Adventure Trail

Weekend Warm-Up: Alone Across the Canadian North by Canoe

Ossie Khan

16th May 2024 4 min read

When an author, Ph.D, and man called one of the “greatest living explorers” by Canadian Geographic drops an hour-plus canoe video on YouTube, it’s time to brew a pot of coffee, wrap up in your favorite comfy blanket, and tag along for the ride.

Adam Shoalts is the man, and the video is called 2 Month Solo Canoe Journey in the Canadian Wilderness. It chronicles Shoalts’ journey across the Hudson Bay Lowlands, the third-largest wetland area in the world. Other than a 20-second shot of Shoalts waving to his bank-bound brother as he departs, the adventurer filmed the entire thing himself.

For Shoalts, solo means solo. 

a man paddles a canoe

Photo: Screenshot

“This immense wetland is a true labyrinth,” Shoalts narrates in the video’s opening moments. “Satellite images reveal a complicated maze of swampy passageways, snakey rivers, and countless log-jammed creeks. I set off into the heart of this landscape in an attempt to cross the lowlands from south to north, and to explore as much of its priceless wild while it still exists in a natural state.”

aerial of swamp

An overhead view of the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Complex! Photo: Screenshot

North America is a big place, but looking at a map of the Hudson Bay Lowlands in relation to the rest of the continent really brings home their scale. By the end of his two-month journey, Shoalts traveled 1,300km. And to say it wasn’t easy is putting it mildly.

The Hudson Bay Lowlands in green. Map: Wikimedia Commons

One early scene showcases Shoalts’ canoe skills as he navigates rapids choked with strainers, logs, and other obstacles. Shoalts is cool as a cucumber through it all, even as he hits a wave at the wrong angle and tips his canoe (briefly) into the drink. His recovery is swift and seamless.

man paddling canoe in rapids

Navigating whitewater. Photo: Screenshot

Portage hell, horsefly heaven

And when he isn’t navigating whitewater, Shoalts is engaging in a series of endless portages over the kind of terrain very few human beings would like to drag a canoe over. And dragging is the operative word here. Often, the strips of land Shoalts has to cross are too choked with low-hanging branches and thick underbrush for an over-the-head carry.

a man drags a canoe through a dense forest

It’s hard to believe, but this is a shot of a canoe portage. Looks fun, huh? Photo: Screenshot

Where there are huge amounts of water combined with untrammeled wilderness, there are the kind of insects that just sit around daydreaming for something soft and pink and delicious to float by. The Hudson Bay Lowlands are no exception. Almost every single shot in the 80-minute video has a fly or mosquito buzzing through the frame, and close-ups of horseflies congregating at Shoalts’ tent entrance like Greeks at the gates of Troy are enough to make the skin crawl.

a horsefly on the outside of a tent

Bloodsuckers and biters. Photo: Screenshot

“When they bite you, it feels more like a bee sting because they’re pretty big suckers. And all day long I had several dozen of these guys just swarming around my head, following me downriver,” Shoalts notes as he zooms in with masochistic glee for a close-up of one of his tormenters.

“Then, when I come inside my tent, they just swarm the tent.”

Eventually, Shoalts stops counting his bug bites, bruises, scrapes, rashes, cuts, and abrasions.

But it isn’t all hardship. The Hudson Bay Lowlands continuously offer up the kind of sunsets only a wetland can provide, all soft purples and reflected pinks. Sometimes, Shoalts will catch a peaceful stretch of water and coast along in silent reflection. There’s fishing and wildlife observation. The blowing wind and the soft slap of the paddle in still water. And, of course, berry collection.

Photo: Screenshot

Balsam balm

Shoalts is a science communicator at his core, which means he often takes time to stop and give lessons. One standout is when he uses sap from a balsam fir to seal and heal an open wound on his wrist. Not long after, the cut is barely even visible. No bandage required.

Shoalts’ balsam fir sap treatment sealed his wrist wound perfectly. Photo: Screenshot

Source: https://explorersweb.com/weekend-warmup-canoe-hudson-bay-lowlands/

Learn more: https://www.adventurefilm.academy/

 

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