Christopher Columbus was the first to discover the New World of the Americas, Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole, and Neil Armstrong was the first to set foot on the moon.
Now we can add American Rob Mark to that list as the intrepid explorer to first stand atop the world’s largest beaver dam.
Located in northern Alberta, the 850-meter long dam was first spotted in satellite photos in 2007. For years, experts thought the dam was inaccessible due to its remote location, buried deep inside the Wood Buffalo National Park, located 190-kilometers from Fort McMurray.
But that did not deter 44-year-old Mark. In fact, it motivated him. This past July, he made the trip from his home in New Jersey to the Canadian wilderness in search of the massive structure.
“There was a reoccurring theme that it was incredibly remote and thought to be inaccessible,” Mark told the CBC. “Those two things sparked my interest and I started doing research.”
Although Mark had hiked through Peru and the Amazon rainforest, he knew that this expedition would be his most challenging yet. With only the satellite images as a jumping off point, Mark scoured Google Maps and topographic maps to plan his route to the dam. After taking a boat from Fort Chipewyan to the edge of Lac Clair, he’d need to begin the 16-kilometer hike to the dam.
“It was the longest, hardest ten miles I have ever travelled… The foliage is so thick, you can’t see very far, and then it turns into muskeg, which is incredibly to walk on. And then it goes out to complete bog swamp.”
But worse than the waist-deep sludge and wall-like density of plants, were the mosquitoes, which Mark says were “absolutely horrific.” He wore a rain jacket the entire time to prevent the pests from biting him and slept in a hammock draped in bug netting.
Like so many explorers before him, when Mark finally reached the dam he was welcomed by less than enthusiastic locals.
“I saw one beaver…he wasn’t happy I was there either, he was slapping his tail on the water and wanted me out of there.”
But for Mark, the journey was well worth it.
“It felt like I just scored the winning goal in Game 7,” Mark says.
“I felt incredibly proud that I actually found it and made it there, that I was able to document this and map it in such a way that future scientists, biologists and explorers can study this truly natural wonder.”