Story Untold: “The Arctic is Melting Twice as Fast as Anywhere on Earth”

Kevin Vallely on Story Untold

Photo from kevinvallely.com.

Kevin Vallely remembers well when he first felt the call of the Arctic. As a child growing up in Montreal, the architect and adventurer’s father would regale him with stories of working as a radio operator in northern Labrador.

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“It was just a brutal, harsh place, yet strangely enticing and magnificent as well,” says Vallely. “He talked about how lonely, and quiet, and desolate it was. It intrigued me: this place that is part of our country, yet so completely out there and inhospitable. It just painted a scene of something so adventurous and unique.”

He would get his first experience with the Far North in 2000, strapping on a pair of skis to traverse Alaska’s Iditarod Trail. Competing in the first ever Iditasport Impossible — described by Nerve Rush as “the Ironman’s badass uncle who did a tour in Vietnam and went back for vacation” — Vallely and his companions travelled over 1,000 frozen miles from Knik to Nome.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into at all,” he laughs. “I mean, the banner across the start line — their motto for this race was ‘Where cowards won’t show and the weak will die.’”

Vallely completed the race, and three years later, he was back: this time, riding a bicycle from Dawson City, Yukon to Nome, Alaska. Over the ensuing years, the Vancouver-based adventurer would embark on over a dozen expeditions around the world, becoming a World Record-holder for his trek to the South Pole and earning the title of one of Canada’s leading adventurers by the Globe and Mail.

Still, one elusive ‘first’ remained: traversing the Northwest Passage under human power. Vallely had first entertained thoughts of the crossing twenty years ago, while swapping stories with a friend.

“Traversing the Northwest Passage solely under human power in a single season was something that no-one had ever even come close to achieving,” says Vallely. “At the time, we both laughed and said it’s impossible.”

The melting sea ice gave him an opening, and a purpose: If Vallely and his fellow expeditioners could row the Northwest Passage unimpeded, perhaps they could draw attention to the urgency of global warming. Along with three other adventurers — two Irishmen and a fellow Canadian — Vallely set off in 2013 in a custom ocean rowing boat, intent on completing the crossing in a single season. The story has become Vallely’s first book, Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea.

“It’s the classic canary in the coalmine. The Arctic is melting twice as fast as anywhere on Earth,” says Vallely. “I don’t think we realize how profoundly [things] will change … We need to do something about it.”


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