FINDING TUKTOYAKTUK – Mission Accomplished

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On October 16th, 2018, we completed our four and half month journey from Skagway, Alaska to the Canadian Arctic town of Tuktoyaktuk. Honoring the Tlingit’s trading path, we hiked the Chilkoot trail and crossed the border into British Columbia, Canada.

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Following the Klondike Gold Rush route, we then pack-rafted 900km along the Yukon River to the heart of the former gold rush town, Dawson City.

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Using a push cart to carry 45kg of supplies, we became the first women to walk the Dempster and the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway to the Arctic Ocean.  Click here to read more.

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I’ve officially been home for one week now. The reality of our accomplishment has yet to sink in. Reintegrating back into society after an extended period of time in the wilderness can be a mental challenge and social adjustment. The sounds of civilization seem amplified and I’m living in a currency that few people understand.

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How does one describe or attempt to explain the spirit of the Yukon and The North West Territories?  Is it a feeling, an action, or a way of life? Does the geographical remoteness of the North create a deep sense of community, caring, and connection?

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Since returning, I have wondered how I can adequately thank everyone who helped, hugged, and supported us throughout this journey. The encouragement, kindness, curiosity, and campsite visits from complete strangers carried us through the chilliest of nights and never-ending hill climbs.

In the coming weeks and months, I will start to blog about the expedition and my experiences in the North.

Create Your Adventure,

Remote Leigh

MY ULTRA-LIGHT FILM KIT

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Preparing for my “Find Tuktoyaktuk” adventure can be summed up in one word, logistics! The planning, implementing and coordinating of transportation, food drops, and gear, can be as exciting as it is stressful. Befriending the environment and utilizing available resources is key when organizing your own adventure. Thinking outside of the box and a demonstrating a willingness to bend is a prerequisite when creating a personal guidebook.

“Finding Tuktoyaktuk” is a multidisciplinary adventure that includes backpacking, pack-rafting, and push-cart walking. Geographically speaking, some sections of the adventure are extremely remote, resupply towns are few and far between, and cell service remains a sporadic luxury.

From a creative perspective, I wondered how I could film “Finding Tuktoyaktuk” with minimal camera gear. Would it be possible to document my Arctic journey with ultra-light gear and not jeopardize the quality of the video and sound? Could a streamline film kit be carried on the Chilkoot Trail, float down the Yukon River, and survive the Dempster Highway?

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As a generation X’er, I continue to romanticize old-school technologies and the rituals associated with their use. As convenient as iTunes is, I still prefer the sound of vinyl. Purchasing an album was considered to be an investment in an artist and listening to their recorded magic in its purest form felt sacred. Record stores in the 80’s were public libraries for music fans. Countless hours were spent in my teen years scouring through boxes of records in search of new music.

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Photography wise, I still reminisce about my 35mm SLR camera. Digital camera technology has robbed me of the anticipation and anxiety associated with film processing.

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Granted, I appreciate the immediate satisfaction of digital photography determining the fate of a photo. With that said, I do miss waiting an entire day to see if a captured memory among friends was accurately transferred onto paper. Leaving a camera store horrified and disappointed was a common occurrence after having a film processed in the 1980’s.

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As a generation X’er, rotary phones continue to make me smile. In the late 70’s, it was a conscious decision to leave the comfort of the living room couch to answer the communal phone in the kitchen. I have often wondered if societal laziness was a direct result of our fingers no longer circling numbers on a wall mounted phone.

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Ultimately, documenting this journey has forced me to embrace technology and invest in lightweight camera gear. I was the person who vowed to never buy an I-Phone. I was the person who could not justify spending a thousand dollars on an I-Phone. I have since realized it’s more than a phone. It’s an adventurer’s dream piece of film equipment. After extensive research and feedback from friends, I can honestly say it was the I-Phone that inspired my ten piece film kit.

FINDING TUKTOYAKTUK FILM KIT

1.TWO I-PHONES 8 PLUS – 256GB 

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2. ULANZI – PHONE MOUNT AND COLD HORSESHOE MOUNT

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3. ULANZI VIDEO STABILIZER RIG

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4. RODE TRS TO TRSS MICROPHONE PATCH CABLE

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5. RODE MICROPHONE

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6. TAIROD 3 IN 1 MINI-TRIPOD

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7. DJI SPARK MINI DRONE

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8. GO-PRO HERO 6

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9. SUNTACTICS S8 SOLAR CHARGER

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10. EASY ACC 20000mAH PORTABLE CHARGER

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I am not affiliated with any of these brands; however, all these products can be found on Amazon.

