our tents. At first, it’s two and they give us a show by powerfully head butting each other. Later, under the midnight sun – one that has lowered but will not set – I notice another 25 coming over a distant hill. A spectacular view before tucking into my sleeping bag.

Grey and rainy weather gives way to occasional sun during this first leg of my nine weeks in the Arctic. Wind, our companion on most days is greatly missed when it dies down, as mosquitoes by the millions race in to fill the calm. Uncomfortable at times, these little critters are a small price to pay for the privilege of traveling in this truly wild land.

With the challenging weather and constant moving of camps – we eventually have to make it downriver to our final pick up point – setting up my easel and painting is proving to be difficult. It’s 5:30 AM and I’m outside trying to calm our wildly apping tarp whose pegs have torn free from the ground. I crawl back in my sleeping bag for a spell, wake up groggy, load my painting pack and head for the hills. I pass muskox skulls and hike alongside fresh wolf tracks from our visitors last night. At the far corner of the river bend, I trudge up white sandy dunes. Gaining elevation, I’m offered an expanding view of the landscape, and am in awe when I reach the top. From here, I see the Thomsen River cutting a huge swath through the stark landscape lined with mountains on the left and flats to the right, filled with lakes.

With white coloured dunes accenting the foreground and rugged bluffs cut diagonally from the right, it’s a sublime scene that I work feverishly to capture on canvas in gale force icy winds. At last I’ve begun my first painting in the Arctic this summer.

This process – of exploring, finding my own view, painting and filming to capture it all – continues for the rest of the river journey. And always, Aulavik’s wildlife keep us company along the way. A curious Arctic Wolf swims across the river to investigate us. Peregrine Falcons occupy every rock bluff we pass. And the prehistoric looking Muskox make their appearance every few days.

The final hike of this leg of my expedition brings us to another expansive mountain top view of the Thomsen all the way to the ocean, followed by a final tussle with a wind whipped tarp as I paint the stunning scene in the rain until 2 AM.

A final dinner, prefaced by my wife Janet’s “special bag” filled with a small bottle of wine, some Bailey’s, fine cheese, crackers, pepperoni, candy and chocolate, allow the four of us to indulge in some of the finer things in life, in one of the finest places on earth.

Two weeks have gone by. I have new paintings underway for my collection, the beginnings of my next film, and have once again felt humbled by the vastness of our North.

I savour the endless sun one more time, pack down camp, wait for the plane and smile, knowing that I still have seven weeks left on this Arctic journey.

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