The search for the Northwest Passage had — for centuries — driven men to desperation, starvation, and madness. In Disappointment River, journalist and river guide Brian Castner sets out to complete the journey along a great river once choked with ice. Like all exploration stories, this is a tale of cussedness as much as it is of discovery. Recommended By McKenzie W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie traveled 1200 miles on the immense river in Canada that now bears his name, in search of the fabled Northwest Passage that had eluded mariners for hundreds of years. In 2016, the acclaimed memoirist Brian Castner retraced Mackenzie’s route by canoe in a grueling journey — and discovered the Passage he could not find.
Disappointment River is a dual historical narrative and travel memoir that at once transports readers back to the heroic age of North American exploration and places them in a still rugged but increasingly fragile Arctic wilderness in the process of profound alteration by the dual forces of globalization and climate change. Fourteen years before Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie set off to cross the continent of North America with a team of voyageurs and Chipewyan guides, to find a trade route to the riches of the East. What he found was a river that he named "Disappointment." Mackenzie died thinking he had failed. He was wrong.
In this book, Brian Castner not only retells the story of Mackenzie’s epic voyages in vivid prose, he personally retraces his travels, battling exhaustion, exposure, mosquitoes, white water rapids and the threat of bears. He transports readers to a world rarely glimpsed in the media, of tar sands, thawing permafrost, remote indigenous villages and, at the end, a wide open Arctic Ocean that could become a far-northern Mississippi of barges and pipelines and oil money.
"…[Castner] provides a lively biography of Mackenzie, the youngest principal in the Northwest Company, contending not just with the rigors of exploration, but also with early corporate politics…A vital addition to the library of the far north and of exploration." Kirkus (Starred Review)
"An exhilerating historical narrative…Castner evokes vivid personalities and drama from the archives … Historians and armchair travelers alike will be equally pleased with this volume." Publisher’s Weekly
"Whether recounting the historic search for the Northwest Passage or his own epic journey on the Mackenzie River, Castner is an able guide, a steady hand, a voice of reason. You’ll want to sit in his canoe and ride this out. I couldn’t put Disappointment River down." Dean King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara and The Feud
About the Author
Brian Castner is a former Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer who received a Bronze Star for his service in the Iraq War. He is the author of two books, The Long Walk (2012) and All the Ways We Kill and Die (2016), and the co-editor of the anthology The Road Ahead (2017). His journalism and essays have appeared in Esquire, Wired, Vice, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and other publications. He and his family live in Buffalo, New York.
Brian Castner on PowellsBooks.Blog
As a young man in the 1920s, Olson was a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, and saw how city dwellers were rejuvenated by just a few nights in a tent. He became an evangelist for wilderness, and wrote a series of highly influential books on the outdoors, odes to loons and solitude, with titles like Runes of the North
and The Lonely Land