EXPLORING THE CANADIAN ARCTIC – FINDING TUKTOYAKTUK

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In January 2018, I was inspired by an Australian Women’s Adventure Magazine Travel Play Live. Offering grants to support Aussie female adventurers, I finally felt like a publication understood the true value of adventure – creating and developing community connection, enhancing personal growth, and inspiring change.

After spending endless nights on Google maps, I created a grant-worthy route that would take me to Tuktoyaktuk. Tuktoyaktuk is a western Arctic town that most people have never heard of, never lone seen.

Until November 2017, this remote Inuvialuit community was only accessible by plane in the summer and ice road in the winter. After the completion of an all-season road, the town was connected to mainland Canada. I want to be the first person to walk the permafrost path to Tuktoyaktuk.

As I was preparing my application for the Travel Play Live grant, I found myself engaged in a late night facebook conversation with Kevin Schon. Little did I know that our chat about women’s empowerment, the visible invisibility of adventurous women in mainstream media, and my long-term plan to start a non-profit would result in the Kevin and Suzanne Schon Foundation supporting my adventure and life mission.

FINDING TUKTOYAKTUK begins May 24, 2018. The 2000km journey begins in Skagway, Alaska. Honoring the Klondike Gold Rush Miners, I will hike the Chilkoot trail and cross the border into British Columbia, Canada. Following the miner’s route, I will paddle 900km along the Yukon River to the heart of the former gold rush town, Dawson City. Using a push cart to carry 35kg of supplies, I will complete the final 900km to Tuktoyaktuk capturing the spirit of the landscape, wildlife, and its people.

You can follow my journey here, on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/remoteleigh/ and on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/remoteleigh/

Create your own adventure,

Remote Leigh

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P.S After securing support from the Schon foundation, I decided not to apply for the Travel Play Live grant. With that said, I am a huge fan and supporter of the magazine and will continue to encourage other women to become part of their Travel Play Live community.

 

EXPLORE CALIFORNIA – SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

Considered to be the “Galapagos of North America”, the Channel Islands is one of America’s most remote and least visited national parks. Located off the southern California coast, the park’s five islands offer sanctuary and solitude for those willing to forsake some basic creature comforts.

Known for its coastline cliffs, sea caves, and isolated beaches, Santa Cruz Island is a mecca for divers, snorkelers, kayakers, campers, hikers, and nature lovers. After being fortunate enough to obtain a three-day camping permit to the island, I booked my boat ride and headed for Ventura harbor.

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With an 8am departure, I loaded my gear and boarded the Island Packers boat.

Embracing the reality that I would be spending the next hour managing my motion sickness, I headed for a bench seat towards the bow of the boat.

Over the years I have tried medication, acupressure wristbands, and ginger chews in attempts to alleviate my motion sickness symptoms. Nothing has successfully worked! These days my best case scenario is to take Dramamine, keep my food intake to a minimum, sit outside, face the horizon, and suffer through it.

After leaving the harbor, it wasn’t long before we entered the Santa Barbara Channel. Recognized as one of the most diverse and biologically sensitive ecosystems in the world, the Santa Barbara Channel is the seasonal home of blue, fin, and humpback whales.

Sharing their feeding areas with cargo shipping lanes, migrating whales are vulnerable to ship strikes in the channel. In 2007, four blue whales were killed by cargo ship collisions. Their deaths led to moving the shipping lane one nautical mile, increasing the distance between vessels and whales, and hopefully reducing the chances of future ship strikes.

With Santa Cruz Island in the distance, several migrating whales approached our vessel. In spite of my motion sickness, I reached for my camera and staggered over to the port side of the boat.

For the next several minutes, the Baryshnikov’s of the sea captivated passengers with their deep dives and tail flukes. Living in southern California, it’s easy to take whale-watching opportunities for granted. I still remember my first experience whale watching in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Arriving in Scorpion Harbor, the Island Packers crew prepared the passengers for a dingy landing.

Once all the passengers were on shore, an assembly line formed to unload everyone’s camping gear. In less than thirty minutes, the unloading process was complete.

Two national park rangers then conducted a brief orientation, covering basic rules and precautions that were specific to the island. As a non-smoker, I smiled when the ranger announced that only two locations on the island permitted smoking. The first spot was the landing beach and the second was four miles away at Smugglers Cove.

After registering with the ranger as a camper, I left the beach and headed inland to the campground.

Greeted by a welcoming party of island foxes, it was hard to imagine that less than a decade ago this species was on the brink of extinction.

With their numbers dropping below a hundred in 2004, a science-based restoration program was initiated. Today, their population has increased to twelve hundred.

Entering the campground, I felt like I was walking in Australia. Surrounded and shaded by massive blue gum eucalyptus trees, I wondered how Australian trees ended up on a remote island off the coast of California.

