Environment
Travel

Yellowknifer sets out to hike Canada’s longest esker


Last year, Dwayne Wohlgemuth and his family canoed for more than three months through the NWT’s barrenlands. Now, he’s embarking on a two-month solo hike across North America’s longest esker.

An esker, in Wohlgemuth’s words, is “a long, sinuous ridge of sediment left by a river that flowed on or under the glaciers during the last ice age.” The Thelon or Exeter Lake esker, Canada’s largest, is more than 800 km long.

“I thought wow, I’ve got to hike this thing,” he told Cabin Radio.

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“It’s right here in our back yard and I, even after 12 or 13 years in Yellowknife, never knew about it.”

A map of the esker hike prepared by Dwayne Wohlgemuth and Keith Robertson

A map of the esker hike prepared by Dwayne Wohlgemuth and Keith Robertson. The route runs from right to left.

Wohlgemuth learned about the esker and started researching the trip last year.

His hike starts a little west of Dubawnt Lake, on the NWT-Nunavut border, and ends on the Acasta River northwest of Wekweètì. 

“In the past, rivers were like the highways for humans and eskers on the tundra were like the highways for the animals,” he said.

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“They’re just so much easier walking than most of the terrain, because they’re a lot of sand and gravel. Kind-of cobbles – nice, fine rock.”

Wohlgemuth’s plan is so unusual that the Royal Canadian Geographic Society has named the hike its Expedition of the Year.

“It looks really abnormal … almost like a human-made landform of sorts,” said Wohlgemuth.

“It snakes across the landscape and often, in places, it’s like a sidewalk on the top. It can be very beautiful walking.”

‘A geological treasure’

Wohlgemuth began his hike on July 26 and plans to finish in mid-September.

He hopes to see plenty of wildlife along the way, especially caribou.

“Because I’m doing the hike later in the year, caribou will be moving south toward the treeline as I’m going west along the esker. So definitely in later August and early September I should see a few,” he said.

A video produced by Keith Robertson shows Dwayne Wohlgemuth announcing his hike.

The esker is almost completely in the NWT but does require a small amount of travel through Nunavut – making Wohlgemuth glad of the “travel bubble” between the two territories.

“Now, with the bubble, at least I can officially tell everybody that I’m walking that esker – even for the couple kilometres in Nunavut,” he joked.

He hopes the hike will raise awareness about eskers.

“It’s such a geological treasure here in the North. Eskers are so important for wildlife and also for Aboriginal peoples, for hunting and travelling in the past,” he said.

“It’s a feature we have on the barrens in the Northwest Territories that I don’t think we quite appreciate as much as we should.

“They’re as unique and amazing as the mountains, and we don’t really treat them that way. We have so many across the barrens and they’re beautiful.”

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