Kevin: "Ultimately we’re not rowing an ocean but rather rowing through an archipelago where wind and ice will play the major role."
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"We will have large crossings to make of course and will time these as best we can with stable weather and ice conditions. Our intent is to move with determination, prudently." Kevin in the image.
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"We each selected a teammate to join us. I asked friend and adventurer Frank Wolf who, without a doubt, is one of Canada’s leading adventurers."
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"Paul Gleeson and I met at an outdoor festival where we were both speakers. [...] I threw the idea [of rowing the NWP] out to him at the end of our meeting and left it at that. He called me a week later saying he’d thought of nothing else and, presto, the trip was born."
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"Paul asked friend and fellow Irishman Denis Barnett, a newcomer to the expedition world but a young guy having all the passion and focus to be the perfect teammate, [to join]."
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"[...] This was the Northwest Passage, the iconic crux to the northern sea route from Europe to the Orient, the passage I learned so much about in school, the passage that, through the quest to find it, shaped my country of Canada. I was struck by the idea."
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ExWeb interview with Kevin Vallely, the Northwest Passage, the iconic crux to the northern sea route

Posted: Apr 15, 2013 01:42 pm EDT
(Correne Coetzer Update Apr 16, 2013 01:12 pm EDT) Already 15 years ago the seed for a traverse of a part of the Northwest Passage under human power in a single season was planted in Kevin's mind, by none other than Jerome Truran, one of the world’s top downriver paddlers in the 80’s.

In July Kevin Vallely, Paul Gleeson, Frank Wolf, Denis Barnett and their rowboat are off to Northern Canada to attempt a traverse of the Northwest Passage [Ed note update Apr 16, 2013 01:12 pm: from EDT from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, to Pond Inlet, Nunavut] under human power in a single season; which has never been done before.

Busy with finishing off the boat and designing cool houses, Kevin told ExplorersWeb about how the idea to row this part of the Northwest Passage took shape, how the crew teamed up, and about their route.

ExplorersWeb: Where did the idea come from?

Kevin: The idea was suggested to me by a good friend of mine named Jerome Truran. Jerome, a South African, was one of the world’s top downriver paddlers in the 80’s and he was a member of Piotr Chmielinski’s first decent team that ran the Amazon River from source to sea back in 1985. Truran was the ringer brought along to make it through the really tough white water sections. (Some of your readers have likely read Joe Kane’s best-selling book Running the Amazon. Jerome’s the dude on the front cover running the Acobamba Abyss.)

Fifteen years ago Jerome mentioned the idea to me in musing that a traverse of the Northwest Passage under human power in a single season was one of the last great adventure firsts still left undone. It caught my attention right away in part because it came from uber-adventurer Jerome but it also because of what it represented. This was the Northwest Passage, the iconic crux to the northern sea route from Europe to the Orient, the passage I learned so much about in school, the passage that, through the quest to find it, shaped my country of Canada. I was struck by the idea.

At the time, a decade and a half ago, the concept was simply theoretical as there was no way it was possible with the ice conditions. Since then climate change has transformed the arctic and because of it, to our minds anyhow, a traverse can now be done.

It wasn’t long ago that the Northwest Passage was sole domain of steel-hulled ice-breakers. We hope that the very fact that we’re planning to make this traverse completely under human power in a row boat, without sail or motor, in a single season will scream to the fact that things are changing dramatically in the Arctic.

We’ve partnered with the Irish wind turbine and solar power company Mainstream Renewable Power. The name of our expedition is The Mainstream Last First.

ExplorersWeb: How was the team put together?

Kevin: Paul Gleeson and I met at an outdoor festival where we were both speakers. Paul rowed the Atlantic in 2007 and his hometown of Limerick, Ireland is where my parents are from. We met a week after the festival to chat about upcoming adventures, Paul with the intent of picking my brain about Antarctica – a place he wanted to head – and me with the intent of finding a little bit more about ocean rowing with the idea of traversing the Northwest Passage. I threw the idea out to him at the end of our meeting and left it at that. He called me a week later saying he’d thought of nothing else and, presto, the trip was born.

We each selected a teammate to join us. I asked friend and adventurer Frank Wolf who, without a doubt, is one of Canada’s leading adventurers and Paul asked friend and fellow Irishman Denis Barnett, a newcomer to the expedition world but a young guy having all the passion and focus to be the perfect teammate. Our team was set.

ExplorersWeb: How does your training program look like?