Who planted these non-native and non-invasive trees? I doubt it was the Chumash Indians; who considered this island home for over 11,000  years. My first guess was colonizers. I learned early in grade school that colonization is a combination of claiming, removing and introducing. Claiming a land that is not yours, removing its inhabitants, and introducing new inhabitants who identify themselves as landowners. Colonization often sees the introduction of non-native flora and fauna. In Santa Cruz island’s case, it appears it was the landowners and European ranchers who planted eucalyptus trees. I’m sure the eucalyptus trees provided shade, windbreaks, fuel, and construction material for the islands new inhabitants.

I set up my camp remembering I was a guest on sacred land. I considered the historical irony that a stolen island could have more federal and environmental protection than its original inhabitants.

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After an early lunch, I hiked out to Smugglers Cove. Just under four miles each way, this hike follows old ranch roads that lead down to a secluded cobble and driftwood covered beach.

After three and half miles of walking across dry hillsides, the trail descended through some olive trees, before spilling out onto the beach.

Having been the only hiker on trail, I was the only human at Smugglers Cove. Seldom have I hiked within a national park and experienced such solitude.

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As the only visitor exploring Smugglers Cove, I wondered about the life of pirates, smugglers, sea otter hunters, and bootleggers that utilized the area as a secret hideaway. Did they stay at the cove for extended periods of time or was the cove more of a secret storage facility? Is it possible that some hidden treasures remain in the area?

DAY TWO

After being awakened by a curious four-pound island fox, I rolled out of my tent and prepared for a mid-morning island paddle.

Exploring giant sea caves and kelp beds was on the day’s agenda and I could barely contain my excitement. Santa Barbara Adventure Company had a last minute kayak spot become available. I didn’t waste any time securing a booking. https://www.sbadventureco.com/

I’m not usually one to partake in group tours; however, having no experience paddling into sea caves, I decided to take my maiden voyage with a guide.

After spending a few hours navigating my kayak through several sea caves, I have a new appreciation for the finesse, timing, and tide awareness needed for cave exploration.

To complete my final full day on Santa Cruz Island, I opted for a late afternoon and sunset hike to Potato Harbor.

Leaving my campsite, I hiked up the chalky ridge and followed the backbone of the cliffs to the potato-shaped cove.

With no trail down to the beach, Potato Cove had to be admired from above.

On my way back to camp, mother nature painted a crimson canvas that exploded across the pacific skyline. The dramatic color changes; from burning orange to bright pinks and purple. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my day.

DAY THREE

With a mid-morning departure, I packed up camp and said goodbye to my island fox friends. Ten years ago, it would have been rare to see this handsome fellow hanging out in the campground.

As I waited for my return boat back to Ventura, I was already planning a return trip in my mind. While day trips are available, consider spending a few days exploring the island on foot and by kayak. Santa Cruz Island’s history is one of sadness, survival, and struggle. Honor it’s past, present and future; by paying it a visit.

 

EXPLORE UTAH – COTTONWOOD CANYON ROAD

“It’s a place where one can see how nature shapes human endeavors in the American West and where distance and aridity have been pitted against our dreams and courage.” President Bill Clinton

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Twenty-five miles west of Glen Canyon Dam, lies a former power line maintenance road known as Cottonwood Canyon. Redesignated as a scenic byway, this forty-six mile, unpaved road, connects Highway 89 with Utah State Route 12. Considered to be an adventurer’s thoroughfare, Cottonwood Canyon traverses an ancient inland sea bed, delivering road-trippers into the inner sanctum of Grand StairCase Escalante National Monument.

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Impassable When Wet! The sign does not lie or exaggerate. After a rainstorm, the road’s bentonite clay base transforms itself into a muddy, slick, slip and slide. Avoid this drive during the monsoon season and be sure to contact the Big Water Visitor Center for the latest road conditions and weather updates. Cell phone service across the Monument is non-existent. This is not an area to experience car problems or to get bogged in the mud. To quote the Monument’s website, “Grand Staircase-Escalante can be a fierce and dangerous land, and its wild character should not be underestimated.”

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DAY ONE

With clear road conditions and a favorable weather forecast, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I left the southern terminus of Cottonwood Canyon road.

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Less than five miles into our trip, we were greeted by grazing livestock, lush green grass, and dramatic rock formations. It’s not uncommon to see cattle grazing on public lands managed by the BLM (Bureau Of Land Management) and the Forest Service. Local ranchers pay a monthly fee of two dollars per head in order for their cattle to roam free on public lands.

