Bill Ulinski got a taste for the Northwest Territories in August of 2009 when he visited a string of unnamed waters east of the Thelon River.
Apparently, he enjoyed the bugs in his coffee and the experience of paddling through waters rarely seen by people because last July he returned to the area. This time he went further north, paddling an unnamed river northwest of the Thelon Sanctuary. He was about 500 miles north of Fort Smith.
If you're interested in hearing about this latest trip, Ulinski will share his tales at the Paul Smith's VIC during a slideshow presentation Thursday, May 3 at 7 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Bill Ulinski
Rainbow Lake resident Bill Ulinski will talk about his trip to the Northwest Territories at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 3 at the Paul Smith’s VIC.
The Rainbow Lake resident has worked in outdoor and forest recreation for almost 40 years. His career has included being a park and recreation director, teaching forest recreation at Paul Smith's College and being the mountain manager at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire. In recent years, he has been a seasonal worker at local state campgrounds. He's an avid outdoorsman who loves hunting, trapping, photography, paddling, alpine skiing and just being in the woods.
On this trip, Ulinski joined nine other people on a guided trip led by Alex Hall. The crew, using durable royalex tandem canoes, braved 150 sets of rapids over 180 miles from July 10 to 24.
"First few days we came through some hellacious rapids," Ulinski said.
They also saw wolf dens, fox and a pair of grizzly bears, among other things.
Ulinski said he was in the fourth canoe that went down a set of rapids, where a grizzly was located.
"The other three canoes went down and held up before we were going through another set of rapids," he said. "They had passed a large grizzly bear that was feeding on a musk ox, and the grizzly bear never saw them. He was so preoccupied. Plus, the rapids were so loud."
When Ulinski's canoe went down the river, the bear looked up.
"His first instinct, his first reaction was to leap in the water, in the river toward us - and he growled," Ulinski said.
This was a rarity for Hall, Ulinski said. The guide very rarely sees a threatening move by a grizzly bear. Normally, they turn around and run.
"The guide heard a growl and about had a heart attack," Ulinski said. "He's been up there 40-something years and he sees grizzlies every year. It's only the second time, he said he's heard one growl."
This bear didn't stay around long either. It actually turned around and ran shortly after the growl. Ulinski barely had time to think and said he wasn't frightened.
"It happened so fast," Ulinski said. "I got some pictures of the rear end of the bear running away."
In addition to the bears, Ulinski experienced another staple of the Northwest Territories - lots of bugs.
"Bugs normally don't bother me. We had mosquitoes like you would not believe," Ulinski said. "In some of the rapids, we would hit black flies. It was like BB shot hitting you."
Ulinski described the waterway as a river of rocks. It's located in a land that few visit other than animals - wolf and caribou - that migrate through the area
"It's Interesting country in that you look across at it and it looks almost as flat as Nebraska when you get up on the plateau or a bench," he said. "Then you walk it and you find out you have hills and valleys and big sandy areas, and that's normally where the wolves are denning."