AMC Outdoors, March 2001
By Michael Lanza
When Cliff Jacobson talks about expedition canoeing, he’s not talking about places like Maine’s Allagash or Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Those “are beautiful places,” he readily acknowledges, “but you can be out [to civilization] in a day and often have cell phone communication. That’s not expedition canoeing.”
Jacobson’s definition? “Expedition canoeing is going on a canoe trip beyond the beaten path, where help may be an airplane ride away. You’re dependent on your own resources.”
“If you’re serious about it, you’re going to Canada or Alaska. There’s not much of it in the [contiguous] United States. We’re not talking major whitewater descents; we’re talking about awesome remoteness where you’re totally on your own, and generally more than three or four days’ paddle from any sign of help or civilization,” he says.
Many such rivers are north of the continental treeline, on tundra or “barren lands.” While virtually every navigable river in even these remote lands has been canoed, visitors are extremely rare and spaces are big, big, big.
“Expedition canoeing often will include a lot of variables that you don’t have in many local areas, like difficult rapids with no [easy] way around them, maps that may have been updated 20 years ago and are oftentimes inaccurate, and unmarked trails,” Jacobson says.
In the far North, “there are no people, no advice, no paths.”
—Michael Lanza is author of The Ultimate Guide to Backcountry Travel, from AMC Books.