45 Days Canoeing Canada’s Subarctic

4-minute read

Camp Manito-wish YMCA is one of the top wilderness camps in the country. 2023 staffer Dave Scott co-led a 45-day canoe trip in northern Canada and shared his experience with us.

canoe with three people paddle by a shoreline cliff

The crew from Camp Manito-wish canoes Canada’s Clarke River (this photo and the others courtesy of Ryan Gasper)

Camp Manito-wish YMCA is located outside the small town of Boulder Junction in northern Wisconsin. It’s been running programs for kids grades 5-12 since 1919, from Summer Camp to its intermediate and advanced wilderness trips and leadership development programs.

All the campers get to experience canoe, kayaking or backpacking trips as part of camp. And the kids who thrive in that environment often choose to come back for the high-level backcountry programming. One of these is their Outpost Program which features wilderness trips in various locations for up to 45 days.

Camp Manito-wish Experience

Dave Scott started at Camp Manito-wish YMCA as a camper. He spent several summers going through the Summer Camp program and then as an Outpost participant. His crowning achievement as a camper was a 45-day backpacking trip in Alaska’s Brooks Range above the Arctic Circle.

Man looks down a sand hill to his canoe on the river below

A bend in the Clarke River

Since then he’s been on staff at Manito-wish for six (inconsecutive) years, helping facilitate backpacking and canoeing trips.

45 Days in Canada’s Subarctic

We’ll let Dave tell his own story of their 45-day trip:

“Last summer I had the opportunity to co-facilitate a 45-day whitewater canoe expedition in the Canadian Subarctic with Ryan Gasper. We covered about 625 miles in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut with three participants, ages 17-18. All three had previously participated in Manito-wish's Summer Camp program and were in their third year of the Outpost Program. The previous summer, all three had completed a 33-day whitewater trip in Saskatchewan, Canada.

teen boy portages a canoe cross tundra to the next river

Portaging the watershed crossing between the Dubawnt and Clarke Rivers
“To prepare for our trip, the Expo Canuck, staff arrived several weeks early for training in whitewater backcountry medicine. The participants arrived about one week before our departure for Canada to finish planning and packing for our expedition together.
“We drove from Wisconsin to northern Saskatchewan and then flew on an amphibious bush plane to the Dubawnt River. We paddled the Dubawnt River, the Clarke and the Thelon River:
  • The Dubawnt was characterized by moderate-flowing rivers, short whitewater sets and lake crossings.
  • The Clarke was characterized by shallow lakes and rivers, whitewater, lake crossings and numerous lifts and portages. There’s also abundant fish and wildlife on this river including muskox, grizzlies, caribou, arctic foxes and birds.
  • The Thelon was characterized by fast-flowing rivers, large whitewater sets and open-water crossings.

“Both Men's and Women's Expo Canuck trips are offered each year, however there have only been three Men's Expo Canucks over the past decade.

“There are no preset routes. Co-facilitators plan their routes by reading journals from previous Manito-wish trips, talking to former Manito-wish facilitators and participants, studying maps and satellite imagery, and contacting bush pilots and wilderness guides with extensive knowledge of these areas.”

teen boy sitting on a river shore surrounded by clouds of bugs

No scarcity of biting insects in northern Canada’s summers! (along the Thelon River)

Challenges, Highlights and Mission

When asked what his highlights of this 2023 trip were, Dave said, “Paddling 50 miles in one day on the Thelon, and paddling and portaging through the Clarke River watershed.” The other highlight he brought up was watching the confidence of these three young participants grow along the way, as well as their friendships with each other.

“Manito-wish trips are intended to be challenging,” said Dave, “especially the Expeditionary-level trips.” These challenges are driven by the camp’s written Vision that “The Manito-wish experience develops confident, responsible and enlightened leaders who will improve the world in which they live.”

Those who work with young people on these kinds of trips (or have been on trips like this themselves) know that the skills and grit needed to face those challenges directly translate to the ability to deal with all of life’s challenges.

 two canoeists take their canoe down a whitewater section of the Dubawnt River

Canoeing a whitewater stretch of the Dubawnt River

The Bending Branches Canoe Paddles that Went Along

“I used the Expedition Plus wooden paddle on whitewater and the carbon fiber Black Pearl on flatwater,” said Dave. “Both paddles are extremely efficient and durable. The Black Pearl is my favorite paddle I’ve ever used. I can’t imagine paddling flatwater without it now!”

Thanks to Dave Scott for sharing his story with us, to Ryan Gasper for his beautiful photos, and to Camp Manito-wish YMCA for its mission and impact on our kids.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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