Barren Grounds

Fred "Skip" Pessl, Barren Grounds: The Story of the Tragic Moffatt Canoe Trip (Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Press) 2014.

Pessl - Barren Grounds
Nearly six decades after their 1955 wilderness canoe trip and more than 15 years after George Grinnell published his account of the journey, Skip Pessl has produced an excellent and very accurate account of the trip. Based on his own personal journals and those of Peter Franck and filled with photographs of the journey which were provided by Craig Moffatt, the book pros ides a nearly day-to-day account of the events that resulted tin the September 14 multiple capsize that resulted in the death of Arthur Moffatt and forever marked what might otherwise have become an amazing documentary movie about six men facing the wilderness together.

Having already read Grinnell's "Death on the Barrens," I found Pessl's account to contain many important details, including more accurate descriptions of the route and activities of the explorers. It is a compelling account.

However, the book is somewhat diminished by its epilogue. Pessl still carries a great deal of intense anger and unresolved grief over the death of Moffatt and in the epilogue he directs that anger against Grinnell. He tries to make a point by point refutation of Grinnell's book, but only succeeds in making a point that most readers already know - different people have different memories of shared events. The decades between the actual events and the publication of the books has resulted in different perspectives, different memories, and different interpretations. Instead of letting his excellent book stand on its own and be the authentic record that it is, Pessl wades into his anger and criticism of Grinnell. It is as if he doesn't trust his own account to stand on its own merits.

That aside, I heartily recommend this book to all who are interested in canoe expeditions, wilderness exploration and the remote areas of Northern Canada.