In all of North America, there's no hike like the Canol Trail. The continent's roughest, most rewarding backpacking adventure begins at the Yukon border and ends 355 kilometres later on the banks of the Mackenzie. During the three weeks in between, you'll encounter an infinity of mountains, creatures with no fear of man, glacier-fed rivers, rich World War II history – and likely not a single human being. At times the experience will be tough, lonesome and possibly even scary. It will also be the most epic thing you've ever done. Here's why to do it now.
Question: Have you ever, in your whole life, been free? I mean, free of barriers? Of deadlines? Of expectations? Have you ever been free to just put one foot in front of the other and set out for the far horizon, for days and weeks, just to see what's there? That's the feeling of trekking the Canol – the feeling of shackles falling away, of the sky opening up, of time expanding. Of, for once, being free.
The Canol may be the strangest war-story ever told. Back in World War II, America needed oil to fuel the battle for the Pacific. So, in the course of a few short and brutal years, U.S. troops and Canadian contractors laid a pipeline through impossibly rough country clear from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. Excruciatingly hard to maintain, the line moved little oil and was abadoned after just 13 months. Eventually, the pipe was hauled out, but military barracks, telephone poles and rusting army jeeps remain, giving mute testimony to one of the most heroic and absurd of wartime endeavours.
Elsewhere on Earth, nowadays, what passes for wildlife is usually fenced in, driven out, or hiding from human beings. Not here. Like a track through Eden, the Canol is flanked by moose, mountain sheep, caribou, grizzly bears, wolverines, and who knows what all else. This is their virgin kingdom – "a world with the dew still on it." That's why hiking the Canol is like taking a walk back through time.
The Canol is pretty country. I mean, real pretty. Along the trail are famous landmarks like Dodo Canyon, the Twitya River, the Intga Valley, Devil's Pass and Carcajou Falls. You'll have them all to yourself.
This meal is waiting for you at the end of the trail in Norman Wells – along with a cold beer, a hot shower and clean sheets. So when you're out on the trail, wet and footsore and sick to death of dehydrated meals, let this be the beacon that draws you on.