On November 13, 14th and 16th in three locations in North Fingal, Dermot Higgins will make presentations and launch his new book, ‘He who swears at bears’.
The 61 year old, intrepid adventurer from North County Dublin, Dermot Higgins, has just completed his solo, source to sea expedition on the River Yukon in Canada and Alaska. He’s called it the Yesyukon 2023 Adventure. He’s written a book about the great adventure and all proceeds will go to Pieta, a charity very close to Dermot’s heart.
On Friday, August 25th. shortly after 8.30pm, Dermot reached the small Yupik town of Emmonak on the Bering Sea, having paddled all the way from the river’s source, south of Whitehorse in Yukon Territory, Canada, -a staggering distance of 3,150km. Dermot believes that he is the oldest person in the world and the first Irish person to have accomplished this feat. Astonishingly, Dermot paddled the last leg of the journey with two cracked ribs and in a boat which was patched up with chewing gum!
This, however is not the first time that Dermot has taken on big adventures. In 2018 he became the oldest person to have cycled around the world and has completed several other mammoth journeys since then. But in many regards Dermot believes that Yesyukon 2023 was his biggest challenge to date.
“When I started paddling, I was quite unfit and wholly unprepared for what lay ahead. I’d never spent any significant time in the wilderness. Nor for that matter, had I ever paddled a Canadian canoe. For much of the early part of the trip I felt really frightened and extremely vulnerable”
Dermot had several hair raising incidents on his long journey to the Bering Sea. The weather became really windy after the first 2000 km and on one occasion his canoe became swamped by huge waves during a squally storm and he capsized more than 500m from shore, dumping him in the swirling current.
“I was so lucky to have put on my lifejacket before the squalls hit -and that the water wasn’t too cold at the time. Otherwise it would’ve been all over! remarked Dermot. “Also, when the capsize occurred, I was paddling naked, apart from my life jacket, that is!
The weather was remarkably good for the early part of the adventure and as he was paddling through remote wilderness where there were no prying eyes, Dermot paddled naked most of the time. “It was such a tremendously liberating experience to feel the warm sun all over my body,” he said. “It’s something that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else in the world”
Dermot also made headlines in Ireland and in Canada, early on in the Yesyukon adventure when he was attacked by a ferocious black bear, while trapped in his tent. He first tried to charm the beast by playing his tin whistle and when that didn’t work he shouted and swore at it. Then, when the bear charged at him, he’d no option other than to deploy bear spray. This stopped the bear in its tracks but also knocked out the unfortunate adventurer. In the local press Dermot was dubbed “He who swears at bears“!
“When I came to, I was covered in vomit and found it difficult to see anything but I knew the bear was gone” said Dermot. He was so traumatised by the event that he immediately bundled everything into the canoe and paddled 220 km in 26 hours, non stop to sanctuary in Dawson City. At that point he’d made up his mind to quit but fortunately friends and family members encouraged him to keep going.
Despite the difficulties he encountered, Dermot firmly believes that the three million paddle strokes, the pain and the loneliness were well worth the effort.
“I learned so much about myself and also about the wonderful world around me. I’ll never forget the amazing wildlife encounters, -a moose swimming with her calf across the river at dawn, a golden eagle swooping down to catch a fish in its talons, metres from my canoe and huge grizzlies prowling along the riverbank as I paddled by.”
However it was his encounters with people, in particular the Athabascan and Yu’pic peoples of Alaska which made the deepest impression and Dermot.
“ I never expected, nor do I feel I deserved the tremendous generosity, hospitality and kindness shown to me by these people. They took me into the bosom of their families and treated me like one of their own.”
For almost a full week Dermot was weather bound and spent that time living with the large extended family Liz and David Fitka in the town of Marshall, 300 km from Emmonak. A terrible tragedy had just befallen this family when their eldest daughter Kimberly O’Domin had intervened to stop a fight and disappeared in very suspicious circumstances in June this year. Her body was eventually found 100 miles down river and the funeral had just taken place a few days before Dermot arrived.
“Despite the fact that this family was grieving and that their cabin was so small, they recognised that I needed sanctuary and did everything they could to help me. Maybe I was able to absorb some of their grief.”he added.
“During the course of the week in Marshall, I sampled everything from seal stew to Eskimo ice cream (made from fish!) to ‘castors’,-a medicinal elixer made from the scent glands of the Beaver.-An amazing cure for toothache!”
Dermot was so touched by his experience with his family that he’s launched a publicity campaign to assist the family in ensuring that justice prevails in the case of their missing daughter. He had decided to dedicate the Yesyukon adventure to the memory of Kimberly Fitka O Domin.
Dermot kept detailed notes on his entire journey and of the various encounters en route. These notes form the narrative of ‘He who swears at bears’.
The aim of the book is to tell the story of the Yesyukon adventure and also to encourage ordinary people to move out of their comfort zone by taking on challenges, big or small in the great outdoors. All profits raised by this publication will go to Irish suicide prevention and counselling service, Pieta.
“I firmly believe that spending time, exercising or relaxing in nature has huge benefits to our mental and physical health. It’s certainly what makes me want to get out of bed in the morning” explains Dermot.
“I’ve had some serious issues with my own mental health in recent years. During a period of very deep depression in 2020, I attempted suicide. At that time I needed help urgently and accessed the Pieta Helpline.
‘In 2021, I completed a 24 hour non-stop fundraising swim for a Pieta and I’m going to donate all the proceeds from the sale of my book to this wonderful organisation’ says Dermot.
To purchase the book please visit our shopify.
Dermot is available for more information and quotes at: 00353876032276
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