Three High Canadian crossings completed – Ray Zahab and mates

At the beginning of February, ultra runners Ray Zahab (CAN) and Stefano Gregoretti (ITA) embarked on an expedition to three separate regions of the Canadian North. The goal was to traverse each of these three diverse regions under human power, each requiring a different set of skills and training.

The expedition is completed, 30 days of a challenging scary low and the best highs he could imagine, wrote Ray in a debrief. “Together, Stefano and I attempted to cross three separate regions of the Canadian Arctic, in three back to back stages, traveling to each destination one right after the other. Our goal was to cross the Torngats from Saglek Fjord on foot and unsupported, then ski unsupported across Baffin Island, then finish by fatbiking the Mackenzie Valley Winter Road in the Northwest Territories. As I have said before, expeditions in the Arctic are dangerous and weather is always an issue, winter is even more unpredictable. An expedition that involves us crossing three regions in winter was even trickier! As prepared as you can be, the unexpected does happend.”

Stage 1: Crossing the Torngats

This stage was cut short when Ray fell through the ice. He nearly became hypothermic and spend 48 hours to get out of it, but his body couldn’t recover. ”After breaking through the ice and nearly freezing to death in stage 1, our attempt to cross the Torngats on foot unsupported, I honestly thought the entire project could be in jeopardy. Mentally it was very difficult to get my head past wondering, how, after we were so prepared, could go so wrong, and tried to grasp how we could rally back. My body was beaten up and weakened from the cold and few days exposure after going through the ice. But the beauty of the landscape we did get to see and the people we met and new friends made, and the energy of the students we spoke with in Kuujjuaq helped to lift us.”

Stage 2: Baffin Island

They began their unsupported ski in North Pangnirtung Fjord and spent the next 5 days “fighting tremendous headwinds that would eventually dissipate and reveal the spectacular mountain vista of the Canadian Arctic. The icy cold (-60) winds were strong enough to blow through the tiny holes in our goggles and face masks, leaving us frostbitten, but it was worth it! We would spend long days hauling our loaded sleds into the night, over moraines and up and down steep slopes. One especially cold night, an almost full moon combined with the northern lights flanked by Turner Glacier and mountains was our route. In that moment I was reminded that the Arctic can be both harsh and beautiful at the same time.”

“The day after, I was especially freaked out about descending the Weasel River, which is super steep and very wide for the first several kilometers…and full of overflow. I had enough of winter dunkings, so I was being extra careful while scouting a route. The last 30km, winds were strong enough to flip our sleds, and we wore every stitch of clothing we had in order to stay warm. Our finish was a mix of wind-blown ice, sand and rock. We were completely depleted by the time we got to Pangnirtung, but we were so happy, on such a huge high”- we made it!!! We had helped each other multiple times during stage 2 across Baffin, cheering when skies would clear and the winds would drop…supporting one another when someone was on empty, with no energy left. It was an epic experience!”

Stage 3: Mackenzie Valley

Stage Three was riding 500 km in 5 days on their fatbikes from Wrigley to Fort Good Hope on the winter ice road. They were joined by Ewan Affleck from Yellowknife.

“The Mackenzie Mountain Range never disappointed us as we rode the windy and extremely hilly route. Each day we would push ourselves in the cold for as long as we could, or until our legs were baked. Trucks would zip past waving and people from the few local communities would stop their vehicles to get pictures with us. We became an unusual fixture on the winter road, with all of the truckers communicating with one another on where we were, so as to avoid any collisions with us on the single lane bridges or steep hills.”

Ray ends with: “The beauty of adventure is not knowing what we will discover or learn next, and when we are pushing limits, occasionally we all have a setback. We started out our expedition with near disaster, and we were not able to complete our Torngats stage, but we bounced back to ski across Baffin and fatbike the Mackenzie Valley.”

Previous about Ray Zahab

In 2008-09 Antarctica, Ray snowshoed 1,130 km on the Hercules Inlet route in a team speed record time of 33 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes with Richard Weber and Kevin Vallely. In 2010 Ray and Kevin set a speed record across Lake Baikal, Ray has done several ultra-distance runs in several deserts.

2017 North Pole/Arctic interviews

North Pole Interview with Sky, the Dog: “Things might get bloody”

North Pole Interview: Martin Murray with dog, Sky

Interview: Sebastian Copeland, North Pole attempt despite grave notes

2017 Ski North Pole Expedition List by Explorersweb/Pythom

Dixie Dansercoer: North Pole Gear and Antarctica kiting

KK6PGW to RW0BG: Messages From Russia (Interview)

Too much weight for North Pole plane – Skiers in Resolute Bay – Updated

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