Back in May I told you about a young man who set out on foot to traverse the Northwest from the northern U.S. border at Glacier National Park in Wyoming north along the Rockies to the Arctic Circle at Inuvik, Northwest Territory. Martin Maines, who turned 23 on his trek, completed his 3,100-mile-plus hike and canoe odyssey Oct. 22. I caught up with the 1996 John Bapst Memorial High School graduate last week in Bucksport at Penobscot Evergreens where he is working for friends selling Christmas trees. Maines, who will be a junior at the University of British Columbia when he returns to classes, took on this challenge, much of it in untracked territory, to call attention to the wilderness and the rapidly dwindling areas of virgin timber forests in the Northwest. He told me he was concerned because British Columbia had lost 70 percent of its virgin timber to logging and mining in the past 40 years.
“It would be nice if it were around in another 40 or 50 or more years,” he said, so future generations could enjoy it. It would be a shame to disrupt an established ecosystem of interacting species, one in which wolves, lynx, cougars, salmon and grizzly bears all thrive.
Explaining his philosophy of life, Maines told me last May that “through numerous outdoor expeditions I have developed a philosophy in the spirit of exploration, the desire to go out into the vast unknown and discover that which cannot be found through the trials and errors of our common lives. I believe that this beautiful planet is a gift to us all, and it is our calling to explore and understand all the splendor that it has to offer.”
And that spirit of adventure was evident in this excerpt from a passage Maines wrote six weeks into his hike.
“It is now the morning of June 16. The water that I pull from the still, crystal pool is cold, and it shocks me as I wash it against my face. I stand and raise my head to the morning sun. I am surrounded by a cool, deep-green crescent-shaped coniferous forest that is flanked on either valley side by jagged spires that are still draped with snow. The morning is young here in the Canadian Rockies and I am eager to take on the adventures that await ahead to the north.”
With his expedition behind him, I was interested in knowing how he assessed what he saw.
That depends on where you look, he said. In some places he was encouraged, while in others he was not. On the encouraging side, Maines said, is the recent implementation of a new management plan for the northern part of the Rockies that involves a tract larger than the state of Maine. The plan prevents expansion of industry and road building. It’s an area so large it took him a month to hike across it.
It was heartening, Maines said, to have walked through such a wild area seen by so few and to be among animals such as the wolf. “It’s reassuring to see tracks and know that their natural cycles are still intact.”
Encouraging as well were the stories of the wood bison’s rebound from near extinction.
On the negative side were ever-present clear-cuts visible from ridgelines. In some areas in the Northwest Territories and northern Alberta there were gridlike seismic lines, essentially square outlines carved into the forests where oil and gas exploration have taken place. Another negative, he said, involves a plan to pipe oil along the Mackenzie River to Edmonton, Alberta, and possibly on to Toronto.
Oil pipelines don’t come without problems. Maines said a pipeline spill of 2 million gallons on the Pine River in the area of Fort St. John and Dawson Creek in British Columbia in August will close the river to fishing for at least 15 years.
. . .
Maines had company for much on his trek northward. Crystal Huscroft, a graduate student at the
University of British Columbia, joined him for two weeks at the outset. Then his younger brother, Jeremy Maines, 20, hooked up with him and stayed for two months until they reached the Peace River in northern British Columbia. His mother, Chris Kramer of Orrington, and sister, Kim Ouelette, 8, joined him for nine days during this family part of the hike. Then a friend from school, Jeff Martin, was with him for a month.
This brought him to Fort Nelson near the Yukon-British Columbia border. It’s also on the Alaskan Highway and was the rendezvous point for Verna Blasy, 24, of Vancouver, who brought along a canoe the pair used for the next 1,200 miles or so. They paddled down the Muskwa, Fort Nelson, Liard and Mackenzie rivers toward Inuvik, the northernmost town on the Mackenzie and the northern edge of land. They encountered nothing more serious than Class 3 white-water, and that was limited, Maines said. And there was only one portage.
Their river trip ended at Arctic Red in Northwest Territory, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, 80 miles shy of Inuvik.
It was here that Maines had to make a decision whether to continue on and reach his goal of Inuvik or turn back. The weather was turning colder, and the river was beginning to freeze. This meant canoeing was out of the question. It also meant ferry crossings for the roads would be shut down, closing off vehicle access to Inuvik for a month or more until the rivers froze hard enough to drive across. Maines had no intention of getting stranded in Inuvik. And flying out was prohibitively expensive.
