Monday, December 11, 2006

Exploring the Canadian Wilderness by Canoe

A large portion of Canada’s landscape is made up of endless expanses of evergreen forests, shimmering lakes, and large areas of exposed rock that are some of the oldest rocks on the entire planet (over 3 billion years old in places). This geographical region is known as the Canadian Shield. The characteristics that define this landscape are largely the result of the last period of glacial activity known as the Pleistocene Epoch. This is commonly referred to as the last “Ice Age” which ended less than ten thousand years ago. The huge sheets of ice scraped the land clean, exposing ancient rock and leaving very little soil behind. This, along with long cold winters and short cool summers favors the growth of evergreen or Boreal forest, which blankets this region. In addition, receding glaciers and large chunks of ice left to melt; filled depressions and formed the countless lakes that dominate Shield country. It is estimated that in Ontario alone there are over one million lakes!

One of the most rewarding ways to explore this largely undeveloped area is by canoe. The Canadian government has created many large wilderness parks that protect vast tracks of this unique ecosystem. One of the nicest is Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in Northwest Ontario. It is about 5-6 hours north International Falls, which lies along the Minnesota/Ontario border. With an appetite for exploration and solitude, along with the proper gear and planning, one can set out from one of the park’s entry points and venture into this wilderness from anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. With over a thousand miles of canoe routes, there is plenty to see and do. The fishing is incredible, there are ancient pictographs and petroglyphs, tall rocky cliffs, an abundance of wildlife (including moose, black bear, beaver, and eagles), beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the Northern lights (on occasion), and more. By paddling across lakes and portaging between them (carrying your gear and canoe along a trail, often only a few hundred yards or less, until you get to the next lake) you can traverse through the park, while stopping to camp on flat rocks or a bed of soft moss alongside a stream.
For anyone who enjoys the outdoors and is looking for an active summertime adventure, an experience like this is a must! If you enjoy backcountry camping, cooking over a campfire, and paddling a canoe, you will certainly be rewarded by a trip into the Canadian Shield’s canoe country, which Woodland Caribou Provincial Park is a part of. In planning a trip like this it is important to remember that this is wilderness camping- these parks are in very remote locations with no services. There is some important planning and experience necessary to insure a safe and enjoyable trip if you are going to venture on you own without a guide. A guided excursion is great for a beginner because they can enjoy the experience and leave details such as navigation, acquiring the proper gear, preparing camp food, etc. to someone else. In addition you will receive a great deal of information about proper backcountry camping procedures, have someone trained in first aid and safety procedures with you, and get explanations on local flora, fauna, and history of the area.