Ask any outdoor adventurer what their favourite book or movie is and you usually get ten answers (at least) and an hour long conversation. It's just about impossible to pick just one.
So of all the stories that make us drop what we're doing and get out the maps, here's 10 that have stuck in our minds since the first time we came across them.
1. North to Cree Lake by A. L. Karras
This memoir of two brothers traveling and living off the land in northern Saskatchewan is one of Kevin's top picks, but it's got a following with the rest of the staff. Pretty much anything by Alex Karras is a great read; we recommend Northern Rover: the Life Story of Olaf Hanson and Face the North Wind as well.
These are great tales of people who made a living in the Saskatchewan north many years ago. They remind us we're not so tough, and give us an appreciation for the land we love to paddle.
2. Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland
Jeff is a HUGE fan of everything Audrey Sutherland. She was a really cool woman and would take off in her kayak on long solo trips - plus she loved food. This book has kayaking, wilderness, maps, recipes, and a kick-in-the-pants philosophy: "go Simple, go Solo, go Now". And she can write.
3. Nahanni (film) by Donald Wilder
This National Film Board short from 1962 is about the months-long journey of an old time prospector who is determined to find gold on a remote part of the Nahanni River. He's tried (unsuccessfully) 7 times before and the film documents his 8th epic attempt.
It is astonishing how caught up in this guy's story you get, watching him battle his way up the river lugging barrels of fuel for his boat. Besides the intriguing storyline from a bygone era, the film has excellent photography of the Nahanni Valley and a great musical score. A gem.
4. The Dangerous River by R. M. Patterson
Speaking of the Nahanni, Kevin read this book back in 2001 right after he paddled the great river. Reading about a place you've been always ups the fascination factor, but the book is a magnificent adventure story regardless.
Patterson had a true lust for exploration and ditched his Bank of England job in the 1920's to travel some of Canada's wildest rivers, searching for gold as he went. This book is an account of his two trips on the Nahanni River and the time he spent in the region. Yet another story that will make you feel you're living the soft life.
5. Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell
This true story is a great example of how NOT to run a canoe trip!
In 1955 six guys set off from Black Lake, SK to Baker Lake, (NWT at the time) and ran into just about every kind of problem you could imagine (many of which were their own doing).
The author throws in some random philosophical quirks from his life story that don't add much to the plot, but nonetheless we recommend this book for everyone who goes on wilderness paddling trips, and very much so for those who lead them.
6. Touching the Void (film) directed by Kevin Macdonald
This is the harrowing true story of a couple of climbers surviving a near fatal accident. The book (by Joe Simpson) was hard to read because the climbers' egos were front and center. The movie filters enough ego out so you can focus on the narrative. What a ride!
7. Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris
This book chronicles the author's journey by bicycle along the Silk Road. Steph read this book before her bike trip up the Demster Highway, and she re-reads it every summer. It's an adventure story of science, human geography, grinding determination, epic landscapes, and best of all the intelligent and thoughtful exploration of borders, wilderness, and world view.
8. Anything by John Rae
This amazing Scot traveled extensively in the northern regions of Canada in the mid-1800's and is remembered as one of those explorers who was smart enough to learn from the local peoples. He had incredible stamina and traveled long distances, living off the land. He led numerous explorations, one of which found evidence of the fate of Franklin's expedition. Pretty much anything this guy wrote is worth a read.
9. Northern Trader: the Last Days of the Fur Trade by H.S.M Kemp
Harold Kemp was a great writer - he really brings the fur trade to life. It's like you're actually the one struggling across a portage under a freight canoe. He was another adventurer who respected and adopted the local people's way of life.
For those of us living in Saskatchewan, the stories of his time with his family in Stanley Mission 100 years ago are especially interesting and enriches our understanding of our own backyard.
10. Four Against the Arctic: Shipwrecked for Six Years at the Top of the World by David Roberts
This is a CRAZY survival story that flew under the literary radar here in North America. The author came across an old legend about four Russian sailors who got shipwrecked on an arctic island and survived with almost nothing for six years. Much of the book chronicles his research and eventual trip to Svalbard where these survivors were stranded after being blown off course in the 1700's. You can practically feel the aching cold and your teeth falling out from scurvy as you read it.
...and honourable mention: Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling
Yes, this is considered a children's book but it is an immersive experience to read. The pages are covered with paintings and small drawings all done by the author. It's a beautiful story that comes round full circle, and in the illustrations on each page you can find Paddle somewhere - sometimes obvious, sometimes as a tiny figure you have to look for.
The story and pictures follows the travels of a little wooden paddler in a canoe from central Ontario through the Great Lakes and into the Atlantic. The paddler is carved by a young Indian boy, who scratches on the bottom of the canoe "I am Paddle to the Sea. Please put me back in the water."
And everyone does.