He decided to make the final push alone, packing light and walking the last 60 miles in 20 hours.
. . .
As we chatted at Penobscot Evergreens last week, a small wood stove in the corner churning out a cozy warmth, I asked Maines about the wildlife he saw and the equipment he carried.
Did you see any bears?
“Oh, yeah, about 22 or 24, mostly black or brown bears, but just a few were grizzlies. I saw fresh black bear or grizzly tracks every single day … walking along game trails that would have sometimes two, three, four different bear prints on them, so they were there, and sometimes you could even smell them they were so close. And I swear sometimes you could even sense them, you could sense kind of a nervous tension in the air, and you knew they were around. But for the most part I really think that society has given bears a bad rap. They are 90 percent vegetarian. They rarely take down animals.”
What other critters did you see?
“Moose, deer … We found places on the eastern flanks of the mountains that were literally game trails this wide [two arms outstretched] with hundreds and hundreds of prints on them. We saw elk, and once saw 37 big-horned sheep in one siting … way up in the alpine zone … We’d usually see 30-35 large mammals in a day.
Did you do any fishing?
“A little bit. We’d run into native hunting camps where the people were incredibly generous. They’d give us like a quarter of a moose!”
How’d the food caches go? (We’d talked before you took off about having food drops along the way and what a logistical hurdle it would be.)
“It worked out 100 percent. We had about 25 food drops, and eight of them were not in established towns. Sometimes outfitters would fly a food cache into a cabin on a remote lake where we could pick it up.”
Some of the food he prepared ahead of time and dried himself. Most of it turned out to be good, but the hummus was a definite loser.
“I couldn’t eat my hummus, but everything else was really good, especially the dried spaghetti sauce which went well with the multitude of starch we consumed [4,000 calories worth per day].”
Another goodie consumed at just about any meal was textured vegetable protein, a soy product much like bacon bits that are put into hot water. It comes in chunks the size of a dime to mix it in a saute. It tastes much like chicken. On a trip of five or six months, he said, it is important not to go into a calorie deficit; you won’t be able to get out of it because of the amount of calories you burn daily.
Clothingwise, did you make out all right?
“Nylon wind pants were sufficient. I didn’t need to have rain pants. The nylon dried quickly if I kept moving. I just had your regular stuff, nothing special. I carried about 20 pounds of gear including a small tent, sleeping bag, single burner, multifuel MSR stove.”
Most of the rest of the room in his pack was taken up by food. On four or five sections of the hike he was out more than 12 days. This would require that he carry 30 to 40 pounds of food. A saving grace was not having to carry water. He drank from the multitude of streams along the way. There was so much water, in fact, that his feet were constantly wet. Putting on wet boots in the morning was an uncomfortable routine.
How were the bugs?
“There were three or four weeks when they were bad, but you could climb up on a ridge and get into the wind and escape them. We spent a month or so on the divide, popping in and out of the alpine zone.
What was the terrain like?
“We spent a month and a half, not too long after starting out, on snowshoes. There were rugged, rocky stretches, and open, old-growth forested areas where the going was a snap, and thickets that slowed us to a crawl of an eighth of a mile in three hours.”
It was in these places he and his brother dubbed their progress as humanwhacking as compared to bushwhacking because the bushes took their toll on them.
There was one stretch of 37 days after leaving Jasper, Wyo., on the way to Chetwynd, British Columbia, when the only human influences they saw were two ranger cabins, one with no road leading to it.
. . .
If you’re interested in seeing slides Maines took of his trip, he’ll be showing them at 7:30 tonight at the Orrington Grange Hall on the Dow Road off Route 15, and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 27, at the Fields Pond Nature Center in Holden. To get there, take the Greenpoint Road at McDonald’s in Brewer to the end. Go left on Wiswell Road for 11/2 miles to Fields Pond Road and turn right. Go nine-tenths of a mile to the center, which is on your left. There will be a $5 donation asked to support Audubon and the Y2Y initiative, for which Maines walked.
The Y2Yinitiative is a plan designed by scientists, researchers and ecologists which is supported by 120 nonprofit organizations. Its mandate is to conserve the beauty, health and natural diversity of the Rocky Mountains from Yellowstone Park to the Mackenzie Mountains in the Northwest Territories. The initiative hopes to restore and maintain landscape and habitat connectivity by establishing a system of core protected wildlife reserves, transition zones and wildlife movement corridors.
Jeff Strout’s column is published on Thursdays. He can be reached at 990-8202 or by e-mail at email@example.com.