Jerry Kobalenko: Arctic explorer

An interview with Arctic explorer Jerry Kobalenko. He's skied, hiked and kayaked more than 6,000 kilometres through the High Arctic, completing a number of expedition firsts.

Credit: Jerry Kobalenko

On August 6, 2011, Jerry Kobalenko and his wife, Alexandra, paddled their sea kayak up to the dock in Rigolet, a tiny Inuit community at the head of Hamilton Inlet on Labrador’s spidery east coast. It was the end of a 26-day trip, during which the pair had paddled 550 kilometres along the rugged shoreline from Nain. But for Kobalenko, it was also the completion of something bigger: his mission to paddle the length of the Labrador coast.

It took Kobalenko five years to cover the entire 1,900 kilometres, and he paddled 1,100 of those solo. But that kind of persistence is exactly what has made the 55-year-old writer and photographer one of Canada’s premier adventurers for decades. Since 1983, when Kobalenko first tried to ski across Labrador in winter, he’s shown a remarkable capacity— and passion—for hard, long and very committing journeys, which he often carries out alone.

Kobalenko may live in the Rocky Mountains, but his heart stays in the colder, flatter world of the North. He’s skied and hiked and kayaked more than 6,000 kilometres through the High Arctic, often on Ellesmere Island, where he’s completed a number of expedition firsts. His 16 sledding trips have been particularly notorious, as he’s pulled sleds weighing up to 330 pounds over extremely rough and often dangerous terrain, in frigid temperatures.

But some of Kobalenko’s scariest moments have come while travelling 4,000 kilometres in Labrador’s polar-bear-rich wilderness. Over the years, he’s had more than a dozen encounters in which the bears have approached within 50 feet.

This spring, Kobalenko is heading back to Labrador yet again, this time to ski 600 kilometres, from Nain to Kangiqsualujjuaq, with a young Inuit named Noah Nochasak. Nochasak is interested in learning some of the travel skills that his people have lost to the snowmobile. Kobalenko is the perfect person to teach him.

This profile is part of our top adventurers series, The Elite, from the Spring 2012 issue.