Sometime after his last Facebook post on May 13th Adam Shoalts headed out on a 4000-kilometer adventure across Canada’s Arctic.
He left the international border town of Old Crow, Yukon and if all goes as planned five months later he will canoe into the saltwater of Hudson Bay at Baker Lake, Nunavut.
The journey will take him over mountains, up rivers, across tundra, through subarctic forest, and down wild waterways. Over the last 14 years Shoalts has knocked out a couple dozen smaller expeditions, he’s a speaker and author of Alone Against the North, which enjoyed 26 weeks on the national best-seller list. We caught up with Shoalts as he was making final travel arrangements.
Other than celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, are there any other causes for this journey?
I hope to encourage Canadians, especially younger Canadians, to take an interest in Canada’s wilderness and to think more about what kind of future it’s going to have over the next 150 years. Canada is blessed to have more wilderness than any other country. But if we don’t take drastic measures to protect and preserve it, it won’t last.
You literally wrote the book on it, but why go alone against the north?
Ideally, I’d rather not do it alone. I’d prefer to do it with a couple of old friends. But they all have family or work commitments that rule out five-month-long wilderness expeditions. I figured I might as well go alone.
As far as your expeditions go, is this your largest?
Yes. I’m always trying to up the stakes. With 2017 rolling around and Canada’s 150th, this seemed like a unique chance to raise the bar.
Are you hoping to make any new discoveries on this route?
No, I’m just hoping to make the crossing. There are so many variables beyond my control like ice, wind and weather. Of course, as an archaeologist, I’ll note any archaeological sites, but the reality is I’ll be pushing myself all day every day and won’t have much time or energy left over for much else.
How are you planning this expedition? What support will you have along the way?
I’m trying to be as self-sufficient as possible and keep airdrops to a minimum. This helps keep costs down and simplifies logistics. I’ll supplement my diet with fish and wild edibles. I’ll re-supply at a couple strategic points along the way. That’s it.
What’s your biggest concern of this expedition, or all of your expeditions?
That my appendix ruptures in the middle of nowhere and I die.
What are you most looking forward to?
Just being immersed in nature. I love it. Two of my most cherished memories happened in the Arctic. One was crossing paths with a beautiful white wolf on a river in Nunavut. The other was seeing a wolverine. Experiences like these motivate me to keep going.
What is unique to my journey is trying to stitch the individual waterways all together in one gigantic route across the Arctic
Are you trying to set a record or are you allowing yourself plenty of time to cover the distance?
Since the canoeing season is short in the Arctic, time is a luxury I don’t have. Most of the individual waterways I’ll be traveling are relatively well known and paddled. What is unique to my journey is trying to stitch them all together in one gigantic route across the Arctic. If I don’t try to make it, that would be something I’d always regret. Since there is no indication of anyone ever having previously attempted this, I guess if I make it that will be the record.
Approximately how many kilometers of this trip will be done in a canoe?
Roughly 3,000 kilometers. Much of that will be across large lakes like Great Bear, where the wind will be a serious factor. About roughly equal parts will be upstream and downstream travel.
I’ll be fighting against the flow of some pretty swift rivers like the Coppermine, rather than paddling downstream. I’ll be traveling mostly through a mix of polling, lining, and wading. The other sections will be done on foot.
Will you be staying in touch with followers along the way?
I’ll have limited communications via satellite messenger. I have to conserve battery life as much as possible. Hopefully, I’ll be able to relay updates to someone who can update my Facebook page for people who are curious about how I’m doing.
On Friday June 23, about a month into the trip, Shoalts’ family posted on facebook.com/shoalts “The bugs have been pretty bad as Adam lines, poles, wades, paddles, and bushwhacks his way to Great Bear Lake.”
No one seems to mention Tom Findlay who canoed from New England to Nome, Alaska, in the ’80s. I personally knew him in Dyment, Ontario, where he had a little homestead. Of course he didn’t do this all in one season. That would be a real expedition.