Freya Hoffmeister and Partner Kayaking 1,500Km in Western Arctic

German endurance paddler Freya Hoffmeister and Texan Jimmy Harvey reached Paulatuk this week, marking the one-third point of their summer expedition through the western Arctic.

The trip is part of Hoffmeister’s latest quest to paddle around all of North America, a section at a time. If she finishes the circumnavigation, she’ll add it to a list of accomplishments that includes circumnavigating Iceland, the South Island of New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

She launched her roughly 48,000km trip around North America in March 2017, pushing off from Seattle. She’s paddling northern sections like this one during the summer, and moving south when cold weather sets in.

map of route

The route from Tuktoyaktuk to Cambridge Bay, via Paulatuk and Kugluktuk.


She’s not doing it alone this time. For this stretch, she invited Harvey, a long-distance paddler from Austin, Texas, to join her. They departed Tuktoyaktuk in mid-July. It took them 18 days to cover the 500km to Paulatuk. Here, they picked up a new water filter to replace one that had broken and spent two nights before launching again on August 2.

If all goes according to plan, they’ll make it to Kugluktuk (formerly Coppermine) by mid-August, and Cambridge Bay by early September, when cold weather typically starts setting in.

“She’s got this down to a science — she thrives on this environment out here,” Harvey said of Hoffmeister.

Freya Hoffmeister in calm water.

Jimmy Harvey in glassy water. Photo: Freya Hoffmeister


Whales, caribou — no bears

Despite a few personality struggles, the two are covering about 40km a day when they’re moving. So far, they’ve seen bowhead whales and caribou, but no bears –- yet. They also haven’t encountered any ice, and don’t expect to see much between now and their finish point in Cambridge Bay, roughly the midway point of the Northwest Passage.

They’ve encountered mostly smooth water, although they hit some chop during one 14-hour bay crossing. “Really, two-foot swells are more entertaining than completely flat water,” Harvey says. “Flat is boring. There’s nothing to help you stay alert.”

The paddlers won’t have any big crossings as they paddle the next 500km toward Kugluktuk, but they may face stiff headwinds.

The biggest challenge so far has been trying to stay cool while paddling in a dry suit.

“It’s hotter than you would think up here, and I brought all of these warm clothes,” says Harvey.

Pam LeBlanc

Pam LeBlanc is an Austin, Texas-based journalist who writes about outdoor adventure and environmental issues for numerous publications. Learn more at