The gear you need for an epic month-long canoe trip... and how to follow the Sa Tu Expedition for daily updates
On July 12th, Dave Greene and I shoved off the shores of the Athabasca River in Fort McMurray and headed north on a grand canoeing circuit of northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The name of our journey is the Sa Tu Expedition. 'Sa Tu' means 'Sun Water' in the Indigenous Denesuline language, and like the Earth orbits the sun, we'll paddle a 1,320-kilometre circle around the region. Along the way we'll link up the Athabasca River, Athabasca Lake, Cree River and Clearwater River, returning eventually to our starting point about a month later.
The trip promises everything: big lakes, upstream grinding, bushwhack portages and exhilarating whitewater. As well, by starting in the industrial heartland of Alberta, we'll begin and end in the one of the many contrasting landscapes that border our great tracts of boreal wilderness.
Logistics-wise, the journey will be simple: two people, one canoe, start and finish at the same point. This is the most efficient way to travel through the wilderness as there isn't the push-and-pull of two or three or more canoes, where inevitably a disparity in pace or ability between canoes slows the journey into spurts and stutters. What you want is a nice, smooth and steady rhythm—absorbing yourself into the land and water—rather than rubber necking around for the slow canoe or trying to sprint to catch up to the fast one.
My choice for this singular canoe is the ultimate wilderness tripping machine: the Esquif Prospecteur 17. It is fast on flat water, nimble in whitewater and will take an endless beating being hammered on rocks or dragged through a dense wall of black spruce. If you want a worry-free, high-performance canoe that you don't have to baby or massage through the landscape, this is the one.
To complete the canoe system, I'll have a North Water Spray Deck installed. It keeps you dry when pounding through whitewater and on wavy lake crossings, as well as keeping you cozy on those long, cold, wet days. Additionally, it makes your boat far more streamlined when battling headwinds.
In the canoe I wear a Kokatat Maximus PFD, matched up on those hot summer days with a pair of Kokatat Dewerstone Life Shorts—as quick-drying, comfy and cool-looking a pair of water shorts as you'll ever own. On cold days in whitewater or dragging through upstream rock gardens I throw on the Kokatat NeoZip Long John. Not only does it keep you warm, it also pads your shins from banging into rocks while lining, and you don't have to worry about abrasion leaks and rips like with a dry pant.
To power the canoe, I use Grey Owl bent shaft Touring paddles 90 per cent of the time to efficiently propel the canoe with the least amount of effort while still being able to withstand banging off rocks here and there when paddling up eddies. Once the river begins to roar and indicates a rapid ahead, we'll switch over to the Grey Owl Hammerhead paddles which will powerfully maneuver the canoe through whitewater rapids and endure the violent beating of the rocks beneath the surface.
Ah, and then there's camp... time to rest and recharge... to eat and watch the sunset, maybe catch a fish or two if we feel like it. Did I mention eating? After a long day on the water, the last thing I want to do is fuss with dinner prep... but I still want to eat well. I'll be diving into hearty Happy Yak freeze dried meals, with a delicious gourmet assortment including Shrimp Curry with Rice, Cheese and Mushroom Risotto and Chicken Blanquette and Egg Noodles. Ooh la la!
I'll fire up these meals on my always-reliable MSR Whisperlite International Stove... it runs on naphtha which you can resupply in any remote community if need be, and can be easily maintained and repaired so it'll keep on chugging. The one I own has been going strong for 15 years now.
Just before the inevitable scourge of mosquito hordes descend on us at dusk, we'll escape into our MSR Remote tent, slip into our airy light and warm Thermarest Parsec sleeping bags, and settle into our comfortable and packable Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm mattress. You'll never want to sleep in your bed at home again!
So there you are... you're all set for your own canoe adventure with the best tools for the job. Now all that's left is to move forward through space and time and immerse yourselves in nature's splendour... with a little tailings pond viewing mixed in along the way for contrast if you please.
I'll be doing a daily haiku that captures the essence or a moment of the day throughout the journey on a live tracking map. So please follow along starting to join the adventure at share.garmin.com/SaTuExpedition.