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Alta States

Grabbing the reins; Korthals goes for it all



" Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!"

- William Butler Yeats


She wasn't always a mountain girl. In fact, her first love was canoe tripping and she spent countless summers in the Northern Ontario backcountry travelling from lake to river and back again. Even after she moved here in 1989, Lisa Korthals continued to feed her paddling addiction.

Whistler had turned out to be everything she'd dreamed of. This place, Lisa had already decided, was where she wanted to lay down roots. But after a full winter of ski teaching, the call of the rivers was just too strong. "I returned home in the summer of '90," she explains, "and led a canoe trip down the Moisie River deemed the "Nahanni of the East" in Northern Quebec - a beautiful run in the boreal forest."

Unless you've done a lot of paddling, it's hard to imagine just how magical it is to spend weeks and weeks in the bush travelling through our country's isolated waterways. Think complete isolation: no phones, no highways, no grocery stores or malls. Think total immersion: the sound of a laughing loon late at night; a majestic moose crashing through the shallows by your tent. Sunsets to die for. Sunrises that inspire all day long. And the further north you get, the more magical the setting becomes.

Lisa's 43-day self-supported trip down the Northwest Territories' legendary Coppermine River in 1991 is about all those sensations. And more! "When I think about it now," she says, "I can't believe they let us do it. We were just 21 years old, best friends and two trip leaders in charge of 10 16-year-old kids. We pulled a trailer with six canoes halfway across the country, did the trip, and then drove all the way back to Ontario."

What a summer. What a paddle. "It was a tough haul to the headwaters of the river," she recounts. "Over 120 portages..." And with full canoes! "We only saw one other person the entire 43 days. The barrens are a magical place. It's as though the river was etched into the landscape by the finger of the creator. At times the etching is not so deep and at other times deep enough to force us to scout whitewater from 150-feet above the river."

Korthals admits that this particular trip had a big impact on her life. "All those kids that were on that trip with me? We're all still connected to this day. The relationships you form when you are surviving together in the wilderness go to a depth that is so real so raw it has a profound impact on your life. My guiding experiences have had a big impact on shaping who I am now."