Canoeing The Peel

Meet Gabriel Rivest, a Yukoner.

Last summer, Rivest and five friends spent 63 days canoeing 1,500 kilometres through the six rivers in the Peel and Yukon Watersheds. He and the team brought 220 pounds of camera equipment on the trip and they are now producing a video about the experience.

On February 24 Rivest will present photos and talk about the experience as part of the Yukon College’s Brown Bag Lunch speaker series.

The group’s two-month journey started on July 3, and brought them through the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Alaska.

He and the team – Alexandre Deschenes, Matt Holmes, Michah Rauguth, Scott Sinton, and Simon Lucas – are now doing post-production work on their video footage with the aim of screening it in the fall in Whitehorse.

Rivest, 27, is currently studying environmental and conservation sciences at the Yukon College, and has been a wilderness guide for seven years. This trip was the ultimate experience for him — planning, preparing, organizing, and executing it.

In addition to the six friends, Rivest’s team included two dogs who kept spirits high, even as they faced such obstacles as a five-kilometre portage at Aberdeen Canyon and an unexpected flooding on the Rat River, in which water rose two metres overnight and five paddles were lost. This delayed their progress and they ran low on food.

However, while epic journeys like this one will always involve setbacks, Rivest said those setbacks were not the real challenges.

Capturing the beauty of the surroundings was not the real challenge, either – it was everywhere around them, all the time.

“That was easy,” Rivest says.

Rather, the real challenge came when something unexpected happened and they had to stop what they were doing and haul out the camera gear to document it. For example, when an animal appeared, or there was a difficult situation – such as needing to portage. These were kinds of things they wanted to include in their footage. Also, along the journey, as they had spontaneous conversations while paddling away, beautiful and in tune, they would realize that they wanted to include their conversation in the footage, too.

“The challenge was to stop paddling and get the camera gear out again, when we all just wanted to enjoy the moment fully,” Rivest says. “We are not actors, so to re-take a scene where we all roared with laughter would just look fake.”

At the beginning they took it easy in the beautiful weather, even managing to do some scenic hiking along the Hart River, but in the last five weeks they paddled non-stop to finish on time.

The food plan included one-third dehydrated food, some basics such as flour and a variety of spices, and the odd fish they caught. He says no one grew tired of this cuisine.

They mastered the art of travelling light, because even without making a film, a trip of this magnitude is hard work.

Rivest will present photos and a discussion about his experience paddling the six rivers of the Peel and Yukon Watersheds at the Brown Bag Lunch Speaker Series at noon on Monday, February 24 at the Yukon College Whitehorse campus.

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