As I go through my disjointed notes from our winter trekking expedition to the Missinaibi Headwaters of Northern Ontario, Canada, I had to laugh at some of my sentences. “What did I get myself into?” “Why would anyone want to do this?” “Who in their right mind says -26 is a good day?”
I always love writing notes at the moment because it helps give perspective when you go back to write your articles.
Expeditions are Glamorous
As Paul Theroux stated, “Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” If I were to write an article simply from memory, I would talk about how beautiful it was, how many laughs we had, and how everyone should go on an 11-day winter camping trip. Luckily, I took notes.
I remember reading mountain climber, Dave Braeshears’ book ‘High Exposure’ about his life and times climbing Mount Everest. One paragraph stuck with me when he talked about how Everest always sounded like a great idea when he was sitting by the fire at home sipping wine.
When he was home safe and sound he’d say, (I’m paraphrasing, but I remember it something like this:) “I think I’ll do Everest again next year” Then while on the expedition he always says to his teammates “remind me never to do this again’ And yet he did, again and again. Eight times to be exact.
Dave Braeshears made it to the summit of Everest five of his eight attempts.
How Quickly We Forget
As I sit here in the warmth of Australia, I remember our expedition with fondness. It wasn’t so bad. It was actually a lot of fun and I would definitely do it again.
I forget just how cold I was, how I dreaded strapping on my snowshoes to stamp out a spot to go to the toilet, and how exhausted I was hoisting sleds up steep hills and over fallen trees.
It reminds me of the time we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. As we closed in on the summit, our legs felt like rubber.
We were dizzy with fatigue and each breath was a monumental achievement. As we trudge on to that final push we said to each other, “Let’s never do this again ok?”
But by the time we reached the summit and made our way back down to the lush rainforest at the base of the mountain, we were already planning our next epic climb, which ended up being a trek to Mount Everest Base Camp a year later.
When I think back to Kilimanjaro now, I tell people, “It wasn’t so bad, you can do it no problem.”
Even though these expeditions are trips of a lifetime and are life-changing experiences, we think it is important to let you know what you are getting yourself into. They are not for everyone. Even those of us who seek out challenging experiences have difficult times while in the moment.
But for some reason, there are certain people out there who thrive on suffering. Or should I say, pushing ourselves to the limits and seeing what we can accomplish?
As our cameraman on Lure of the North Dave Hartman said, “It’s treks like these that make you ride a high for several months afterward.”
The Lure of the North
Our days during our Lure of the North Expedition to the Missinaibi Headwaters were difficult. We trekked for 8 hours a day and set up and tore down camp for another 5 1/2 to 6 hours. (3 in the morning, 3 in the evening)
After we ate our dinner, we settled into our sleeping bags and drifted immediately off to sleep.
We prayed that we didn’t have to wake up in the middle of the night to pee because going outside was an ordeal. It was way below zero, we had to put our snowshoes on to go anywhere and we had to expose our bare bottoms to the icy chill. I held my bladder until it nearly burst.
Luckily we were always snug and warm in our large canvas tent heated by a woodstove stoked every three hours by one of our guides and owners, Dave or Kielyn Marrone.
I remember watching them go in and out of the tent in their shorts and I wondered how they could possibly bear it?
During the day, we pulled our sleds over frozen lakes and rivers and through difficult portages connecting said lakes and rivers.
The portages are meant for canoes in the summer time on well packed trails. Pulling sleds through in the winter while wearing slippery moccasins and snowshoes was a whole other ball game. We fell in the snow, slipped down the hill, and stepped out of our snowshoes.
It was difficult and frustrating. We worked up a sweat even though it was -20 or lower. We had to strip down to our base layers immediately because if the sweat formed and you stopped, you instantly became freezing.
I would walk with a light shirt on each day as my sweat turned to ice crystals on my back, in my hair, and on my face.
It was an uncomfortable feeling to be extremely hot, yet very cold at the same time. As soon as we stopped, I threw on my parka and sat in silence as we ate our snacks and sipped some tea.
I hated stopping. It was cold and uncomfortable.
I would have preferred to keep walking straight to camp. But that would end up making me ill and too fatigued to move on.
Falling through Ice
Before The Lure of the North, we were worried about walking on ice. I remember hearing of guys from neighbouring towns in high school dying in snowmobile accidents when falling through ice, and that always stuck with me.
I was terrified of falling through and being trapped under the ice while experiencing a horrific death. I know what you’re thinking? ‘Then why would you go on a trek that spends 11 days walking over frozen lakes and rivers?’
Well, like everything we do, we always make sure that we go with qualified professionals who have experience and skills to keep us safe.
As it turned out, there were 4 punch through and 1 break through during our expedition. Deb was the first to go through the ice when trying to take a photo of me stepping over a transition area.
We knew this area was unstable as where the lake meets the shore is the thinnest ice of all. (You are safer walking right down the centre of a frozen lake than close to shore.) Luckily it was only a foot that went through. So her first punch through was quite uneventful.
