Hand hauled toboggans in the boreal forest

A post this time not from Alaska, “the last frontier”, but from what English settlers would have considered the first frontier, New England. Alaska and New England not only share a pioneering heritage but Maine, in the north of New England, marks the southern extent of the boreal forest – a vast swathe of trees that extends across Canada, north to the Arctic and west for over 3,000 miles to Alaska.

Ever since reading childhood staples like The Call of the Wild, northern forests have played deeply across my imagination. Not just the forests themselves and their charismatic cast of bears, wolves, beavers, lynx, but the stories of the people who traditionally made these forests their homes, the Innu, the Cree, the Ojibwa, the Gwich’in and many others including the hunters and trappers who followed in their trails.

Garrett Conover and Alexandra Conover Bennett must have gotten the call of the wild at a very young age and they have made a life out of it. Piecing together loose threads of information spread across books and aural accounts, and with a reassuring amount of trial and error, they have relearnt the traditions of travelling lightly through the winter forest.

Perfecting not just the use of hand hauled toboggans, but a whole supporting web of knowledge that makes camping and travelling in the icy cold not just pleasant but a profoundly rich experience.

Hand hauled tobbogans

The Conovers are dedicated sharers of their knowledge and some of the funniest people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Not a lunch or an evening went by without a hilarious exchange of great anecdotes, much laced with the evocative language of the trail, bannock, bunker, babiche, wanigan, mukluk, slush scoop, even familiar words like anorak regained much of their cultural flavour. For your own taste of their wisdom I can highly recommend their book: Snow Walker’s Companion, Winter Camping Skills for the North.

Breaking trail down Pine Stream heading to Chesuncook Lake.

Camp for the night amongst the hushed calm of snow ladened pines, firs and spruces.

Ben McNutt of Woodsmoke collecting a “stick” for the stove. Part of the nightly activity of laying in a pile of neat logs for cooking, drying and pleasure.

Garrett collecting fresh river water from the chiselled ice hole.

The end of another fine day and a single crepuscular ray to dazzle us before turning in for night.

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