I have this memory of waking up to find that my father had moved all the furniture in the living room and had covered the floor in 1:50 000 maps from the Canadian Geological survey. Each crisp, grey and white, square had its corner held down with a rock or shell; treasures from past adventures helping the next one take shape. Whether those were maps for the Nahanni, the Mountain River or the Thelon Game Sanctuary I cannot remember but the source material for my bedtime stories was laid out before me.
As I learned to read maps I came to obsess over faint lines. Scratches that marked rapids in faded pencil, blotchy, blue triangles detailing a camp site visited in the rain and carefully taped creases in maps passed from one explorer to the next. Underneath it all were the contour lines. Seeing them stacked close together would illicit dreams of canyon walls or a plunging rapid. Something was there that I knew I had to see.
In the maps of the Nahanni River, the Cirque of the Unclimbables always stood out, with names like Mount Sir James McBrian, Crescent Peak and Mount Harrison Smith. Peaks that we are fortunate to be able to visit each summer. Other standouts were the canyon systems. Kingdoms of towering stone so impossibly shear that counting the contour lines became difficult. Each bend of the river would play itself out on paper showing the history of the canyons. The routes the river had chosen millennia ago and reroutes found by the unrelenting flow creating a playground for adventurers.
As my experience in the North grew so too did my collection of maps. When walking caribou trails in the alpine meadows dotted with small lakes, sitting quietly on ridges watching grizzly bears digging roots or drifting along watching ravens playing in the currents swirling above there was always a map close at hand. Years later there is still no substitute for a map, outlining the day’s journey over coffee is what sets the stage for each day on the water, and now I too push my furniture to the side to make space for dreams.
We are now selling essential topographic maps for the South Nahanni, Broken Skull, Mountain, Coppermine and Thelon Rivers!