Jelle Veyt Cancels Denali Expedition

Laid low by constant seasickness while rowing to the U.S., the Belgian must find another way to continue his self-propelled Seven Summits quest.

Since 2013, Veyt has been attempting to  be the first to climb the world’s highest peaks totally by human power: rowing, skiing, cycling, walking, and climbing. So far, he has climbed Elbrus, Everest, and Carstensz Pyramid.

But Denali proved much harder than the others, and not because of the mountain. He duly cycled 2,400km from Belgium to Portugal. On February 25, he began to row across the Atlantic to Miami with two companions, Gijs Vanden Bogaerde and Koen De Gezelle. From there, he planned to cycle to Alaska and climb Denali.

For the row, each man packed food for 100 days. However, the quest ended just over two weeks after leaving Portugal.

Veyt has always been sensitive to seasickness, but on his previous expedition to Carstensz Pyramid in New Guinea, he was able to deal with it by island-hopping, then recovering for a day or two.

But on the open Atlantic, no such breaks were possible. He had to row 13 hours and cover 100km a day. Instead, he had to spend far too much time crouched over a bucket. He never did find his sea legs. “We encountered headwinds, five-metre waves,” says Veyt.

They managed to row 1,300km to Tenerife, off the west coast of Africa, but Veyt was unable to keep food and medication down and became seriously dehydrated and shaky. “I was too dependent on my rowing partners,” said Veyt. “I don’t want to cross an ocean like that. I was vomiting and rowing for 16 days.”

The total rowing distance to Miami would have been 7,200km, another 10 weeks or so.

Veyt and bucket. Photo: Jelle Veyt


So where does this leave his project? Veyt says he will continue to travel self-propelled, but he will no longer include rowing in the mix. Rowing an open ocean turned out to be just too much for someone so prone to nausea.

This last leg ended too recently for Veyt to have a concrete alternative, although he is considering using a sailboat, which would allow him to cross the Atlantic from island to island in two or three weeks. “I already proved that I can vomit and perform for that length of time,” he said.

On the immediate horizon, he will continue cycling to Kilimanjaro instead. That was postponed last April because of the pandemic, after he had already reached the Congo. He hopes to summit by the end of September.