One heck of a portage

Four Minnesota men are trying to canoe from the Yukon, all the way to Hudson Bay this summer. "I'd say the underlying point is just the adventure of it," said Matt Harren.

Four Minnesota men are trying to canoe from the Yukon, all the way to Hudson Bay this summer.

“I’d say the underlying point is just the adventure of it,” said Matt Harren, who is making the trek along with his friends Steve Keaveny, Winchell Delano and Pete Marshall.

Though they are all experienced canoeists – hailing from “the land of 10,000 lakes”- this 4,000-kilometre voyage is going to be a challenge for them, said Harren.

The quartet started their journey on May 8, after getting off the ferry in Skagway. From there they traveled through the Chilkoot Pass and put in at Lake Bennett.

They’re currently paddling against the current, up the Pelly River, on their way to Faro. They plan to arrive at Chesterfield Inlet on Hudson Bay by mid-September.

No one in the group is a stranger to long canoe trips, but at four months, this trip will be the longest any of them have ever done, said Harren.

Their passion for paddling was sparked by a program they all went through in high school.

“It was a program started by our biology teacher,” said Harren. “A month-long canoe trip up near lake Winnipeg.”

As adults, all worked as guides for a wilderness therapy outfit.

“Basically parents will send their kids out in the wilderness with guides to try and help them learn to cope with things better,” said Harren. “Some of these kids have trouble with anger or depression or drug use. They try to use those things to cope, so we try to teach them a better way to handle the problems and stresses of their lives.”

With all their combined experience, Harren said they are ready for almost anything, including polar bears.

“We have no intention of being unprepared,” he said. “We are very aware of the risk that those hungry bears pose, especially the season that were going to be there.”

Traveling across the North from west to east isn’t the normal direction of travel.

“As far as we know, no one has attempted this specific route so we thought, it’s calling our name, let’s see what we can do,” he said.

There’s probably a good reason that no one has done it before.

Three of the rivers, the Pelly, the Ross and Mackenzie, flow in the opposite direction.

“It’s about 450 miles all together against the current,” said Harren. “We’ll paddle when we can and drag them when we have to.”

They at least have the equipment for it.

“One of our companies, Kokatat, who is sponsoring us, gave highly discounted dry suits, which will be invaluable to us,” said Harren. “We can pretty much walk in the water and be bone dry for the entire day.”

You can track the group’s progress on their website,, thanks to a SPOT GPS locator.

“We’re giving as much information that we can give people,” said Harren. “Plus our parents are dying for information. They’re checking the SPOT everyday.”

Harren is also filming the expedition with the hope of producing a documentary about their adventure.

Friends and family have offered financial and moral support. So have people they’ve met along the way.

“The people that we met are just so excited and so helpful towards our goal,” said Harren. “It’s been astounding for us.”

They were especially impressed with the hospitality they received at Tagish’s Six Mile River Resort.

“We were expecting a Pinto and we got a Rolls Royce,” said Harren. “We’re really thankful for the support we’ve been shown up here.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

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