Famed adventurer Justin Fornal likes to splash around in the water just as much as the next guy.
That’s why he’ll be swimming from Canada to Greenland this week.
The athlete, explorer, writer and cultural detective — best known as the host of Unexplained and Unexplored on the Science Channel — joins General Aviation pilot Wesley Archer in an historic expedition that will test their endurance and will power: the Great Arctic Swim Expedition.
Fornal intends to be the first person ever to swim the Nares Strait, a 40-kilometre stretch between Canada and Greenland. The project is a four-year labour of love put together to help illustrate the vicissitudes of climate change and the cultural loss that goes with it.
The men will be accompanied and guided by Inuit hunters.
The Arctic adventure will be captured by esteemed filmmaker Emiliano Ruprah for a future documentary, so everyone can eventually witness the epic undertaking.
The team takes off from New York on Aug. 7 in a single-engine plane, flying into remote arctic Canada with a stop in Iqaluit.
From there they undertake the dangerous crossing to Qaanaaq, Greenland.
After arriving in Qaanaaq, the team will meet with the Inuit hunters who will support the swim and transport the team to Canada’s Pim Island — a 120-mile open water sea journey.
Once weather and sea ice conditions permit, Fornal will begin the gruelling swim across the Nares Strait.
Wesley Archer will be in a kayak next to him, transporting supplies including food and water.
The Inuit support team will likewise be nearby to keep any wildlife — massive Greenland sharks, for example, or territorial walruses — from getting too close.
In a recent interview, Fornal said he’d been preparing for years for this epic swim.
“I’ve been training in the Hudson River! I love to swim, I love to swim in open water, and I love to swim in difficult open water.
“We swam around the Scottish island of Islay, about 100 miles, in over a week, in very rough water.
“I really enjoyed it.”
During the Islay swim a few years ago, Fornal showed a creativity as robust as his athleticism. He added a sample from each of the many famed scotch distilleries on the island to the cask on his back in order to create a very rare blended malt.
Fornal explained that the Arctic swim was meant to be a winter venture, with the usual ice bridge acting as a dam as he swam through the year-round open waters of the North Water Polynya.
“That was supposed to be the original swim. You had to get there by dog sled. But the ice arch did not form again for the second year, so we have to do the swim now.”
As he explained, the Nares Strait and Baffin Bay are the epicentre for the results of global warming. Dramatic change has meant the loss of traditional Inuit culture and the natural ecology.
“And it’s happening right in front of our eyes,” Fornal said.
He’s pleased to partner on this venture with the Inuit people of Qaanaaq.
“This is their story as much as it’s a story about the water or the ice. They’ve been there for thousands of years and theirs are the voices that need to be heard. They are guiding me through the swim.”
This Arctic escapade is something Fornal has wanted to do for years.
“The swim is actually a little farther than I’d like it to be,” he said, laughing.
“But the Arctic! Most of us don’t know what’s up there. You think of Santa Claus when you’re a kid, but then — nothing.”
He hopes the Great Arctic Swim Expedition will bring environment and cultural awareness, “by focusing on one place and on the Qaanaaq, the people who can educate us on that area.”