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Across the Rocky Mountains in a Birchbark Canoe

by Robert Twigger | Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Spend enough time in a wild area, and the law of averages dictates that a wild adventure will take place. With that in mind, Robert Twigger, recovered from searching for the world’s longest snake and training with the brutal Tokyo Riot Police for earlier books, sets out to retrace the route taken by Alexander Mackenzie, the first European to cross continental North America in 1793.

The journey required three summers, because it is only then that the route is passably ice-free. Setting off from Lake Athabasca, on the plains of Saskatchewan, he travels up Peace River, through the Rockies, and down the other side to the Pacific. He does all this in a handmade birchbark canoe, as used by Mackenzie during his maiden voyage – quite possibly the most romantic way to travel across Canada’s vast pine forests.

An expert study of what it is to be an adventurer in today’s world

So it’s not a simple paddle down river – but rather a hard-fought adventuring expedition in which Twigger skilfully keeps you at the centre of the action while he and his crew battle rapids, fend off mosquitoes, and tow the canoe upstream for over 1,000 miles.

It makes for a fascinating insight into this remotest of wilderness, where you are more likely to meet a bear than a person. It is also an expert study of what it is to be an adventurer in today’s discovered world, where birchbark canoe meets the satellite phone.

First published: Traveller magazine, Spring 2006
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