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The Source Runs North – Tracking Progress Of An Epic 2,800 Mile Canoe Trip

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We’re following the journey of six young men as they canoe across Canada, 2,800 miles to the Arctic Ocean. They’re calling the expedition, “The Source Runs North“.

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They will be documenting their endeavor, showcasing the natural beauty of Canada alongside the challenges they encounter, incorporating a historical account of the local history of the region as well as the routes of expeditions past. They aim to highlight the rewarding nature of demanding wilderness tripping and to encourage everyone to get outside and enjoy what their local wilderness has to offer.

Journey Updates

Departing early May 2019 – Stay tuned!

April 22, 2019 – Heading to the starting point. Waiting for thawing.

May 9, 2019 – Day 1:

Today was day one for the men of The Source Runs North. They left from Camp Kooch-i-Ching earlier today, but not before a quick stop at The Coffee Landing in International Falls. After that, they paddled fifty miles– not a bad start. Zach Schiller and I spoke on the phone for a few minutes about their first day. He mentioned that they battled a few headwinds in the morning, but then had great weather the rest of the day. They are all in “great spirits” and sound thrilled to be on the water.

May 10, 2019 – Day 2:

Good news from our crew up north– after clearing Rainy River, the guys are now into The Lake of the Woods after another big day of paddling. According to Zach, they paddled about 49 miles today. They are trying to pack in some big days prior to Lake Winnipeg, which could present challenges when it comes to weather.

In both conversations, it was mentioned that they are “astonished” by how much food they have. The pemmican sounds like it is supplying much-needed energy throughout the day.

May 12 – Day 4:

It’s been a busy two days for our guys in the North Woods. They have officially cleared the Lake of the Woods. Zach sounded thrilled to have gotten through this section of paddling. Yesterday, while paddling Lake of the Woods, they had tremendous tailwinds out of the south and sailed for ten miles. Today, they woke up early in the morning and paddled to the town of Kenora. They will camp in Kenora and plan on progressing towards the Winnipeg River tomorrow.

May 13 – Day 5:
A few quick updates on the stellar progress the Source boys have been making. They are camped just before the Winnipeg River on a set of rapids, which leads to a dam. Tomorrow morning they are planning on a 4:30 a.m. wake-up to line down the rapids carefully. Then, they will portage around the dam to continue their way down the Winnipeg River. According to Zach’s report, this is a gorgeous river. They are clearly working effectively as a group and are making the most of the momentum they have during these early days of the trip.

Last night, I received an excellent voicemail from Zach expanding on some of the sights they have been encountering. They are still seeing some ice and snow on the lakes, but assure me they are staying warm. Zach has a new-found love for pelicans, as they are “everywhere.”

Finally, a quick story about a kind soul in Kenora. After deciding to camp for the night in Kenora on Sunday evening, the boys set up their tents in a local park. A stranger came by, who they would come to know as Dan. Quinn and Dan struck up a conversation and Quinn mentioned that he was a little sore from paddling. Dan was so intrigued by their journey that he offered them to stay at his cabin for the evening. “We didn’t take him up on that,” said Zach. After having a brief conversation, Dan left for about fifteen minutes only to come back with a bag of ice for Quinn. Kindness prevails.

May 15 – Day 7:

The boys are currently on the Sharkeys Channel. According to Zach, they are still making miles but have battled pretty poor weather in the past two days. Rain and roaring headwinds made Tuesday very difficult. However, they continue to push on and keep paddling through it all. Zach is optimistic that they will make it to the mouth of Lake Winnipeg tomorrow. 

Last night was the best campsite they have had since starting the trip. If you have ever been on a canoe trip with Kooch boys, you know that they love a flat, wide campsite. Zach said, “You could drive a golf ball down the grassy section of this campsite.” 

May 16 – Day 8:

Zach just gave me phone call with a brief update on their day today. They woke up at 4:30 a.m. and got on the water around 6:00 a.m.. He said that this is really becoming a trend– waking up early and taking their time to get on the water. Today the first challenge was making their way down the river to find a dam that they had to portage. The portage ended up being about half of a mile. With the weight of their food this early in the trip, it made for a pretty difficult way to start the day. Nevertheless, they made it through and continued forward.

It sounds like the guys have had a number of opportunities to share the news of their journey with people they have met along the way. Today, the Source boys met Joel. They stopped to make lunch only to find that they were on someone’s property. Joel came down to ask the group why they were on his property. “What are you doing here?” he asked. When they told him that they were just stopping through to make lunch and go on their way to paddle 2,800 miles, Joel was in disbelief. A once skeptical Joel soon became an ecstatic Joel. He could not believe it. It was a highlight for the boys today.

