The Icarus Project: 3,000Km of Sledding, Then Climb Denali

Arctic Mountain

In 2016, Matthieu Bélanger created the crazily ambitious Icarus Project. With teammate Loury Lag, he plans to climb the Seven Summits in seven years. That doesn’t sound particularly original, but the climbs are the easy part.  They will also complete a major challenge in the lead-up to each peak. This 100,000km human-powered world tour was inspired by Mike Horn’s Arktos expedition around the Arctic Circle.

Loury Lag and Matthieu Bélanger. Photo: icarus-project.com

On Saturday, they began Chapter 2: Climbing Denali via the Northwest Passage — or at least, part of the Passage. They set off from Repulse Bay, at the northern throat of Hudson Bay, bound for Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 3,000km away. From here, they will cycle 1,350km to Denali. Then they’ll climb Denali from the north and ski down the southwest side. Finally, they’ll raft from Denali to the southwest coast of Alaska, arriving in Anchorage in early July. They estimate that the entire expedition will take them 130 days.

Although there is no link between Denali and their sledding route, Bélanger was drawn to the Northwest Passage by tales of early explorers like Amundsen.

Training in Norway. Photo: Matthieu Belanger

Somewhat curiously,  they want to beat Mike Horn’s pace for crossing the section from Kugluktuk, Nunavut to Deadhorse, Alaska. Horn — who wasn’t racing — did that part of the route in 133 days; they are aiming for 90 days. Mainly, it seems, they want to walk in the footsteps of the guy who so inspired them.

They will use kites whenever possible, although prevailing winds are westerly. They need to average around 30km a day but they admit that “unless we have a good wind every couple of weeks, it will be very hard to keep the pace.”

They are carrying flare guns and a 12-gauge shotgun to ward off any polar bears. The shotgun is a last resort, Bélanger insists. “We have a bear alarm system with a tripwire. If polar bears come close, we can make noise and shoot flares, which should make them go away.”

Training in Norway. Photo: Matthieu Belanger

Their sleds weigh 90 kilos initially, and they will replenish their supplies at several arctic villages en route. When they reach Alaska, they’ll swap their sleds for bikes. Later, at the foot of Denali, they’ll trade bikes for mountaineering gear. So many modes of transport “keeps the trip interesting,” says Bélanger. Reaching Denali solely by bike would be much quicker but “pretty boring”.

For the cycling section, they plan to cover 185km a day and will not stop for supplies. This should be the easiest section, but if the temperature warms up prematurely “it will be quite muddy, which would slow us down.”

Next year, Chapter 3 will see them tackle Elbrus and Kilimanjaro, and link them by sailing, cycling and kayaking. In the meantime, you can follow their progress on their tracker.

Photo: Matthieu Belanger

About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Aspiring sports and travel journalist based in the UK.

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