Kevin: I’ve been doing adventures since the late 90’s and have found myself skiing, biking, paddling, ice-biking, trekking, running and even riding elephants across various landscapes. In recent years my close friend Ray Zahab and I teamed up on several expeditions where ultra-running played a major role - South Pole, Lake Baikal, South America. I love running and it’s always a major role in my training. I’m still running now but have consciously decreased the volume preferring to mix it up with lots of cross country skiing over the past winter and now a gradual build-up of work on the rowing machine. We’ll have our boat built soon and we’ll be training on that until we leave.

ExplorersWeb: Tell us about your boat please? Are there any modifications for the ice waters?

Kevin: Ocean rowing boats are specifically designed to deal with the unique conditions of an oceanic environment. They need to be tough, fully self contained with the ability to self right in the event of capsize. Our boat has been designed with slightly different considerations in mind. Ultimately we’re not rowing an ocean but rather rowing through an archipelago where wind and ice will play the major role. Our hull shape will differ from many traditional ocean rowing boats and is reinforced with Kevlar to potentially withstand encounters with ice.

ExplorersWeb: How will your route be?

Kevin: Our route takes us from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, to Pond Inlet, Nunavut. We’re very specific on these two locations as, in our mind, they represent the crux of the northern sea route from Europe to the Orient - the Northwest Passage.

The explorers of past, those who went in search of a northern sea route across the Americas, would round the southern tip of Greenland and head north looking for an entry west. Henry Hudson thought it was at the southern end of Baffin Island. He was wrong and stumbled upon the enormous inland sea that would later bear his name. Others would find countless dead-ends until finally the mouth of Lancaster Sound was revealed as the entry to the Passage.

When Roald Amundsen made the first successful crossing of the Northwest Passage from East to West in 1903-06 he finished by anchoring near Herschel Island at the mouth of the Mackenzie River (a short distance from Tuktoyaktuk, NWT today) and skied 800 kilometers to the city of Eagle, Alaska, to send a telegram announcing his success at making it through the Northwest Passage. The puzzle had been solved.

We want to make it very clear here that we’re not trying to row the entire northern sea route from Pacific to Atlantic but rather the Northwest Passage, the route through the various islands of the Canadian archipelago that represented the crux to the mariners of yore trying to navigate across the top of the world.

ExplorersWeb: How many protected harbors are on your route? What are the other dangers you are preparing for?

Kevin: There will be protected harbors along route and we plan to row relatively close to land for most part for ease of retreat if things turn particularly nasty. Travelling closer to land affords a greater possibility of viewing wildlife too, something we wouldn’t want to miss.

We will have large crossings to make of course and will time these as best we can with stable weather and ice conditions. Our intent is to move with determination, prudently.

Work: Residential designer.
Family: Wife Nicky and two daughters Caitlin (9) and Arianna (7)
Hobbies: Hanging out with my girls.
Favorite music: Everything from Johnny Cash to Paul Oakenfold
Favorite Food: Indian
Latest read book: Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Best adventure yet: Skiing to the South Pole with Ray Zahab and Richard Weber
Dream destination: The Great Himalayan Trail

5 top accomplishments in your life:
My wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters.
Being awarded a Commonwealth Scholar to Cambridge University in Architecture.
Skiing it to the South Pole in 2009 and breaking the speed record to boot.
Designing of a number of cool buildings in my professional career.
Living the life I want to live.

The person who inspire you most:
My dad. He exemplified to me the spirit of truly being your own person.

Previously was reported that Ray Zahab was part of the team, but he is not joining them anymore as he is undertaking a Gobi Traverse instead, Kevin told ExWeb.

We got to know Kevin Vallely for the speed ski record to the South Pole with Ray Zahab and guide Richard Weber, the speed run across Lake Baikal in Siberia with Ray, and for their ultra running across deserts and more.


This expedition (and other expeditions/ adventures/ projects with RSS feeds) can be followed in the live Dispatch stream at the Pythom App for iPhone/iPad and on Android as well as at ExplorersWeb.

The Mainstream Last First links

NWP: The Mainstream Last First website

More about the crew

The Mainstream Last First blog

The Mainstream Last First on Facebook

The Mainstream Last First on Twitter

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Mathieu Bonnier continued Northwest Passage row from Resolute Bay

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ExWeb interview with Kevin Vallely, “On an expedition like this the mental component is everything”

Northwest Passage kite ski update: critical final route decisions

Japanese expedition retraced doomed Northwest Passage Franklin expedition

Jerzy Porębski's comic flipbook based on Joe Kane's book Running the Amazon

ExplorersWeb Expedition List



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