Into Lake Athabasca

Into Lake Athabasca

Dispatch by Paul Auerbach
Photo by Jimmy Martinello

We were up and at it early. After a hearty breakfast we did some final gear checks and headed to the airport for our flight from Fort McMurray up to Fort Chipewyan.

As the single engine Caravan made its way up to 15,000 feet the forest below us unfurled in an alternating quilt of dark green spruce and lighter green poplars.

Renelle Marcel, who runs a daycare in Fort Chipewyan, showed me a picture of a black bear in her backyard, scampering away. She asked what we had with us to deal with bears. She already found the idea of stand-up paddleboards perplexing, given the ready availability of canoes in the north, and when I mentioned bear spray she just laughed.

Wood Buffalo Gear Prep
Fixing our gear to our SUPs

After our rendezvous with Queenie, of Parks Canada, we loaded the gear on the fully inflated boards and pushed off into Lake Athabasca. The wind out of the west was producing some chop and getting used to the boards with the heavy loads took a lot of concentration. But before long we turned the corner and headed up the Rivière des Rochers, with a brilliant blue sky ahead and the wind at our backs. 

Wood Buffalo SUP
Paddling the incredible waters of the Athabasca

We're armed with a lot of local knowledge thanks to the folks in Fort Chip and the conditions are just right for a fantastic paddle.

As we pulled off the river about three hours later, the sun was getting low in the sky, but there was still plenty of light to set up our tents and settle in with a pale and full moon to the south.

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