This article is sponsored by Terre Boréale
Hiking is a powerful tool to escape from the turmoil of our busy lives. When your feet follow the trail, your mind is left to wander the openness of your surroundings. In the Yukon Territory, in northern Canada, you can take this feeling a step further with remote wilderness backpacking trips. Through unique trips built exclusively for its clients, Terre Boréale leads you on an adventure of a lifetime. “Across the Ogilvie Mountains” is one of the most remote trips Terre Boréale has in store.
Located in the heart of the Ogilvie Mountains, we reach the starting point of the itinerary with a 25-minute floatplane ride over the Yukon Plateau. We unload the plane and let the pilot go on with his day. At that precise moment, it seems time stops. As the sound of the engine bounces off the mountains around us and finally vanishes, we are left there on the shore of a small lake, left alone with only the gear we can carry. The valley is quiet. Everything around us is still and peaceful. We experience a striking feeling of freedom, being so small in the vastness of the land around us.
On the other side of the mountain range is the Dempster Highway, an unpaved 737-kilometre road linking the town of Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to the rest of Canada. It will take us seven days of hiking across the mountains to reach the highway.
And so the adventure begins!
Even though the Nacho Nyak Dun and Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nations people have been living here for thousands of years, there are no trails in the area. Using our knowledge of these mountains, supported by paper maps and compass, we make our way safely across the range. Choosing the easiest path, we hike above 1,300 metres in altitude whenever possible to avoid the willows and dwarf birch which tend to slow us down.
Each day, on our way to the next camp, we hike over a mountain pass, almost reaching the altitude of 2,000 metres. From up there, the sweeping views of the Ogilvie Mountains are stunning. As far as the eye can see, across mountain ranges and wilderness, there isn’t a single sign of human activity in sight! It’s like exploring the southern Alps in France before the industrial and pastoral times, more than 8,000 years ago. No shepherds, no roads, no villages… no one! We are experiencing a land without men.
It’s usually on day three that it hits you! That feeling of freedom from the first day is now combined with a deep sense of disconnection from civilization. Somehow, we now feel more in tune with the great wilderness around us. Hiking off-trail forces us to slow down, we move slowly across the land and we have time to soak in the views and to look for wildlife… and it pays off. We travel the land of the caribou, the grizzly bear, the moose and the wolf but seeing them is neither guaranteed nor easy. That’s why our binoculars travel along on our chests, ready for action. Caribou are usually staying high up in the mountain ridges, where the wind keeps the flies away. Moose are in lower elevations in the valleys where they feed on twigs and buds of shrubs. Experience has shown that other species can be seen anywhere at any time. In 2018, as we were hiking down a valley in a rainy morning, we heard a peregrine falcon calling and we saw it diving repeatedly at something sitting on the ridge above us: a lynx! We would never have expected to see this animal so high up, so far from the habitat of the snowshoe hare, its primary prey, sitting on the rocky ridge in the rain just like a cat on a couch in a warm house.
During another trip, in 2019, we were observing a grizzly bear down in a bushy valley. The bear was at a safe distance but moving towards us very slowly. We yelled to make it aware of our presence. The beautiful blonde animal looked at us, sniffed the air a couple of times and went on with his berry feast. We watched it for a while, passing down the binoculars for everyone to enjoy the moment and eventually it disappeared behind one of the few spruce trees in the area and we lost sight of it. To our great amazement, a white wolf trotted out from behind the tree! The bear came out as well but went in the opposite direction. Both were moving peacefully across the land. The bear stopped to scratch its back on another lone tree, standing up on its hind legs and shaking that tree like a toothpick. The wolf was moving up the valley slope and we could now see it well and appreciate its majestic size. It was a king patrolling his land!
The beauty of this land does not stop at sunset. The alarm goes off at 2:00 a.m. Even with the full moon shining bright behind the ridge to the south, the stars are thousands and the aurora borealis is visible right above us! I jump in my boots, throw my jacket on and wake my fellow hikers up. What a show! At these latitudes, we are right underneath the aurora oval (the area on earth where the Northern Lights shine) so the greens and purples are visible from east to west, dancing in the sky. Our necks hurt from twisting and turning, trying to grasp the entirety of the spectacular light display happening above us.
No one comes out of an experience like this unchanged. The peace of the land leaves us with more serenity, with a deeper love for nature and an ever-growing urge to protect our wilderness for generations to come!
More than 100 years ago, in 1907, in his poem The Spell of the Yukon, Robert Service writes:
“It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”
Created in 2013, Terre Boréale specializes in high quality wilderness trips for intimate groups (max. 6 clients per group) in the Yukon. We have a large selection of backpacking adventures for all levels in many different areas of the territory as well as canoe trips down the mighty Yukon River.
In an effort to minimize our impact we've followed zero waste guidelines since 2018. We make our own fabric food bags instead of using Ziploc bags, we buy our food in bulk using reusable bags whenever possible, etc. The results? Less than one cup of trash at the end of a nine-day backpacking trip with eight people (six clients and two guides) in summer 2019!
Food has always been very important to us. That is why we cook and dehydrate all foods (breakfast, lunch, diner, dessert and snacks) for our backpacking trips at home using as many local and organic ingredients as possible. The same idea goes for our canoe trips, where we cook all meals on the open flames using fresh, local produce whenever possible (which is almost at every meal!).
You can find out more about our environmental commitment on our website.