Northwest Passage Kayakers Play Hurry Up and Wait

The four kayakers trying to cover the entire 3,000km Northwest Passage in a single season have been making impressive progress — on those few days they’ve been able to paddle.

West Hansen, Jeff Wueste, Mark Agnew, and Eileen Visser began in early July, a month earlier than Hansen and Wueste did on their first attempt last year. But in early July, sea ice immediately stymied progress for almost two weeks. During that time, they bided their time in a hunting cabin at their starting point on eastern Bylot Island.

Temporarily escaping the sea ice, they managed to reach the north end of Bylot Island. Here, currents sweep away the ice early in the season.

satellite map of High Arctic showing ice

A recent satellite view of the eastern part of the Northwest Passage. The solid red line shows the distance the kayakers have already covered. The dotted red line shows the route immediately ahead of them.


Long days

They swiftly left Bylot Island behind them and crossed ice-plugged Navy Board Inlet over to Baffin Island. Putting in long days, they soon crossed Admiralty Inlet, also ice-filled south of their position, to reach their current location near the western end of Baffin Island. Here, they’ve been waiting a couple of days for winds to die down.

On their four paddling days since beginning the expedition in earnest, they have covered 64km, 56km, 77km, and 71km.

Ahead of them lies an open coast and a long crossing to Somerset Island. They will follow Somerset Island south to a narrow channel called Bellot Strait. The route to Bellot Strait is currently ice-free, but this can change from day to day. Winds, tides, and currents shift the loose pieces of ice unpredictably. There is a lot of ice to the south and also waiting for them on the west side of Bellot Strait.


Ice still a factor

Despite their few paddling days, they have already come further than they did last summer, when they stopped just short of their Admiralty Inlet crossing. 2022 featured a lot of wind and so much sea ice that even cruise ships were unable to transit the Northwest Passage. Despite climate change, there are still years when ice blocks the way. The summer of 2018 was another no-go year for ships of all sizes.

So far, the foursome has shown that without sea ice or wind, they can make good distances in their double kayaks.

Once they cross over to Somerset Island to the crux of their route, on either side of Bellot Strait, they will have to deal with sea ice again. But if they can find enough open water to reach Victoria Island, they will have left the ice behind them.

Jerry Kobalenko

Jerry Kobalenko is the editor of ExplorersWeb. One of Canada’s premier arctic travelers, he is the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden, and has just finished a book about adventures in Labrador. In 2018, he was awarded the Polar Medal by the Governor General of Canada and in 2022, he received the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal for services to exploration.