Our guys are currently camped at Lac Du Bonnet. They did not make it as far as they wanted to due to more headwinds in the evening. After trying to push through them for some time, the boys decided to make camp on the bank in an effort to conserve energy. Zach mentioned that they are, in effect, windbound at this moment. Lake Winnipeg will soon be the next big challenge. The plan is the same as always: wake up at 4:30 a.m., eat breakfast, and push on.

May 18 – Day 10:

The boys made it to Lake Winnipeg yesterday. On the phone, Zach said it was quite daunting to look out onto the endless horizon. The winds, since arriving on the lake, have been quite intense. It is not unusual for them to be paddling with little to no wind, then have to pull over due to large rollers being stirred up by a headwind. Due to how shallow Lake Winnipeg is, wind can churn up waves quite easily. Our guys are taking their time and not risking anything. Today they made the decision to stop at 3:30 due to high winds. According to Zach, they are at a beautiful campsite this evening out on a rocky point. They will turn in early tonight.

The boys are going to try something new for tomorrow morning: they will be waking up at 2:00 a.m., wearing their headlamps, and paddling along the shoreline. This isn’t ideal, but the guys are looking to get ahead of the wind.

May 22 – Day 14:

From Source Runs North Communications Contact:

I heard from the boys via a text from their SPOT Locator. Here is the conversation:

12:56 p.m., Wednesday
“ice blocking path NW-ward. Send weather For next 4 days…we are stuck here for now”

I responded saying that I would get them updates on the weather, then they came back with this:

3:30 p.m., Wednesday
“just wind direction and speed”

I responded with the wind direction and speed for the next few days. They didn’t respond. So I texted them with this:

“Keep me posted and let me know if you need more info.”

They have a limited number of texts for each month for their SPOT Locator. Based on my access to the SPOT Locator account, it appears that they are starting their second day on Nut Island.

May 26 – Day 18:

We were just informed that the boys have moved on from Nut Island– a tiny little island on Lake Winnipeg. As you may recall, they were stuck there for a few days due to ice blocking their path. It appears they have moved a few clicks west to a bigger island in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. Perhaps a quick lunch stop? It is still early in the day so time will tell. I haven’t heard from the guys since Wednesday, but will let you know if I hear anything in the coming days. Nevertheless, this is great news.

Day 24 – Cedar Lake (journal entry)

“At 12 a.m. I sat awake in my bag. The air was clam. All of a sudden, a huge gust of wind broke the still of the night. Every hour from 2:30 to 7:30 a.m. I set an alarm to wake and listen to the wind and the waves. They crashed on & on. At 7:30 we made coffee & broke camp to try to make the final push to Grand Rapids, the end of Lake Winnipeg. The waves were large, but manageable & we turned off the lake after a good stretch. Spirits were high as we reached a dam. We started up an ATV trail before happening on a road. We decided to stop and ask a driver for help. They gave us a ride 2.5 miles down a road to the other side of the dam, Cedar Lake. We made some good distance, pushing hard to make the Pas in 3 days to meet Buck. So far it looks possible. Wind dependent. It’s great to have Winnipeg behind us with a new challenge. Hitting it hard again tomorrow.”

June 2 – Day 25:

I am proud to let you all know that the boys have cleared Lake Winnipeg. For a number of the guys, Lake Winnipeg was the most feared part of the trip. They have passed through Grand Rapids at the end of the lake and into Cedar Lake. Zach sent me a text the other day while they were “wave bound” on the lake: “Lake Winnipeg is commanding, oppressively shallow, icy, beautiful, full of life– especially birds– and many-faced.”

Shortly after this text he sent another: “We’re currently wave bound, 5 foot rollers – have a nice fire going. High spirits.”

Last night, I had a phone call with them and asked them how they felt about being on the water for 22 days now. Zach said that none of them can yet believe it. This is the longest all of them have been out on trip. When asked about how they feel they are doing on time, Zach enthusiastically replied, “We are on schedule. We budgeted a few days for inclement weather on Winnipeg.” Finally, in the final few minutes of our conversation, I asked them if they wanted to relay any particular message to the wider community following their trip. They said, “We love you all.”

It appears they are now camped on Cedar Lake after a day of great progress.

June 7 – Day 30

Our boys made it to The Pas. This is their first resupply location and were met by John Knoll and Buck Knoll, who gave them all the materials needed to make the next leg of their trip successful. I spoke to Zach on the phone the other night. He had a gravely, tired voice. It was pretty evident that they had pushed hard to make the meet-up time with the Knoll’s. They all were excited to be in a hotel “sleeping on a real bed” for a night. A huge thank you to John and Buck Knoll for driving the re-supply materials to the SRN boys.

