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River Explorers Face Mosquitos, Grizzlies in Canadian Wilderness

Update: November 23, 2011, 7 am ET|

On July 23, the Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist, M. Sanjayan, embarked on a three-week river expedition through one of the most remote wilderness areas in the country with a group of teens from the Dene First Nation, a community indigenous to the area.

During their trip, they’ll canoe 200 miles along the Thelon River, hauling more than 100 pounds each. They’ll battle mosquitoes, endure long canoe portages and possibly encounter musk ox, caribou and grizzly bears. They’ll also be carrying enough solar panels and computer equipment to blog and even chat on skype from the field.

Hari Sreenivasan caught up with Sanjayan the day before he left.

For the Dene, the upper Thelon River is considered “the place where God began.”

Here’s how Sanjayan described the landscape in a blog he wrote for the Nature Conservancy before leaving on the trek:

> It is a place ruled by the biggest and smallest — the grizzly and the mosquito — and by the extremes of sub-arctic seasons. In the middle of it is the Thelon, the largest and most remote game sanctuary in North America, which almost no one has heard of.

Throw a dart at the map of the continent and aim for an area as far away from any city, town, village, road or airport, and chances are you will hit a region in Canada along the border of two territories; Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, just south of the Arctic Circle.

It’s tundra country packed with shrub, grass and sedge, skating on a bed of ice that liquefies during the short summers of perpetual days. Herds of migratory caribou, musk ox and moose browse the plant life and are in turn shadowed by wolves, foxes and bears. Migratory songbirds and waterfowl, lured by the sheer biomass of insects, arrive to breed en-mass.

The Thelon River flows northwards for a while through this land, and with it takes the Boreal Forest boundary on a 200-km detour, deep into the barren tundra. This intrusion of forest acts as a magnet for wildlife. And as an important hunting, fishing and gathering ground for the Dene (pronounced “DEN-ay” by English speakers) First Nations.

Follow the expedition’s progress here.

Travis Daub and Lauren Knapp contributed to this report.

Correction: Photos in the video above we’re taken by photographer Peter L. Albrecht, but were not originally credited in this post. The PBS Newshour regrets this error.

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