Runner crossing big lake

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Followed by a Canadian Ranger on a snowmobile, Brad (Caribou Legs) Firth runs out of the Hay River onto Great Slave Lake on the morning of March 4.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Followed by a Canadian Ranger on a snowmobile, Brad (Caribou Legs) Firth runs out of the Hay River onto Great Slave Lake on the morning of March 4.

A famed long-distance runner from the NWT has taken on one of his most formidable challenges.

Brad (Caribou Legs) Firth left Hay River on the morning of March 4 – when the temperature was -28 Celsius and the wind chill was -38 – to run across Great Slave Lake to Dettah.

Firth – who prefers to go by the name Caribou Legs when talking about his running – said it will be his first time crossing such a large body of water in the winter, and the first time that he knows of that anyone will run across Great Slave Lake.

However, he noted he has done a lot of running on the ice roads around his hometown of Inuvik, and knows what to expect.

“I’ve trained lots up north for the north in the Beaufort Delta,” he said the night before setting out on his run across Great Slave Lake. “And of course, me being raised in Inuvik in the ’70s, my skin got weathered and leathered up by all the wind and stuff. So I’m good to go. I’m really excited.”

Caribou Legs, who now lives in Vancouver, is making the run to bring tokens for handgames from the Hay River Reserve to a tournament in Behchoko on March 10.

“I’m here to run and promote sport and promote culture, and kind of reset people’s ideas about how to live in the North – toughness and resilience and all that bravery and courage,” he said. “Just kind of inspire people again.”

That includes running in a caribou coat and caribou boots on loan from a Northern adventures company in Yellowknife.

“I want to try to do this as traditional and authentic as possible,” said Caribou Legs, noting he will be head-to-toe caribou hide and caribou fur, which he described as super light.

The crossing of Great Slave Lake is 206 kilometres and he hopes to average about 50 kilometres a day to arrive on the north shore by March 7 or 8.

“When I hit the shores, I’m going to sleep for a day and then I got another day, a 24-hour run non-stop down the highway,” he said of the final leg to Behchoko.

The runner is being accompanied across Great Slave Lake by six members of the Hay River Patrol of the Canadian Rangers.

And it will be in the tracks of the Canadian Rangers’ snowmobiles that Caribou Legs will run.

“I’m going to run in their path on the Ski-Doo trail,” he said. “I might have to use snowshoes part of the way depending on how hard it is. So we’ll try to maintain 50-to-60 kilometres a day. I only got them for four days, so I’ve got to meet each day with a considerable amount of distance.”

Caribou Legs has got 18-inch aluminium snowshoes ready to go just in case he needs them.

The runner is thankful for the assistance from the Canadian Rangers.

Capt. Stephen Watton, the public affairs officer with the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1CRPG), said the Hay River Canadian Rangers are involved in the trek to support and ensure the safety of Caribou Legs as he crosses Great Slave Lake.

“The other reason is that it will give 1CRPG the opportunity to map out a staging route across Great Slave Lake so that our Canadian Rangers are aware of a safe route for travel should they be called upon to have to go out and perform search and rescue or any other emergency out on the ice,” said Watton.

Plus, the captain noted it will be good training for the Rangers.

“They will be camping out on the lake,” he said. “The Canadian Rangers provide a lightly-equipped, self-sufficient mobile force in support of domestic operations and services. They’re supposed to be lightly equipped and ready to go at a moment’s notice. So they’ll be travelling with snowmobiles, toboggans and all the camping gear they need.”

Caribou Legs, who runs in black and red war paint, is best known for a cross-Canada run the ended in November to raise awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women.

In June, he plans to launch another cross-country run in memory of children who died in residential schools.

“I’m mindful about the women and people who are suffering, and people who need my support,” he said. “And I run for them.”

–Paul Bickford