So far the year of 2014 has been defined as the year of the holiday. We decided that since we’d come all this way, to move to Yellowknife, we might as well see as much of it as we can. We are planning an incredible paddling trip this summer off northern Baffin Island, and we’ve just come back from a fantastic dogsled trip on the Barrenlands. Both of these trips are once in a lifetime sorts of trips, but hey, who knows how long we have in this lifetime? What will you do with your one wild and precious life?
I’ve had some trouble writing a blog post about the dog sled trip, as there are so many cool and wonderful things to tell you about it. I can’t figure out how to even start! There is the Olesen family, who homestead some 200 km northeast of Yellowknife, at the far eastern end of Great Slave Lake (north of Reliance), and who were our hosts and guides for the trip. I want to tell you something about this amazing family. There is the wonderful landscape, and the feeling of traveling through pristine and remote wilderness, as well as the experience of traveling and camping in the winter in a very traditional way (with a few notable exceptions). And then, there are the dogs themselves to tell you about – witnessing the strength, heart, athleticism and toughness of these incredible athletes is a remarkable experience. I feel like I”ll only be able to share a small bit of what all of these things mean, but perhaps at least you can get a taste of our wonderful adventure. (I’ll tell you about all of these things over a few posts.)
Our trip started when were picked up in Yellowknife by our guide and pilot Dave Olesen, in his Bush Hawk ski plane. Dave is a writer and blogger as well – you can find his blog about life on the Hoarfrost River here. I loved reading his stories – I came away with the sense of a man who knows what matters in this life, and I felt some of the peace of his wilderness in his writing. You can also read about their dogsled trips on their website, which gives you a good idea of what they offer, and some great photos of their homestead too. The plane ride out was exciting – I love small planes, but this flight was great because we flew right over the area we kayaked this past summer, and could follow our path and see the islands we’d camped on. It is very different in winter, but equally spectacular.
We spent our first two nights at the Hoarfrost River Homestead. The homestead consists of the family home, a large collection of outbuildings, including an office, a barn, a workshop, storage buildings, etc, and a fantastic guest cabin, all on the shores of Great Slave Lake. To me, this cabin is the ultimate wilderness cabin. Clean and comfortable, yet simple and basic. (I mourn the passing of such places and am always happy when I come across one – they are quickly being replaced by palaces with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.)
We ate our meals with the family in the main house, and what a treat it was to try Kristen and her daughter Liv’s cooking. I’d heard that they were good cooks, but in fact, they are fantastic. Aside from being great, the meals were generous. For the first time in many years the family was able to hunt a caribou ( the hunt has been severely restricted for some years) and our first dinner was a caribou stew served with Kristen’s amazing sourdough bread. Heavenly. I think this small fact tells you a great deal about this family – their kindness and generosity to share their precious caribou with strangers. We were welcomed like family members and treated like royalty for our entire stay.
Dave and Kristen have lived on the Hoarfrost for about 25 years, and have raised daughters Annika and Liv there. They do get out from time to time and have lots of opportunity to socialize with other people, but they also spend more time isolated from the rest of the world than most of us. It seems to have changed them in admirable ways. They are as fit and as strong a family as you will ever meet. Also generous and kind and thoughtful. They speak slowly and listen closely. I was struck both while there and after I left at how most of us move through this world interrupting each other, and not really listening, and what a sad state that is. It is a great pleasure to slow down, to really see, and to really be seen.