Beyond the Trees: A Journey Alone Across Canada’s Arctic

Allen Lane. Oct. 2019. 288p. ISBN 9780735236837. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780735236844. NAT HIST
To mark his country’s 150th anniversary in 2017, Shoalts, “Canada’s Indiana Jones,” had an ambitious plan to cross the Arctic solo, heading west to east, from the Yukon to Nunavut, distance of some 2,500 miles, or 4,000 kilometers. It takes him four months, with many 13-hour days in his canoe, paddling the powerful Mackenzie River upstream, using a pole to push his canoe through the ice on Great Bear Lake, portaging for miles at several points with canoe and supplies, wading and hauling his canoe through Coppermine River rocks and rapids, and, near the end, battling the frigid winds and waves of the Dismal Lakes. The dangers and irritants are legion: grizzlies, muskox, swarms of biting insects, and risks of damage to canoe and equipment. The most worrisome, though, is time with the short Arctic summer allowing slim margins for mishap or lingering. The prose is lean, muscular—readers feel every paddle stroke. Those looking for introspection or meditations on the landscape will be disappointed, though Arctic flora and fauna are noted, as are the explorers who went before.
VERDICT Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the author’s sheer athleticism and technical aspects of his feat, while armchair adventurers can marvel at the far north’s natural beauties.

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