• Adam Shoalts paddles against the powerful current of the Mackenzie River, N.W.T., just two weeks into the Trans-Canadian Arctic Expedition. (Photo: Adam Shoalts)

    Adam Shoalts paddles against the powerful current of the Mackenzie River, N.W.T., during his 2017 Trans-Canadian Arctic Expedition. (Photo: Adam Shoalts)

Adam Shoalts is a young man in his 30s, but in many ways he’s a throwback to a much earlier era of exploration. His one-man adventures across the Canadian Arctic and the Hudson Bay lowlands call to mind the great early Canadian explorers Alexander Mackenzie and David Thompson. His love of challenging himself against the harsh conditions of the Canadian wilderness has earned him the nickname “Canada’s Indiana Jones.”

Adam is a Royal Canadian Geographical Society Explorer-in-Residence. He’s written extensively about his own adventures, including the bestseller Alone Against the North and his upcoming book, Beyond the Trees, about his recent 4,000-kilometre journey across the Canadian Arctic.

Shoalts says when he tells people about his expedition plans, the response he gets most frequently is, “Are you insane?” His 2017 Arctic traverse required him to canoe a dozen different rivers, often travelling upstream against strong currents, a challenge Shoalts overcame by poling rather than paddling. He carried no firearms, relying only on bear bangers and spray to ward off overly curious wildlife. And he frequently went weeks without seeing another human. 

“I don’t mind solo travel,” Shoalts says. “I don’t think anything I do is that dangerous. I honestly think Canadians with long commutes on icy winter roads are in more danger than I am on any of my canoe journeys.”

Shoalts grew up in rural Fenwick, Ont. There wasn’t much for a child to do there besides play in the woods, he says. 

“Me and my brother and my dog, we were always in the woods — we built shelters, we’d try to make fires without matches. That was our playground, and that’s where I fell in love with the forest.”

Shoalts’ next Arctic journey has a somewhat different purpose: he’s writing a book about an almost-forgotten explorer, Hubert Darrell, who disappeared on the Anderson River east of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. in 1910. Not only did he traverse several thousand kilometres of the Arctic between Alaska and Hudson Bay, he did it entirely on foot, winter and summer, without a canoe or a dog team. He worked as a guide for the North-West Mounted Police, and the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen allegedly once tried to recruit him for an expedition, but “he was always on the margins,” Shoalts says. “Hubert Darrell was a legend on a different level.”

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This episode is produced and sound engineered by Robin Dumas, and hosted by David McGuffin (@mcguffindavid). 

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