Written By Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune on Mar 18, 2018
When Will Steger goes on spring break, he knows how to avoid crowds. He heads in a familiar direction — North.
Ely’s Steger, who has led successful dogsled expeditions to the North Pole and across Antarctica, will leave northern Saskatchewan on Wednesday for a 1,000-mile solo trek across Canada’s treeless barrenlands. He plans to reach Baker Lake, near Hudson Bay, 70 days later in early June.
Now a fit 73, Steger will haul a custom-built canoe-sled loaded with 200 pounds of gear and food over lakes, rivers and portages. His route passes through no villages. He will be resupplied twice by a bush plane on skis.
Even by Steger’s standards, this journey will offer significant challenges.
He will face temperatures of 40 below to 40 above, he estimates, traveling unpeopled, unforgiving country known for its fierce winds. He will negotiate rivers that could be in spring break-up near the end of his trip. Thus, he tows the canoe, a Northstar design by Minnesotan Ted Bell fitted with runners so Steger can pull it or paddle it.
“This is serious,” Steger said in a telephone interview from Ely. “In these rivers, you could fall in. It can be life and death. This pushes all my skills.” He spent six months trying to find a suitably formidable route across the barrens, he said. For the past five springs, he has made similar journeys closer to home — in wooded country — finishing near his Ely homestead. He’s unlikely to see a tree for most of this trip.
Steger will have to average about 14 miles a day, mostly skiing or walking, to complete his trip on schedule.
“That’s quite a chunk,” Steger said. “But I think I have a good shot at it.”