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As crazy as it may sound, I envied the cattle. After spending a year in Northern Arizona, I stopped taking Mother Nature’s carpet for granted. Grass was to be celebrated, appreciated, and enjoyed! I had become so accustomed to walking on sandstone, mud, and gravel, that grass now felt like memory foam underfoot.

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For the first seven miles,  Cottonwood Canyon Road runs parallel to the silty, murky, and muddy Paria River. Carrying the highest sediment concentration in the United States, the Paria packs two pounds of mud per quart of water. Critical to the health and welfare of the Grand Canyon’s riparian ecosystem, the Paria River is responsible for delivering silt and sediment into the Colorado River.

Besides its sediment value, the Paria River holds a special place in my heart. Measuring almost one hundred miles in length, I’ve been fortunate enough to have hiked almost half of this desert beauty.  I celebrated my 40th birthday backpacking the Paria and have spent countless hours hiking, swimming, mud bathing and exploring the river’s numerous side canyons.

 

 

At some point, I will thru-hike the Paria. Not only as a token of my appreciation but as a way to say thank you for all the memories and life lessons the river has afforded me. The Paria has influenced and impacted my life, and now the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I get to share the river together.

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Driving deeper into the canyon, the potholes and ruts quickly reduced our speed to a mere ten miles an hour. Without a four-wheel drive or high clearance vehicle, we decided to err on the side of caution.

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On a positive note, identifying potential rock scrambling areas becomes easier when driving at slower speeds.

The Perfect Stranger quickly discovered her roadside ceiling to the sky and within minutes was headed for the moon.

At mile twenty-five, we officially entered  “Candyland.” Surrounded by red, white, and pink jagged pinnacles, these multi-colored rocks formed a serrated ridge, at a forty-five-degree angle.

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Out of this world and unlike anything we had ever seen, we decided to make Candyland our base camp for the night.

At an elevation of 5700ft, our tent was perched on a hillside summit overlooking a geological masterpiece. With no other campers in sight, Candyland was exclusively ours until morning.

DAY TWO

After a late morning breakfast, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I drove down to the Cottonwood Narrows trailhead. Located in the belly of Candyland, “The Narrows”, is an easy three-mile loop hike.

Looking more like a geisha than a day hiker, I applied some last-minute sunscreen before we crossed the road and descended into the canyon.

Bookended by walls of Navajo Sandstone, the canyon felt like a time vault that permitted visitors for the day. Bearing the battle wounds from a million years worth of erosion, wind, and water, “The Narrows” was unashamedly beautiful.

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The intricate dance of sunlight and shadows lured us deeper into the canyon. Unbelievably,  we were the only hikers on trail; yet, this was the very inspiration for our offseason and off the beaten path travel. Having never been a fan of tour buses and densely populated national parks, I have found solitude by exploring backcountry roads, national monuments, and state parks.

Greeted by a large slice of blue sky, we grabbed some final shots of the canyon walls before exiting the trail.

With only a few hours left before sunset, we decided to continue our exploration of Cottonwood Canyon road.

The rest of the day was considered to be a fact-finding mission for a future return trip. Twenty-five miles away was Kodachrome State Park. Having never visited the park before, I was hoping to get a sneak peek before dark.

I first heard about this park in 1989, while living in Japan. A colleague of mine worked for Fuji Film and had visited the park in the late 1970’s. One night after dinner, my friend Nakamoto shared a photo album from his trip to Southern Utah. His black and white pictures from Kodachrome were beyond stunning. Nakamoto repeatedly told me that if I ever journeyed to America, I must visit Kodachrome State Park.

Our next stop was Grosvenor Arch.

Standing one hundred and fifty-two feet high and spanning ninety-two feet wide, Grosvenor is a massive sandstone double arch and worthy of an overnight visit. I could only imagine the light show over this magical formation in the early morning and late evening.

With less than fifteen miles to Kodachrome State Park, the terrain appeared wild, vast, and open. Parked at the top at of a hill,  we peered down into mother nature’s amphitheater. Was this a teaser for Kodachrome or was it simply the planet presenting a united front of strength and vulnerability?

Greeted by cows at Kodachrome’s entrance, we followed a gravel road leading deeper into the park.

Representing one hundred and eighty million years of geologic time, Kodachrome’s monolithic spires and sandstone layers inspired a National Geographic Society’s team to name the area after Kodak’s popular color film. Seventy years later, I find myself driving to the tallest spire in the park,  Chimney Rock.

With the sun setting, I was glad the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I were able to spend the final light hours in Kodachrome State Park.

Feeling slightly disappointed that our time at Kodachrome was ever so brief, I quickly reminded myself that a return visit was on the horizon. It seemed our two days exploring Cottonwood Canyon Road barely scratched the surface of what this forty mile long fold in the earth has to offer.