Canada has a peerless international reputation: friendly, progressive, spectacular landscapes and world-class cities. It's also a stepping off point, along its northern lands, to the Arctic Ocean and for North Pole expeditions. Many will have visited the likely spots - Toronto, Vancouver, or the ski resorts in the Rockies. In limiting themselves to these handful though, visitors are missing out on the true, vast, wonder of Canada.
The Dark Ice Project team and I, set to make a winter attempt on the North Pole, were earlier this winter training amidst one of the the greatest unsung destinations of Canada: Northwest Territories and in particular, the tundra, forest and frozen lakes north and east of Yellowknife, a hidden urban jewel of the north. Aside from all the testing, filming and innovation tasks we had to complete, the near-two month stint was about immersing ourselves in the cold wilderness. Old teammates on past journeys, James, George and I had yet to work together as a three, so there was plenty to be ironed out in our polar routine, albeit tested south of the Arctic Circle. The continental winter of northern Canada was however perfect - avoiding the $10k flights needed to reach the extreme airstrips of Greenland or Nunavut, yet guaranteeing months of sub minus-thirty degree conditions. More than that though, it was a new wilderness for us all. Irresistible.
Using a ride from a local Yellowknife friend with a typically oversized pickup truck, we were free of gravel roads and found our magic trump-card, the Ice Road. Made famous by the first series of the trucking TV show, the annually formed ice road to diamond mines hundreds of miles north were vital for us. Whilst the thousands of lakes, many wonderfully named (Desperation Lake for example), are deep frozen and snow covered for excellent ski and sledge travel, the forests are as impenetrable as they are beautiful. The barrier of dense conifers covers almost all land, so the ice road's clearings as it snakes relentlessly north helped the three of us haul towards the Barren Grounds.