Exploration

RCGS expedition grants give a huge boost to exciting 2022 journeys

From coast to coast to coast and into the ocean as well, eight grants expand our understanding of Canada

  • Mar 21, 2022
  • 677 words
  • 3 minutes
Extreme adventurers Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely paused their winter traverse of Ellesmere Island due to equipment malfunction but plan to return to the Arctic next winter.
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The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is once again supporting a stellar lineup of expeditions, providing funding toward eight adventures.

Expedition of the Year grantee and Explorer-in-Residence Ray Zahab got off to a quick start in March with an ambitious northern itinerary. Zahab and Kevin Valley were on a mission to cross Ellesmere Island (Umingmak nuna) south to north. A dream of Zahab’s since he crossed Siberia in 2010, this expedition, to which the Society contributed $15,000, had the duo traversing Canada’s northernmost island on skis and on foot, gathering data for research partners, and sharing the wonder of their location through film. 

Unfortunately, equipment malfunctions forced them to pause the expedition in mid-March, though plans are in the works to continue the trek next winter. “That’s what adventure is about — coming up with a strategy and adapting to the circumstances,” Zahab noted in a video recorded on Instagram to announced that they’d called a temporary halt. At a certain point, he said, continuing was just too risky for them and their support team. Zahab and Valley said they would pause, reassess, “lick their wounds” and return next season.

Ray Zahab and Kevin Valley plan to reconvene next winter to complete their trek across Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. (Photo: Ray Zahab)
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This year’s $5,000 Women’s Grant goes to Amaya Cherian-Hall, who has planned a five-month, two-person, 5,000-kilometre hiking-cycling-canoeing expedition through the vital wildlife corridor connecting Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon. The challenging two-person expedition passes through the traditional territories and lands of more than 20 First Nations and Métis, allowing Cherian-Hall to engage deeply with the area’s history as she moves across the landscape.

The RCGS has distributed five Major Grants of $4,000-$5,000 each. 

The Monashee Mountains in British Columbia are a popular destination in 2022, with two grantees undertaking unique expeditions to the range, a sub-range of the Columbia Mountains.  

Wildlife biologist and mountain life enthusiast Isobel Phoebus joins a group undertaking a self-guided ski traverse of B.C.’s Monashee Mountains. The team will observe and record the wildlife, human and industrial activity they observe along the way. Pockets of the range are known for tourism — ski touring, heli-skiing and sledding — while others face forestry and mining. Some areas see minimal human presence and are home to old-growth forests, quiet mountains and empty glaciers. The Indigenous territories in the Monashees are the Sinixt, Syilx, Ktunaxa and Secwepemc. 

Meanwhile, grantee Kirk Safford is also headed to the Monashee Mountains, but his team is going underground on a multi-day exploration of the White Rabbit cave system. Their goal is to connect two of the larger caves, pursue unexplored leads and collect scientific data about the unique karst environment. 

The RCGS contributed $15,000 to the Ellesmere Island expedition, a dream of Zahab's since he crossed Siberia in 2010. (Photo: Ray Zahab)
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Grantee John Dunn heads to Nunavut on a two-month, spring-summer ski traverse of Axel Heiberg Island. One of the objectives of “Double Axel” is to complete the first documented end-to-end ski traverse of the island, and to return back to the starting point at the southern end. At 475 kilometres apiece, the two legs of the Double Axel Expedition constitute an ambitious unsupported journey that forges an interesting and varied route through a challenging high Arctic landscape.

Meanwhile, Dave Garrow is joining John McClelland and Frank Wolf for a 400-kilometre ski tour on Ellesmere Island. They’re calling it the Pikialasorsuaq (the Inuit name for polynya) Expedition. The mission is to ski along the edge of the North Water Polynya, an area of year-round open water between Ellesmere and Greenland. On their journey, they’ll look for walrus, narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales and collect various samples for researchers studying this unique ecosystem.

The final grantee is Noah Booth, who undertakes an iconic four-person, 850-kilometre canoe journey from Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, to Bathurst Inlet, Nunavut. The route takes in boreal forest, barrenlands and tundra.

Explorer-in-Residence Jill Heinerth receives a $3,000 seed grant for the Great Island Expedition, a diving expedition to document underwater sites in Newfoundland and film the remains of two U.S. navy ships that sank in a storm in 1942. 

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