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 Justine's Journal

CackleTV Productions


Mountains of fun!
Monday, August 24, 2009

I've spent many weeks seakayaking around the edge of islands, countries or continents ( not the whole continent!). I love the perspective that you get from a kayak exploring beautiful coastlines, and accessing remote beaches which are hard to reach in any other way.

Over the last 2 weeks I've discovered another watery way to explore wild and beautiful places, but this time I'm going right through the middle. The river highway winds around or cuts straight through obstacles in it's path; mountains are eroded and swamps & undergrowth are brushed aside by the powerful flow. The river travels right through the heart of the wilderness, providing a wonderful means of access and an exciting mode of travel through wild lands.

My 12 days on the Mountain River with Blackfeather were a fantastic experience. The scale of the mountains blew me away, we travelled 370km through them, never seeing, smelling or hearing a sign of man ( except for ourselves & 1 other canoe group which we passed on our 3rd day). Breathing in the pure air wild air was a simple pleasure that I never tired of. I sometimes hear people describe wilderness as merely an untapped resource, and many people don't value it, saying things like 'there's nothing there'. I've always considered wilderness to be pockets of the earth in it's purest form and this trip really reinforced that feeling. Just being there energizes me.

It was fun to follow a river from it's source to where it flows into another river. We started on a lake, portaged about a kilometre to a tiny stream, dragged and heaved the canoes for another 5-8km on the aptly named 'push me, pull me creek', then breathed a sigh of relief when we reached Black Feather Creek where we could finally float. Blackfeather Creek provided some grade 2 and 3 rapids and we had 2 capsizes and a pin on our first day of actual paddling. Everyone was fine and the canoes were rescued quickly.

Overnight rain raised the river by a foot or so and turned it chocolatey brown. There were a few trees to dodge on a bitterly cold day as we continued down to the confluence with the Mountain River. The Mountain river is mostly braided and quite wide with a flow of around 8-10km/ hour. There are lots of rifles and wave trains and a few more challenging rapids. Most of the challenging rapids form in or around the 5 canyons. These were all very beautiful and dramatic with high vertical cliffs. The bow paddlers certainly got very wet in the wave trains and the spraydecks we had on the canoes were essential on a few occasions, or we'd have been swamped with water.

We paddled for about 4 or 5 hours a day mostly, and spent the rest of the time preparing and eating fantastic food, chilling out and going on walks. There are enough trees to look pretty, but the vegetation is sparse enough that it's quite easy to climb up pretty high and get amazing views back to the campsite and the surrounding mountains. Well, it's easy if you don't mind negotiating steep scree! From our high points, the tents always looked so tiny and it reinforced the huge scale of the wilderness up there. Amazing landscapes varied from multi-coloured cliffs to an eerie moonscape, to a huge mound that is building up from a natural sulfurous spring. We even visited a 'warm spring', described unkindly by Peter Wilson as 'underwhelming'! However, Wendy and I enjoyed a dip in a shallow pool there. The rocks on the trip were amazing, with intricate fossils of corals & shells and stripy sandstone rocks. Heather's carry on luggage on her way home was 75% rocks!! I'd have brought more home if I didn't have a limited baggage allowance ( and hand luggage full of cameras!).

We saw many different groups of caribou; one herd of about 10 crossed the river right in front of our camp, and we saw others from the canoe. Wendy and Rob saw a grizzly bear on the edge of our campsite, but he stood up on his hind legs and then ran away when he saw us. Jim and I saw a black bear on the last day and I as rushed for my camera, Jim spotted 2 cubs alongside their mum. Unfortunately they all ran away before I got back but the glimpse of mum standing up looking at us still remains etched in my mind. We also spotted a moose and Ian got a glimpse of what may have been a wolverine. But perhaps the best wildlife news was the lack of a species! Contrary to what everyone warned me about - there were almost NO BUGS! I got 2 mossie bites on the whole trip and there wasn't a bug net in sight!

