After Six Years and 24,000km, the Final Paddle

Six years ago, Dianne Whelan began a 24,000km journey across Canada’s Great Trail. The route combines 487 different walking trails and multiple waterways and is the longest trail in the world. When she reaches Victoria B.C., she will become the first person to complete it. Previously, one man completed all the hiking sections.

The six-year route. Image: @500daysinthewild

 

A filmmaker by trade, Whelan has been collecting footage of the journey since day one. Along the way, other cinematographers have come to help her film. Friends and family have done sections of the trail with her.

Since speaking to ExplorersWeb in October 2020, she has finished the final hiking section and has now begun the final 370km paddle north from Vancouver and eventually to Victoria, B.C.

She had initially planned to start canoeing from Hope, B.C. down the Fraser River to Vancouver. She had to adapt her route, as the Fraser was “too swollen with snowmelt and debris”. Instead, she continued hiking to Vancouver. Luckily, the Fraser River was not part of the Great Trail. Rather, it was an extra section that she added.

Photo: @500daysinthewild

 

The final 1,000km of hiking started with the biggest climb, 1,524m elevation over Grey Creek Pass. She tackled it in winter, and snow and ice made it a challenge. From here, she hoped that the heavy snow would let her ski and pull a sled. Instead, it had started to melt. So she backtracked to Nelson and paddled to Taghum.

Whelan has paused at various points to film or edit the footage. The key to Whelan’s success has been flexibility. This has been even more crucial since the pandemic. She had to keep track of local restrictions and where COVID cases are high. She tried to pick isolated routes but which also allowed her to resupply.

In April, intermittent sections of gravel destroyed her sled. At the same time, further travel restrictions forced her to stay with her support van until restrictions eased.

Photo: @500daysinthewild

 

Her outlook has changed over the last six years. “When I left, I had a set schedule,” she says. “By day 10, I had not even completed what I thought I could do in one day. So I lit a small fire and burned [the schedule]. And I stopped measuring my journey by how many kilometres I did in a day. That’s the day I dropped the rabbit suit for the turtle shell…It is not about the fastest way, it is about the most meaningful way.”

Photo: @500daysinthewild

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.

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Mary Ann Muscat
Mary Ann Muscat
1 year ago

Congratulations to a determined woman who never once thought that she would not be able to do it. I am happy that she is finally safely home

Pierrick
11 months ago

What an amazing adventure. Congrats!