This first portion of the journey presented high winds, large wave, bitterly cold mornings, and oppressively large sheets of ice. Nevertheless, the guys pushed forward. I expressed how proud we all are of their progress and efforts.

June 16 – Day 39

The boys completed pulling their boats up the Sturgeon-Weir. I spoke with Zach on the phone yesterday and he mentioned that they had made yet another friend on their journey. This person generously fed them for the evening. As they ate, Zach told me about their time on the Sturgeon and said that it was pretty exhausting. For those of you who know the North Knife Kooch trip, the infamous pull up the Old Man river is two days in length. To pull up a river is very grueling, especially for four days. I think the boys are happy to have this portion of the trip over with. Nevertheless, Zach reported that spirits are high (as always) and they continue to make excellent progress. Our SPOT Locator placed the boys at Mirond Lake.

June 27 – Day 50

The guys have been on the Churchill River for ten days now. Bram said that it is a gorgeous river with big lakes between long stretches of river and “steep drops” that they are choosing to portage. The boys recently saw some pictographs on this river (I’m sure we will see some photos soon). As for weather, it has been pretty cloudy and rainy the past five days. Bram mentioned that this hasn’t dampened their spirits and they are continuing to do well. In an effort to keep group cohesion, they have been rotating tents and boats every few days. Nature sightings include black bears (three of them) and beautiful rapids. In addition, James Knoll caught the first fish of the trip just a few days ago.

July 10 – Day 63

The boys made it to Fort McMurray. This is the second resupply location. They were met by Steve Heinle, who drove 20+ hours from International Falls to give the boys their much-needed supplies for the next leg of their journey. A huge thank you to Steve for making the trip!

Recently, the boys completed a 12-mile portage called the Methye Portage. This portage was, at one point, one of the most important portages for fur traders in Canada. It is a well-worn, wide trail but its length is devastating. A few of the guys completed it prior to this trip on the Clearwater River trip as counselors or senior campers. The Methye, apart of the Clearwater River trip, is somewhat of a legend at Kooch-i-Ching among the senior age group. All who do this portage do not soon forget it. For anyone who has carried an 80+ pound canoe (or pack) knows that a portage can often feel double it’s actual length depending on the trail conditions and weather. The Source Runs North guys did this 12-miler in 1.5 days. This is very, very impressive.

July 12: Day 65

July 15: Day 68

From Zach Schiller: Just reached the Athabasca River. The water is very dirty from flooding so they are filtering drinking water very carefully. They got to this point a day and a half earlier than expected. The river is about 10 feet higher than normal due to flooding in the area. They’ll be heading toward the Slave River soon. The guys ran into a local paddling legend, Mike Ranta who has crossed North America several times. Mike was traveling with his dog and a friend. They had the good fortune of sharing dinner with their new acquaintances that evening.

July 19: Day 72

From Axel Lloyd: Made it to Slave Lake and traveling up to Yellow Knife where they will have their final re-supply stop before paddling up the Yellow Knife. Several more challenges lie ahead, but anticipation for the Arctic is growing as the destination gets closer.

July 22: Day 75

July 24th: Day 77

We were up at 3:30 AM – chocolaty oatmeal for breakfast.  The sun was starburst red. We paddled in between a few islands, sheltered from the wind.  As we rounded an island more densely covered with trees, we saw a baby moose and its mamma booking toward the shore. 

We made it to Wilson Island by lunch and climbed to the top of the tallest point to get a view of the crossing to Jackson Island.  There were a few whitecaps and the winds were blowing moderately so we opted to hold out until conditions improved. The group used that time to relax, recline, read and rest.  I found a plush spot nestled under a willowy bush and a mound of soft moose moss. The view of the lake was marvelous. The water is clear with a hint of emerald and rocks ranging from jagged to smooth dot the horizon.

Bram prepared delicious chocolate chip pancakes for us and asked me to rank them from 6 to 9.  They received a 9 from me.

By 1:30 PM, the winds had subsided and the way forward was clear.  We paddled a stretch to Jackson, passing a beautifully secluded beach on the north side that struck Quinn’s fancy – unfortunately, we had our eyes on the crossing to Caribou Island so we passed it to go ½ mile further down Jackson where the crossing distance is shortest.

Whitecaps filled the space between the two islands so we are now camped at Jackson at a unique spot where our tent sites are on top of a large hill with sweeping views of the lake.

Quinn made mashed potatoes and pemmican/sausage gravy for dinner – Que Rico!  Now at 5:00 PM we all head to bed in anticipation of our 2:00 AM wake-up. – Zach

July 25th: Day 78

Great Slave Lake, Burnt Island

This lake continues to inspire us all in a way I will never be able to explain.  It is definitely the most beautiful body of water I have ever had the pleasure to paddle.

