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Rowing the Northwest Passage

Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea

Regular price $24.95 CAD
  • ISBN: 9781771641340
  • Tags: Adventure Travel, Audiobook Available, Biography & Memoir, Kevin Vallely, Nature & Environment,
  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5
  • Published On: 8/23/2017
  • 224 Pages
  • ISBN: 9781771641357
  • Tags: Adventure Travel, Audiobook Available, Biography & Memoir, Kevin Vallely, Nature & Environment,
  • Published On: 8/23/2017
  • 224 Pages

Audiobook Available (Complete List from Greystone)

"Vallely transports the reader to places few will ever go: the very edges of the earth and of human endurance."
—Evan Solomon

In this gripping first-hand account, four seasoned adventurers navigate a sophisticated, high-tech rowboat across the Northwest Passage. One of the “last firsts” remaining in the adventure world, this journey is only possible because of the dramatic impacts of global warming in the high Arctic, which provide an ironic opportunity to draw attention to the growing urgency of climate change.

Along the way, the team repeatedly face life-threatening danger from storms unparalleled in their ferocity and unpredictability and bears witness to unprecedented changes in the Arctic habitat and inhabitants, while weathering gale-force vitriol from climate change deniers who have taken to social media to attack them and undermine their efforts.

Kevin Vallely is an architect, adventurer and happily married father of two. He is a member of the Explorer’s Club and was an Explorer’s Club Flag recipient. In 2009 he and two teammates broke the world record for the fastest unsupported trek from the edge of the Antarctic continent to the Geographic South Pole.


"A thrilling adventure tale in which each hard mile not only reveals the strength of the human spirit but also hammers home the hard truths of climate change."
Cameron Dueck, author of The New Northwest Passage

"A compelling page-turner of an adventure story. Rowing the Northwest Passage gave me a greater appreciation of the Arctic wilderness—just not as a place of brutal beauty, but also as a crucial player in the Earth’s ecosystem."
Roz Savage, Guinness World Record-setting ocean rower

"Vallely transports the reader to places few will ever go: the very edges of the earth and of human endurance."
Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period

"A must-read for any Arctic or Northwest Passage enthusiast or for anyone concerned about our planet's future in the face of global warming."
Captain Kenneth K. Burton, Executive Director, Vancouver Maritime Museum

Climate change is happening so rapidly in the Arctic that it is absolutely essential that people go there and intelligently record what they see, as Kevin Vallely so compellingly does in Rowing the Northwest Passage.”
Peter Wadhams, author of A Farewell to Ice

"Vallely’s book is as much a history lesson and thrilling travelogue as it is an ecological warning"
Publishers Weekly

"A rousing combination of science and adventure in the Arctic."


From Chapter 1: A Last First

We rise and fall with the pulse of the ocean, but we’re blind in this world of white. The steady rumble of surf to starboard helps us navigate, and the sound of breaking waves feels ominous. It’s not long before the echoes from the cape begin to surround us—one moment to starboard, then to port, then back to starboard again—and we become completely disoriented. “We need to get away from these cliffs,” I yell to Frank. “It’s too dangerous this close to the cape.” The sound of breaking waves envelops us. “We’re spinning in circles,” Frank says after checking the GPS. “We’re caught in a current or something.”

We try everything to right ourselves, but it’s hopeless; our boat is gripped by an invisible force and we can’t regain control. In the confusion we fail to notice the building wind until it explodes upon us, driving us straight out to sea. Just offshore, about six miles away, sits the pack ice, and we’re now headed straight for it. If we reach it, we’ll be crushed.

I clamber into the cabin and check the navigation screen of our onboard GPS. I wonder if we have space to outrun the pack ice if we fight the wind and head south. The pack ice is big, the winds are intensifying, and we don’t have control of the boat. “Not likely,” I mumble. As I stare blankly at the navigation screen, I see it. I hadn’t noticed it earlier on the handheld  GPS, but there appears to be an island between us and the pack. Called Bear Island, it’s a mere speck, maybe a hundred yards wide, but if we can make it there, we might save ourselves. It’s our only chance.

We hold a straight line going southeast, 45 degrees to the wind-driven waves, and start rowing for all we’re worth. The seas continue to build and the fog remains thick. The waves are hitting us hard to starboard as we battle cross seas to a point several miles upwind from the island and make our turn. The scream of the wind dies immediately and we start to glide with it. “It’s like landing a paraglider on a postage stamp,” Frank says, the only words we’ve shared in the last thirty minutes. Surfing among the white-capped rollers, we race toward our invisible island in the fog.

When we’re within a mile or two, I scream to Paul and Denis to get out on deck. “Put on your dry suits, guys!” They scramble out of the cabin, fully aware of what’s been unfolding. “Tell us when you see the island,” I shout. It becomes obvious now that facing backward in a rowboat can be very impractical at times. “We’re four hundred meters out,” Frank yells (about four hundred yards). “Do you see anything?”

“Nothing,” Paul replies.

A moment later, Frank yells, “Two hundred meters out.”

“Nothing,” Paul says. “Wait a moment, I think I see—”

We all hear it before we see it—the deep, resonating thud of wave against cliff. I strain my neck over my left shoulder to see Bear Island ringed in steep cliffs, huge waves, and little hope. Our island refuge is no salvation at all.