There was another time where we all went over a transition area already except for Dave Marrone and myself. It seemed routine, but as I started walking towards the rest of the group, my leg was hip deep in water.
Tip: When falling through ice throw your body back on to the ice you came from. The ice ahead of you is weaker, but the ice behind you is good because you were just walking on it. If you remain calm and get back on to good ice, you will be fine. Lakes and creeks don’t have rushing water to worry about.
Once Kielyn fell right in up to her waist. I was walking behind her with my head down. I didn’t even notice until I heard Marrone behind me say, “Are you alright Kielyn?” I looked up to see her crawling out of the ice.
They knew the ice was vulnerable here, and Kielyn was walking ahead with her pole to check for thin ice, she found it alright! But her skill and training had her turn around to good ice and climb back out.
It turned out that punching through ice isn’t as scary as we thought. Dave and Kielyn led the way checking ice with their poles listening for hollow sounds.
They would tell us which line to follow and we listened. I don’t think we would have or could have walked these frozen waters ourselves, but with them in the lead, they kept us safe.
And to answer your question, ‘Why do we do epic treks like this?”
We go on adventures that scare us and challenge us to learn about ourselves. We learn new skills and overcome our fears. We find out in the end that things aren’t quite as scary as we thought.
As human beings, we always tend to over analyze things and dwell on our fears. Many people give in to their fears and never end up challenging themselves at all. They think and talk themselves out of a great adventure! We don’t want to be those people. Yes, we vocalize our fears, whine and complain to each other and ask ourselves why are we doing this? But in the end, we do it.
We push through and come out better people. I think that taking on these epic challenges makes you a better person. You are alone with your thoughts day after day. You see yourself clearly and understand your limits. You surprise yourself with your strength and discover what you are capable of.
If you give it a try, you may just find, that you are capable of a lot more than you thought.
The Lure of the North is located in Sudbury Ontario and they run Traditional Winter Camping Expeditions all winter long ranging from 3-day introductory courses to full on 11-day epic adventures. In the summer you can take courses with them to make your own moccasins and traditional winter camping gear. Flights to Sudbury leave daily on Porter Airlines from Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto. Video by Hayfire Media
Taking on the Canadian Arctic Headwaters, Our Greatest Challenge Yet!
Winter Is Coming, Prepare for Lure of the North
Putting the E in Epic Adventure
39 thoughts on “Expeditions are Glamorous in Retrospect”
Wow, this is awesome. really amazing adventures
Exhaustion and fatigue were all I could think of as I read your blog. So well written and such amazing pictures. I am so motivated to put myself on one of such expeditions but do not know how am I going to work around the snow and fatigue. Maybe for that feeling of accomplishment!
Wow, this is awesome… really glamorous adventures…
thanks for the retrospect article…
I’m in the Northeast right now, and I feel like I might as well be in your beautiful pictures!
what a travel! really reading your travel blog is like getting an exact review about that place. Good work.
Exhilarating view of Snow, Loved IT
Well organized and well captured photos. I like your album for its series of pictures that is telling the whole story itself.
Those photos of the sunset are stunning! I think it is because travel is sometimes tough, that it ends up so memorable, even though we forget the tough parts. If it were all easy all the time, the high points wouldn't be memorable.
It does look like it wouldn’t have been glamorous at all at the time, but it does also look amazing and unforgettable. I guess we have to take the good with the bad with everything in life 🙂
Very true, we always forget the difficult moments in all aspects of life. The human mind has an amazing way of turning tough moments into amazing memories. But it’s the things that you have to work hard for that are worth remembering.
I totally relate to your thoughts here – the pain goes away and gets replaced by happy memories as we push to do more and more. But OMG I can’t imagine falling through the ice!
So true, it’s like that with all things in life eh? We laugh about the hard stuff after the fact, but during it we’re cursing! I was totally afraid of falling through before this expedition, but once I started to understand it and see that it’s possible to rescue yourself, I relaxed. I think it would be different on a snowmobile or in a truck (we hear about that all the time with ice fishers up here) but walking feels safer because chances are you aren’t going to fall right through.
Beautiful photos! I love the frost on your eyelashes! lol
Thanks! I’m glad I thought to take that photo. A lot of times when we’re in the middle of a trek, I forget to take shots of moments like that.
It's so true, hikes and expeditions always seem glamorous in retrospect, but when you're actually doing it it can be extremely challenging and difficult to keep yourself going! Photos always tell a different story at the end… haha. It looks like you've been on an incredible expedition, really amazing.
Haha! Exactly! When we look back on our EBC and Africa cycling trek, the pictures show us with smiling faces in beautiful landscapes. We forget how much we suffered. And we always forget everything as soon as we reach the summit or come to the finish line. I think we are made to rejoice in our accomplishments and discard the memories of the discomforts along the way:-)
The trips we’ve enjoyed are remembered with the greatest fondness while the one’s we’d soon forget are looked back on in utter disdain.