We woke up around 7:00 AM to the sound of constant crashing waves against the Precambrian rock shore that marked our campsite.  The winds had continued all through the night, fueling our dreams with their white noise. We were wind-bound. 

We ate breakfast and over-caffeinated ourselves with two big pots full of coffee.  We all spent our time off alone, but together. Reading, laundry and writing filled the morning.  Just 4 miles north sat Caribou Islands, but they were just out of reach.

We ate pancakes for lunch and the winds died and the waves retracted into the depths of the knowing lake.  We struck camp and made it on the water before 2:00 PM.

For the next seven hours, we paddled across 27 miles of Great Slave Lake through dead still air and water.  The colors changed around us as clouds moved in and haze from a fire clogged the northern horizon. This was a paddle I will never forget.  We paddled to a northern wind as clouds threatened storm, camping around 9:00 PM on Burnt Island with a nice tent-site. – Bram

July 26th: Day 79

Unsure of the mileage we clocked today, as we all fled to our tents after dinner before I could consult Paul, who has a handy watch which tracks just that kind of thing.  I would guess we paddled around 20 miles, leaving ourselves just 15K south of Yellowknife. The rain has begun pattering above my tent as I write this. I’m glad we finished dinner as early as we did.

We awoke at 6:40 AM, sleeping in because of our late night and sleeping in further because it was raining when Paul’s breakfast alarm alerted him.  The sky and light were gray, the weather cool and the rocks slippery. We paddled in light rain until lunch, island-hopping our way up the northern shore.  The rain besieged us before we could even begin digesting our lunch. Paul and I were able to inspire the other lads that with courage, strength and calories, we could indeed paddle in the rain, and they reluctantly crawled from beneath the boughs of a small tree and we slipped and slid our way down the treacherous, wet rock and back into our boats.

The afternoon rain started bad and only got worse.  We paddled for 2.5 hours after lunch but at around 3:00 PM a northern wind blew in and we decided to call it a day.  Everyone was soaking wet and a few were shivering in their soggy clothes while erecting tents. 

Bram cooked up some scrumptious, hot ramen in his vestibule using the stove (clever guy) and we hit the tents before 5:00 PM.  It should be an early wake-up tomorrow as we try to beat the winds and reach Yellowknife.

This lake, while cold and uncomfortable today, is as epic a body of water as any I have ever paddled.  I can only hope the tundra can stir my soul as this lake has. With the red, rock islands and the boundless horizon – the lake seems to fall into the sky. The North is special.  This journey is special. These guys are remarkable. They impress me everyday, all in their own way. I cant’ wait to see what this final chapter holds for us. – Ax

August 7th: Day 91 (Update from Bram)

Paul, Axel, Bram, Quinn, James, and Zach are tired but holding up after an exhausting pull up the Yellow Knife. They are currently 10 Km from the top of the Yellow Knife River at the top of Hunter Lake. The trees are thinning out as they progress north through the Northwest Territories. It’s also increasingly colder but despite this bugs are plentiful. The past 10 days have been the hardest part of the trip as they expected. They are making good time but everyone is sore from pulling up the Yellow Knife River. 

From here, they are heading into barren lands to Point Lake. They’ll be in and out of water pothole coordinating for a week or so.

Weather has been cold and windy with scattered showers every day. Everyone is in good health and getting excited about progress.

Looking forward to some downstream canoeing once they get to Point Lake.

August 16th: Day 100 (Update from Paul)

Updates have been difficult to get through during the final stretch while the SRN guys are in some cold and barren lands up north. They have crossed six provinces and are now on the Coppermine River. The finish line is in sight. They report there is not much wildlife except moose, but the views are spectacular thought the terrain is barren. They are sore from the last stretch but in good spirits.

August 22nd: Day 106 (Update from Quinn)

The SRN guys are closing in on the prize. Their currently on the Coppermine River approximately 60 miles from the Arctic Ocean. It’s raining all day so they are hunkered down in an abandoned cabin. They used some old boards and tarp to firm up the shelter. It’s very cold and wet, but they’ve gotten used to it. The area is barren but gorgeous with a variety of color ranging from browns, reds, and yellows. The cliffs surrounding the river are amazing. White water on parts of the Coppermine have made it a bit challenging, however nobody has been dumped. The group is hungry but fit and happy. They’re enjoying lots of laughter and good conversations.

August 25th: Day 109 

Tired smiles! They made it to Kugluktuk at the delta of the Coppermine River! We’ll post additional follow ups about the trip as we have them available from the crew.