May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside's Annual Travel Guide, 1999/2000

From Newfoundland to B.C. to the great in-between, four adventures in the unfrozen north

Grey Islands, Newfoundland

The concept may be appealing—exploring an uninhabited island off the northeast Newfoundland coast for five days—but the reality is downright astounding: On daily guided hikes across the tundra you watch a procession of huge whales and even huger islands of ice drifting down Newfoundland's Iceberg Alley. Polar bears wander in just after ice breakup to snack on the harbor seals you heard arfing in the cove where you came ashore. Puffins show off, and kittiwakes flit about by the hundreds. Lichens, berries, and wildflowers paint the tundra with splashes of color. You get friendly, from a distance, with a resident caribou herd and frequently follow their footpaths. You might even watch them munching kelp along the shoreline of this nine-by-five-mile island.

The Ultimate Hiking Adventure is a summer operation of Newfoundland's popular Tuckamore Wilderness Lodge. Your home for five nights is Bell Island, one of the uninhabited Grey Islands—barren, exposed atolls 14 miles from the mainland. Tuckamore provides guides and accommodates ten people in plywood-and-canvas tents (one with foam-padded bunks, the other with cots). The menu includes a traditional Newfoundland hot dinner of corned beef and turnips, plus desserts made from the plentiful local berries. You bring your own sleeping bag and bathe in a solar-heated outdoor shower. The setup is in the lee of a 1,000-foot plateau that offers an unobstructed panorama of coastline, sea, mainland, and the northern lights.

By the numbers, the hiking doesn't sound ultimate—two or three miles a day. But tundra and bog hiking is hard work, and there are deep wooded valleys to descend into and climb out of. The serenity is unforgettable—you can hear whales blowing at night. And once you've sniffed the olfactory brew of wild berries mixed with salt air and peat, you'll carry a permanent engram of the island.

A five-night stay from June through early September is $769 per person, including all meals and airport transfers; call 709-865-6361;; e-mail: [email protected] —Robert Earle Howells

Wilp Sy'oon Lodge, British Columbia

Good thing the floatplane pilots know where Wilp Sy'oon is. You'd have a hard time finding this tiny lodge floating in a deep fjord just under 50 roadless miles north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. This is Nisga'a territory, home of the First Nations people who recently negotiated partial autonomy over their abundantly beautiful homeland. Wilp Sy'oon is the tribe's first crack at tourism, and they decided to moor it in Somerville Bay for access to some of the bounty they hold sacred, i.e., the best salmon and halibut fishing on the north coast.

Halibut averaging 35 to 40 pounds are just around the corner, and from mid-May into September it's a virtual parade of 30- to 45-pound spring, king, and coho salmon in nearby open ocean that was never sport-fished until Wilp Sy'oon opened in 1996. Most visitors come for the fishing, but the remote setting is appealing in itself. The lodge is dwarfed by cedar-cloaked hills and unnamed peaks amid a maze of similar unpopulated inlets. Manager Ken Bejcar plans to bring in sea kayaks for guest use, but for now you can fish, relax, or ask a guide to boat you across the narrow inlet to go crabbing.

The lodge itself began life as manufactured housing for a logging camp. Spruced up and mounted on a 90-foot-long barge, it feels homey the way the nicest RVs do, with seven small whitewashed guest rooms (baths are shared) accented with red and black Nisga'a depictions of wolves and killer whales, plus a cedar-paneled reading room and a dining hall. In the latter, the chef prepares breakfasts and dinners of fresh octopus appetizers, halibut, steak, crab, and, of course, your own salmon catch.

Packages are $1,653 per person for four days, $1,918 for five days, including fishing guides, equipment, all meals, chartered plane between Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and floatplane transport between Prince Rupert and Wilp Sy'oon. Call 800-596-2226. —R. E. H.

Abitibi Wilderness, Ontario

Rick Chartier may be the last of the voyageurs, those rugged adventurers who once navigated huge canoes along the thousands of miles of rivers that drain northern Ontario's great Hudson and James Bay backcountry. With Rick as our guide, nine of us followed their route along the Abitibi River in giant replicas of the canoes that once transported as many as 20 people lugging hundreds of pounds of furs.

Our seven-day paddle started out in Cochrane, proceeded along the Abitibi into rivers and lakes with dozens of rugged portages, and ended up at Moosonee, an isolated village at the mouth of James Bay that's accessible only by boat, plane, or train. Along the way, Rick pointed to a bleached wooden sign bearing the faded words "New Post." This trading center was built in the 1800s beside a 200-yard portage shortcut designed to steer trappers' business toward the Hudson Bay Company and away from its rivals. The old portage rises steeply through shadow along mossy rock, while at the top of the hill, scattered gravestones still bear epitaphs: "Alexander McLeod, who died 3rd September, 1885, and Jane Turner, his wife, 19th January, 1886. Erected by their surviving children who deeply deplore their loss."

Making the trip with Chartier is a little less difficult. Camping is wide-open on any of the hundreds of islands that dot the river system. And although you pack insurance food in, the key to making the trip utterly life-changing is to catch and eat as much walleye as possible. Fried over an open fire, the fish tastes like honey. Chartier's Coureur de Bois Adventures includes canoe trips for all skill levels,
ranging from one to 18 days. The easy seven-day New Post Falls trip is roughly $600 per person. Call 705-272-3273. For general information contact James Bay Frontier Travel Association at 800-461-3766; —Dan Koeppel

Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba

The night was beautiful. It was about to turn beautifully bloody. I'd left the little town and was walking under the full moon through a boreal wilderness covering a craggy escarpment rising from the Manitoba prairie. Everything felt wrong. Altitude in the flatlands. Trees instead of corn and wheat. Seconds later, a chill feeling swept up my spine. I aimed my flashlight down the trail. The deer's carcass was still glistening. One step closer: The animal was all ripped up. Still warm. Wolves. Still near. Time to go.

Riding Mountain National Park's greenery rises from Canada's grain country (think North Dakota) along a glacier-carved rift. Native Americans view it as a holy island. Some of the continent's largest wild-animal populations live here. Besides wolf, visitors routinely encounter black bear, lynx, fox, and moose. Because the animals here are pretty much left alone, they grow, says guide Celes Davar, "pretty damn big."

The park's 1,150 square miles encompass more than 250 miles of hiking, mountain-biking, and horseback-riding trails. There's also spectacular northern pike and walleye fishing at Clear Lake. The park is centered by the lakeside town of Wasagaming, west of Lake Manitoba. The village is only now beginning to transform itself into an outdoor retreat, with lodges, restaurants, and outfitters.

The Riding Mountain Guest Ranch is a traditional New England–style inn, with four guest rooms in a lakeside ranch house ($50 per person per night, including breakfast and dinner; call 204-848-2265). The park has six campgrounds at $6 to $13 a night; call 800-707-8480. Celes Davar, a local wildlife photographer, offers guide services; call 888-301-0030. —D. K.

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