It started as a subtle appreciation for the outdoors, somewhere not far from the childhood home. Every other weekend I’d gingerly walk across local fields, climbing fences, jumping streams and poorly trying to navigate to a certain secret woodland area we friends only knew. I’d construct a makeshift shelter from old tarps and branches and build a towering fire. We’d spend the weekends exploring the local area, re-enacting army battles and exploring disused buildings and railways. There was something about having the freedom of the outdoors that I couldn’t explain. To me, lying under a tarp covered in branches felt adventurous, special and natural.
Once I’d learnt to drive, my friends and I found a true freedom to discover more challenging landscapes in which to pitch our tent. We'd take the long drive into Wales or the Lake District to climb mountains and sleep by rivers. Ever since those first days, I’ve found the mountains to be magnetic and alive, a breathing spirit, pulling me back year after year. I cut my teeth and found my confidence on those slate mountain trails as a young man but it was the 5 hard years in the Marines that installed the self-reliance and boldness to take on some of the bigger challenges later in life.
Underneath this fiery passion to test myself physically laid a young man deeply interested in human history, 1st nations people and geography. I’d grown up around an intelligent father and a hundred books. I’d look at the bookcase in the back room of my parent’s house, tilting my head to read the number of titles on display. Each book was either about foreign religion, the military, Native Americans, ancient history or archeology. For some reason my eyes and hands always reached for the Native American books. My fingers would flick through the old dusty pages and my heart would come alive when I saw the ancient sepia photographs of tribes, their traditional dress and their dancing rituals. Little did I know this indigenous fascination would be the catalyst to nearly every adventure I would soon undertake.
I’ve been adventuring through remote environments now for 3 years. That childlike curiosity found amongst the books at my parents house led me to the 1st nation cultures of Greenland, Tibet and Nepal, documenting these experiences through writing and imagery, both still and film. At first I noticed the underlying drive was a DNA-like, deep-seated urge. I soon realised it was also an uncontrollable desire to see wild and remote places and to absorb local knowledge and wisdom.
In 2015 this unconscious desire led me to a map hanging on the wall of my bedroom. My eyes were drawn to Canada, Alaska and the winding blue path of Yukon River. I’d been reading about the 1st nation people of this vast wilderness region for some time. I’d learnt that for 1000’s of years these people relied on the King and Chinook salmon as a way of subsistence living ever since their ancestors crossed the Bering land bridge. Nowadays, for the people of the upper river, this subsistence lifestyle is somewhat missing, but for the central and western Yukon communities of today, this precious resource is still relied upon to make a small living. Importantly this ancient practice and right provides a nutritious diet while keeping them connected to the spirit of their ancestors. Unfortunately, times are changing for the people of the river. Corporate fisheries out in the Bering Sea are taking the larger Salmon, leaving the smaller fish to make the long and perilous biological journey back to their spawning grounds. Communities now have restrictions as to what they can and can’t take from the river, where as before, fish were unrestricted, plentiful and large. But all is not bad. Precious land rights have been granted back to the people of this region and many communities are going through a revitalisation and resurgence in their culture due to the now self governing nature of their land.
With all this in mind, my eyes fixated on the Yukon region of my wall map. I wanted an adventure where I learnt a beautiful and traditional skill, but importantly, I wanted to meet the people of the river and share their story with the world. In May 2016, that same childlike curiosity that led me to my fathers bookshelf, is now leading me on a 2000 canoe mile journey with three other participants, from the source of the Yukon River at Lake Bennett to its finish point at Emmonak, at the Bering Sea. We will be some 286 miles from the far eastern coast of Russia when the paddles stop for the last time. Our aim: To meet the decedents of the Yukon River’s first inhabitants.
Over the last few years, the journeys to Greenland, Tibet or Nepal have not only been to re-test my physical capability, but they’ve been fueled by a very human urge for discovery and understanding. An understanding of our human story, where we came from, how we came to be, where we are today and ultimately where we are going. By experiencing cultures that are still connected to the cycle of nature as a way of survival, it really gives the modern mind space to reframe, readjust and re-imagine everything we know about the world and the people in it. And, for me, that is what adventure is all about!
Ian Finch is an adventurer, blogger and qualified paraglider pilot who has been passionately travelling to remote environments for over 5 years. His adventures have taken him to Greenland, Tibet, Iceland, Nepal, China and other remote parts of Europe where he's lived and travelled alongside 1st nation cultures, learning from their ancient traditions and ways of life.
Be sure to follow him and his team as they embark on their 2000 mile journey this May - http://pullofthenorth.com