Northwest Passage Kayakers Begin Again

Four kayakers begin their attempt to kayak the 3,000km Northwest Passage today. West Hansen, Jeff Wueste, Mark Agnew, and Eileen Visser are starting from Button Point, the easternmost corner of Bylot Island, where the fabled Northwest Passage opens east into Baffin Bay.

Last year, Hansen and Wueste attempted the route but had to abort after a modest 400km. Their third member dropped out early because of chronic seasickness. Storms and wind had delayed the remaining pair.

This year, they have made several significant changes that they hope will lead to success. They are now starting with four people in two double kayaks rather than three paddlers in three single kayaks. Doubles are a little faster and more stable in rough water.

Map of the first part of their route

The kayakers plan to leave Button Point, in the lower right-hand corner of the map, later today. The light blue area between Bylot Island and Pond Inlet indicates sea ice.


They have also begun almost a month earlier. This early in the arctic summer, there is still so much sea ice that they will have to paddle around the exposed north side of Bylot Island rather than the more sheltered south side, which they took last year. They also had to hire snowmobiles and komatiks (wooden sleds) to convey them from Pond Inlet to Button Point. Last year, they went by boat.

Strong currents between Bylot and Devon Islands flush out the ice significantly earlier. However, they may have to fight this west-east current, as well as headwinds from the prevailing westerlies. They hope that by the time they round the western corner of Baffin Island and approach Bellot Strait, the sea ice in that region will have largely melted away.

Bellot Strait, a kilometer-wide strait between Somerset Island and the Canadian mainland, will be the crux of their journey. If they can get through Bellot Strait — despite climate change, it is still impassible some summers — they have a decent chance of success.

Like last year, the kayakers style themselves as the Arctic Cowboys. Two of them are from Texas, although Eileen Visser is a New York biology professor, and the fourth, Mark Agnew, is a British “keynote speaker,” according to his website,

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.