Standing on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Rimouski, Que., Bernard Voyer stared at the horizon, wondering what lay at the seam where the sky and the murky green water met. Frigid winter headwinds frosted his face and hands, but Voyer held fast, determined to beat the cold.
The seven-year-old eventually gave up, beaten by the elements. But rather than try to combat winter again, he decided to make its acquaintance.
This “friendship with winter,” says Voyer, now 60 and a renowned mountaineer and explorer, has been his raison d’être for more than 30 years. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society Fellow has sought out the season around the world to better understand it, climbing Mount Everest, cross-country skiing across Ellesmere Island and even trekking Ellesmere’s “polar opposite” — the Sahara Desert.
Voyer admits that adventure seeking is something most people eventually grow out of; but he never did.
He was 17 when he summited his first mountain, a 3,000-metre peak in the Canadian Rockies. That climb lit something inside him, and soon after finishing high school, he found himself travelling in Scandinavia. He then moved on to the French Alps, where he worked as a guide for 10 years.
In 1992, Voyer returned to Canada to ski across all four of Ellesmere Island’s ice caps — a world first. From 1992 to 1996, his urge for adventure took him to both the North Magnetic Pole and the South Pole, the latter of which he traversed with fellow Canadian explorer Thierry Petry. Voyer has climbed more than 20 mountains, always with the goal of meeting his childhood friend, winter, again. “My interest,” he says, “is to reach the snow.”
In 2005, Voyer published Aniu: From Snowflake to Iceberg, an account of his experiences in cold environments, which earned him a pair of literary awards in France, as well as a special feature in Géographica, Canadian Geographic’s French-language edition.
While Voyer hasn’t hung up his ice axe and mountaineering boots just yet, he is focusing on a different kind of adventure. In 2011, he gave a taste of the explorer’s life to nine Nunavik teens from the Junior Canadian Ranger Programme, which teaches community engagement and ranger skills to young people from remote and isolated communities. He guided the youths, who otherwise may not have had an opportunity to visit another country, on a fiveday, 4,750-metre-high trek through the Peruvian Andes. Building on the success of the Peru expedition, Voyer is now organizing another trek for Nunavik youth, this time to climb a portion of Mount Everest in Nepal.
“The adventure doesn’t stop when you get home and dry your tent,” he says. “It’s the beginning.”
To learn more about Bernard Voyer and his adventures, visit bernardvoyer.com.
— Michela Rosano
Posted in Fellows on Thursday, March 21, 2013