I've been home in Wales a few days - I went seakayaking on Sunday and managed to forget my spraydeck!! well, I haven't been wearing one for over a month!! Paddling my seakayak on a 10 metre tide in the Menai Straits felt weird to start with - the fast current was fun but my kayak felt so light, maneuverable and low to the water! It wasn't quite so forgiving as a heavily laden tandem canoe with a good paddler in the stern with me! Once I got used to the new (old) feeling, I found I had a slightly different approach to breaking in and out of the eddies besides the bridges and I felt like I had a slightly more subtle understanding of the water. Maybe I'm just romanticizing my trip away!? Even if I am, I definitely think that my paddling skills in general are really benefiting from trying different disciplines, and it helps to keep my passion for paddling alive and new!

Thanks a lot to Blackfeather, Canadian North airlines and Northwright Airways for sponsoring my trip down the Mountain River. I've started loading the video onto my computer to edit it!

BirchBark canoes
Thursday, August 06, 2009


What a whirlwind few days! On Monday I went paddling in Wisconsin's North Lakes with Hailey Thompson and her mother Jean. They are an inspiring family who love being outside and canoeing, but find time to be kind, generous and environmentally conscious. We paddled on 3 of their favourite lakes, portaging between them. It's a really pretty area with clear water, sandy beaches, lush trees and the occasional loon. Hailey confessed to actually ENJOYING portages because it makes her appreciate paddling on the next lake much more when she gets there. Her and her mum were enjoying escaping to the area where they both learnt to paddle as they've had a busy summer traveling around America and Canada while Hailey competes in canoe slalom competitions. This will probably be their only chance to paddle here this Summer as the whole family is preparing to go to the World Championships canoe slalom competition in Europe in a few weeks time where Hailey will be competing in the US senior team. So much talent and such a nice girl too.

Early on Tuesday I drove north to Grand Marais, near Grand Portage to meet up with Erik Simula, who is nearing completion of a 1000 mile journey by birchbark canoe around the Minnesota arrowhead. Accompanied only by his dog Kittigan, Erik has taken 102 days so far on this impressive journey which links up many traditional paddling and portaging routes. I filmed him on his last paddling leg down part of the Pigeon River, portaging down the impressive Partridge Falls and then on to Fort Charlotte. He took his canoe off the water at Fort Charlotte for the last time and all that stands between him and completion of his adventure is a 9 mile portage down to Grand Portage. He plans to arrive on Friday in time for the annual rendezvous at Grand Portage on Friday. Thank you very much to Quinn and Bob McCloughan of Bearskin Lodge who made it possible for me to film Erik. Quinn came with me to meet Erik and provided a tandem canoe and paddle so I could travel down the river with Erik and film him. He stayed overnight with us by Partridge Falls and was a great sport, powering the canoe right, left, back and forwards as I asked him to for filming! I spent last night at the beautiful Bearskin Lodge, which is a luxurious lodge on the Gunflint Trail, right by a great lake for watersports and in the middle of moose and bear country. It will be a shame to drag myself away!

Today I drive south to Minneapolis airport for a flight to Edmonton and tomorrow I head north to Norman Wells With Canadian North airlines for my trip down the Mountain River with Blackfeather.


Open Canoe Slalom - 100 first place titles for Kaz
Monday, August 03, 2009

Thanks to Hailey Thompson's dad, Michael for use of these great photos from the Open Canoe Slalom national championships. i've got loads of great video footage which I'm looking forward to editing when I get home later this month. I really enjoyed being at this event, the people were all really friendly and good fun and I became quite fascinated with the sport. I had 3 tries at running the river myself in a tandem canoe and I'm really grateful to Kaz, Gail and Carolyn for taking me down the course. i filmed some great people including John Kaz, who won his 100th first place title in a national competition today. what an amazing achievement. He won the event in light weight high performance canoes that he makes through his company Millbrook Boats.

I also did some filming with Hailey Thompson, a 15 year old girl from Wisconsin who is making a big splash in the whitewater arena. not only did she win 4 or 5 events at this competition, she's also on the US senior team in her decked canoe and she's about to head off to Europe to compete in the World Championships ( the first time that women have been allowed to compete in international canoe events).

The photos are ( from top to bottom)
1. Hailey Thompson
2. Kaz
3. Amy and Pete
4. Hailey and Kaz
5. Vanessa and Gail

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