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Spring 2011

Arctic high


Jerry Kobalenko
Obsession takes many forms, but for most people, it usually doesn’t involve hauling a 100-kilogram sled for weeks at a time across some of the coldest, most remote terrain on Earth. But Jerry Kobalenko is not most people. A 53-year old writer and photographer based in Canmore, Alta., Kobalenko has chalked up more kilometres of self-propelled High Arctic travel over the past 27 years than anyone alive. It has vaulted him into the same company as explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, the legendary Greenland guide Nukapinguaq and a handful of all-but-unknown RCMP patrollers who, with their Inuit guides, dogsledded stupendous distances in the 1920s and early 1930s to enforce Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. “They would travel three-quarters of the way across the Arctic and back in a single season and make it sound easy,” says Kobalenko. “Now, those were travellers.”

Kobalenko’s Arctic career began in 1984 when, at 27, he completed a 600-kilometre winter trek across central Labrador, just to get a taste of extreme solo sledding. That 46-day inauguration eventually led him to explore Nunavut’s Ellesmere, Axel Heiberg and Devon islands. Since then, the region’s snowy mountains, endless icefields, glaciers, fiords and meadows many of which are found in Ellesmere’s Quttinirpaaq National Park have captivated him and have been featured in his books Arctic Eden and The Horizontal Everest. He flies there as often as he can so far, it’s 35 expeditions and counting to photograph the land and wildlife, seek out prehistoric Paleo-Eskimo tent rings and ponder on the cairns and dilapidated shacks left by previous expeditions.

Kobalenko will share his adventures in the Arctic, including some of Canada’s national parks, on April 27 in Ottawa, as part of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Speaker Series.

Kobalenko’s motivation for heading north, unlike some who have sought fame and fortune, is mainly to experience the solitude of the High Arctic’s austerely beautiful landscape. Given the natural glories of the region, including 24-hour sunlight from April to late August, it both amuses and discourages him that many armchair travellers discount polar journeys outside the traditional big-name destinations.

“To the public and to the expedition world, it seems that the only two polar trips are the North Pole and the South Pole, and everything else is insignificant,” says Kobalenko. “I’ve travelled tens of thousands of kilometres in the Arctic and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I could spend lifetimes never retracing my route.”

— Alec Ross



More about Jerry Kobalenko:
• Spring 2011 Speaker Series: Searching for Arctic Eden
Interview with Jerry Kobalenko at Canadian Geographic
• Fall 2004 Speaker Series: Jerry Kobalenko: Extreme Adventures on Ellesmere Island
Expeditions: Alone across Labrador 2004


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