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Learning the limits. PHOTO: MIKE BEEDELL


Child of the Yukon


A HAYSTACK in the middle of the river; that’s my first challenge of the

day. It’s a metre-high mound of churning water that will knock our boat right over if we hit it in the wrong place. “We” are eight paddlers from the south,

transplanted to the Wernecke Mountains of the eastern Yukon. Our highway is the Bonnet Plume River, 320 kilometres of class I to VI rapids, dangerous sweepers and frigid water temperatures. And always the current. Tis is a river in a mad rush to reach the Arctic. To come on this river, I’ve had a crash

course in whitewater paddling. And I’ve lucked into Mark as a canoe partner. He’s calm, instructive and quick with his praise, which I shamelessly eat up. I’ve forgotten I’m a strong, independent woman who runs her own business and no longer needs any- one’s approval—and who certainly doesn’t like being told what to do. I’m depending on Mark’s instructions, eager to do as he tells me, relieved he never loses his temper. A part of me is standing back, shaking my head in disbelief. I seem to have gone ca- reening back to childhood.



HE EXPLORER Tightening the sprayskirt around my

waist, I’m as excited and nervous as a little kid.

“Don’t forget to smile,” our guide calls

out as Mark and I eddy into the current. I plaster a grin on my face. At first it’s genuine enough. Mark steers us

into the black tongue to take us past the rocks and boulders on our left. I’m digging my pad- dle in hard under his calm instruction. We plow through our first standing wave.

A great weight of cold water is heaved onto my lap. Another swell of water is in front of

me, and I’m grinning my way through it. But, suddenly, the canoe is veering left

and straight ahead is a roiling wall of water towering over me. Where did this come from? I don’t want to be here. Te bow rears up and the world goes

cockeyed. Te next instant I’m gasping in the frigid water beside the canoe. I grab hold of the gunwale, and the canoe carries me relentlessly downstream. Tere’s only one problem: I don’t know

how to get to shore. I’m going to be carried down the river forever.

When Laurel Archer began researching her two-volume guide to northern B.C. rivers, she had to cobble together hearsay evidence from murky sources just to judge whether reconnaissance missions on some proposed routes were even possible. The sum of her information for the Netson Creek/Rabbit River route came from a bush plane pilot. “He told me he had taken two groups in there in the last 25 years,” explains Archer. “One group had to turn back and, well, he didn’t know what happened to the other group.” The inductee of the International Explorers Club (see Canoeroots, Fall, 2007) took enough time off guiding and instructing in canoes and kayaks to complete the first volume of Northern British Columbia Canoe Trips, with the second volume due out this November. Add those to her 2003 resource Northern Saskatchewan Canoe Trips and Archer ranks as the guidebook-writer of choice for those who

like to portage off the beaten path Archer says the two volumes cover 17 of the best canoe rivers in northern B.C., but considers it a skeleton guide, more an introduction to an area that not enough people think to paddle. Compared to the dearth

of information she had to work with, the 320 pages of the first volume alone amount to a meaty body of knowledge. » IAN MERRINGER 41 —Continued on page 42

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