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

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

By Adam Shoalts
Published in 2019 by Allen Lane
Finished reading: March 14th, 2020
Rating: 4.0 / 5


A thrilling odyssey through an unforgiving landscape, from “Canada’s greatest living explorer.”

In the spring of 2017, Adam Shoalts, bestselling author and adventurer, set off on an unprecedented solo journey across North America’s greatest wilderness. A place where, in our increasingly interconnected, digital world, it’s still possible to wander for months without crossing a single road, or even see another human being.

Between his starting point in Eagle Plains, Yukon Territory, to his destination in Baker Lake, Nunavut, lies a maze of obstacles: shifting ice floes, swollen rivers, fog-bound lakes, and gale-force storms. And Shoalts must time his departure by the breakup of the spring ice, then sprint across nearly 4,000 kilometers of rugged, wild terrain to arrive before winter closes in.

He travels alone up raging rivers that only the most expert white-water canoeists dare travel even downstream. He must portage across fields of jagged rocks that stretch to the horizon, and navigate labyrinths of swamps, tormented by clouds of mosquitoes every step of the way. And the race against the calendar means that he cannot afford the luxuries of rest, or of making mistakes. Shoalts must trek tirelessly, well into the endless Arctic summer nights, at times not even pausing to eat.

But his reward is the adventure of a lifetime.

Heart-stopping, wonder-filled, and attentive to the majesty of the natural world, Beyond the Trees captures the ache for adventure that afflicts us all.


If trying to canoe up the Mackenzie alone was regarded as absurd by experienced canoeists, trying to canoe the Coppermine in reverse, a river whose current was perhaps three times stronger than the Mackenzie’s, was seen by veteran northern travellers as utterly delusional, if not a case of actual self-harm.


I quite enjoy Adam Shoalts’ books, and this was no exception. I like a good travel/exploration/adventure story, and this delivers on all counts. Even better, all this takes place here in Canada, not the exotic far-flung location of most travel stories.

One of the great things about the book is that it’s focused on a very specific timeline, the short summer in Northern Canada. This adds a feeling of drama right from the beginning. The author had to get going as soon as possible — but not so early as to encounter too much cold, snow, and ice — and finish before the following winter returned. The days the author spent waiting for the weather to clear to be able to paddle across vast bodies of water became amazingly suspenseful, not something typically used to describe days off in a tent.

I found the pace perfect and the writing descriptive and approachable. Nothing too technical or gear-driven here. As an outdoorsman myself I found the mention of gear here and there interesting, without it sinking into advertising for certain brands or equipment. The descriptions of the land, the connection to historical trips and tragedies added a depth to a will-he-or-won’t-he-make-it adventure story. As the trip was a sort-of celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, I really appreciated the historical side stories found throughout.

In the end, an exhilarating and fascinating read.