I don’t really understand your quote? I take it you are saying the challenging ones make you look back with distain? Bummer, I hope not!
Hats off to you – even looking at some of the pictures of the snow and seeing the biting cold (almost literally) is scary. But, I must admit, it does make me want to experience it too, even if it means freezing on a “good day with only -26” (lol).
I can’t imagine how you must have felt when your foot went into the water – not sure if either Savi or I would have managed to stay calm had it happened to one of us. Well done. I guess that’s what (staying calm) you learn from such experiences, right?
You definitely have an adventurous spirit too! I love how some people read about a challenge that sounds crazy and then say ‘I want to do that!’ That is exactly how we think too. The more nuts it looks, the more we want to give it a try. You hit the nail on the head, about going through the ice, with experience and knowledge, the fear goes away.
What an exciting trip! I can see how looking back at it would be much more pleasant. 🙂 I loved all of the photos. My favorite is the one of the ice accumulating on your face. Burrrrrrr! Glad you survived!
Thanks Mary. Yes, looking back it is very pleasant. All the tough times immediately melted away as soon as we reached the train tracks. That’s what it’s like though whenever we push ourselves. Always tough in the moment, always amazing afterwards!
Perfect, “You surprise yourself with your strength and discover what you are capable of. If you give it a try, you may just find, that you are capable of a lot more than you thought.”
Thanks Maria. sometimes we are completely amazed that we make it through things. But each time we do, we gain a little strength to help make things easier next time.
What an incredible expedition. Definitely glamorous in retrospect but no doubt an adventure you’ll remember for a lifetime. I really admire that you both push yourselves beyond your comfort zone the way that you do.
Thanks Jennifer, it was definitely epic. We find that we think this way a lot during our travels. Everyone thinks travel is glamorous all the time, but there are always situations that take you out of your comfort zone. It was when we first travelled Asia in 2000 that we had so many crazy experiences that we were terrified of at the time, but when we got home, it was those crazy moments that we talked most fondly of and what ignited our passion in travel.
Love the sunset picture! Great travel photos all around 🙂
Thank you! There were some great opportunities for beautiful photos on this expedition.
I totally get this! Chris and I were the same way when we climbed Kilimanjaro. Looking back, I remember the feeling of accomplishment when reaching the summit and also the crawl to the top that was so grueling. Would I do it again? Probably. Your trip across the ice looked incredible. Glad you two were able to discover how capable and strong you are! Spoiler alert: We already knew you were. 🙂
You are so right. In the moment you ask yourself why? but immediately afterwards all you think about is what you accomplished. There’s a feeling of happiness that you rarely get unless you have accomplished something extraordinary. I remember feeling a bit emotional when we summited our first mountain (Kinabalu in Malaysia) years ago. I loved that feeling and I think that is something that Dave and I and people like you seek out.
Our adventure was a 4 night hike on the Milford Track on the South Island of New Zealand—a baby adventure compared to this.
I’ve heard the Milford Track is pretty epic! We didn’t have enough time when we were there, but I would have loved to have done that. We did get a chance to do the Tongariro Crossing at least, but a 4 or 5 day trek in New Zealand would have been amazing!
I love your adventure and would love to do something like this myself in the future… scary to fall through ice though!
Glad you had such a great time and love your pictures!
Hi Sebastian! We thought it would be really scary. I have to admit, I didn’t sleep well leading up to it because of my fear of ice, but when we punched through, I wasn’t too worried. Kielyn and Dave were very skilled and gave us the information need to understand what to do when something happens. Ice is unpredictable and anything can happen like in a lot of adventures, but if you are armed with knowledge you will be ok.
What an adventure!! I love doing things that challenge me, and that I may not love while doing, but that I can look back on with awe and pride. This looks like just one of those trips. Congratulations on finishing and bringing back such great pictures!!
You said it. Like anything that is worth doing, it can be difficult in the moment, but afterwards, it feels amazing. Success in business, working out, losing weight and going on an adventure. It’s all tough and hard, but the rewards are ten fold and that’s how we feel about doing something epic. Great that you are living a life that keeps you challenged too! And thanks for the comment on the photos 🙂
Even I think travel is glamorous in retrospect. But, at the same time, I also think that after you have experienced the tough part, you actually know the bright side of it! I remember when I rode on a camel in the heat of the day, it was not at all pleasurable, but what I learnt through it and what I could share with people is valuable.
I think many of us do. We all go on our vacations and when we come home, we block out the problems. The not so up to par rooms, the difficult overland bus travels, the lines at security. Travel has it’s own challenges, but it’s the amazing experiences that we have that make you forget the little frustrations and focus on the memories. That’s what an adventure is too. Sure, it’s difficult but after the fact, you remember all the good things and the tough challenges eventually drift away.