Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea; Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
– Stan Rogers
Such is the lure of the Northwest Passage, where no man has finished alive or tried unassisted, that world-class, multi-sport adventure athlete Kevin Vallely and the rest of his four-man team – Denis Barnett, Paul Gleeson and Frank Wolf – will attempt to break world records this 2013 by being the first people to traverse and row the said passage in a single season, completely under human power.
For many centuries, various explorers like Martin Frobisher, Henry Hudson and John Franklin went about looking for an ice-free route across the top of the world to link Europe with Asia. Roald Amundsen finally made it in a three-year odyssey between 1903-06. But it wasn’t until 1940 that the RCMP ship St. Roch made the first ever successful west-to-east transit going through the Passage from Vancouver all the way to Halifax. This same obsession is what led Vallely and his team to try “and really kind of push it out there in terms of what is humanly possible “, and attempt to go where no man has successfully gone before, because, says Vallely, “Venturing out into the Northwest Passage will be like venturing out into history”.
Kevin Vallely, 47, a well-known residential architect & news columnist from Vancouver, has been adventuring for the last 15 years and is no stranger to these kinds of tests of endurance. And with a few record-breaking, cold-weather and long distance expeditions under his belt, was named one of Canada’s leading adventurers by the Globe and Mail in 2003.
Kevin, whose spark for adventure and the unknown was lit as a young boy, recalls an incident where he & his younger brother – ages 9 & 5 at that time, on one of their evenings out with their parents – found themselves lost in a snowstorm in Montreal and had to find their way back home, “4 hours later to a waiting squadron of cop cars”. The experience, which he described as the “scariest moment of my life” also found it to be the “most exhilarating”. It is in one of those moments “like the slowing down of time during an accident and you perceive everything with a heightened sense of clarity”; These “hyper-intense moments which I wanted more of”.
It is this burning curiosity and wanderlust that has behooved him to participate in and lead compelling expeditions in various parts of the globe. These include cycling along the frozen Yukon River and frozen Bering Sea from Fairbanks, Alaska to Nome, trekking through the jungles of Borneo and leading an Arctic expedition to search for remains from the Franklin Expedition. In 2009, along with Richard Weber and Ray Zahab, Kevin trekked unsupported from the edge of the Antarctic continent to the geographic South Pole in a world record time of 33 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes, shaving off 6 days off the previous world record. In addition to the South Pole, he also travelled with Zahab on a record-setting 640-km, 13day trek across Siberia’s frozen Lake Baikal in February-March 2010. Most recently, he and Zahab completed Expreso de los Andes, a 1,700km, approximately three-week run from South America’s Pacific to Atlantic Coast. This expedition which commenced in Concón, Chile, had them covering approximately 70 km per day where they headed up and over the Andes mountain range, passing over a shoulder of Aconcagua, the largest peak in the Americas at 7,000 meters and where they dropped off to the other side headed for Buenos Aires, Argentina with an increased runs of up to a 100km.
Whether he is man hauling in record time to the South Pole, skiing the Iditarod trail, or Kayaking across Siberia, Kevin Vallely finds himself, in rare moments of overwhelming weariness during expeditions, still wrestling with the question: “What are you looking for?”, “How do I keep doing this”?
It is in these moments of introspection which remind Vallely of the importance of not giving up and pushing through regardless of what barriers are placed in one’s path. It’s an epiphany, coupled with his broad experience and deep technical knowledge as an explorer, that will no doubt continue to motivate him when he embarks and prepares for his next extreme adventure.
The Northwest Passage expedition dubbed “The Last First” and led by Vallely, plans to row across what, until now, has been an impenetrable mass of ice, in a specially designedboat without sail or motor, from Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, east through the Passage to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, starting this July 1 2013, Canada day .
When not embarking on expeditions, Kevin, a father of two, can be also found running his “small business” which he says, allows him to happily engage in his other passion which is western contemporary design & architecture. And, in addition to his many speaking engagements, he also writes a bi-weekly column for the North Shore News giving readers information and advice on renovation and building matters. Mr. Vallely has also written four cover stories for Outpost magazine where he was Editor-at-large for seven years. He has published articles in The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the National Post.
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