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The Arctic Passage

Objective

The objective is to do a solo paddle, unsupported, from the Pacific Ocean (Beaufort Sea) to the Atlantic Ocean (Hudson Bay), of the so-called Northwest Passage. 

 

Distance

The full distance of the route is just over 4,000 nautical miles. In case Herman runs out of time during the season, he is potentially able to take two shortcuts overland, one at Taloyaok and the other one at Repulse Bay; this would reduce the total distance by approximately 800 nautical miles.  Herman is still researching to verify the feasibility of the overland portions.

 

Route

The Route will visit the following towns:

  • Inuvik, Northern Territories, Canada
  • Paulatuk, Nunavut, Canada
  • Coppermine, Nunavut, Canada
  • Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, Canada
  • Taloyoak, Nunavut, Canada
  • Repulse Bay, Nunavut, Canada
  • Churchill, Nunavut, Canada

 

Duration

Herman will have to paddle at least during two seasons.  The journey will be during two warm seasons from June to August of 2014 and again in 2015.  Average paddling season above the Arctic Circle is approximately two to three months maximum, depending on how long the ice cover lasts. Even if there is little ice, paddling later than August is generally not possible because of low temperatures and autumn storms.  There is no viable way to complete the paddle in one season.  After completion of the first section, Herman intends to store his kayak locally until the start of the new season.

 

Execution

Herman plans to be totally self-sufficient.  He can carry four weeks of food and fuel in his kayak and will send food boxes in advance to specific locations along the route for replenishments.  He will leave a float-plan with all Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) stations along the route and will check in, in person, at every station.  The RCMP keeps logs of all travelers along that coastline and checks on progress to ensure everybody's safety.  

The paddle will start in Inuvik, in the Mackenzie Delta. Thus, the paddling direction will be from west to east to take advantage of the prevailing currents.

The target departure date from home is June 10, 2014 with a targeted arrival date in the Arctic of June 25.

The route will be from Rosarito to San Diego and then straight up to Capitola, California, to see his son Martijn.  From there Herman will head north to Canada to stay for a day or two with his brother in Vancouver.  In Vancouver he will  take care of the arrangements with regard to shipping food boxes and, if necessary, get the final bits and pieces of equipment that he may have forgotten in the rush of things.

From Vancouver is the long road to Inuvik.  Herman is currently contemplating a stop in Hay River, at the bottom of the Great Slave Lake and just east of the beginning of the Mackenzie River.

At this point Herman will decide on the final stretch to Inuvik.  Much will depend on the ice situation, both on the Mackenzie River and in the Mackenzie Estuary.  It is likely that Herman's wife, Marijke, will leave at this point to fly to Europe to spend the summer with their relatives. 

Herman will only be able to make the final decisions while on the way north.

 

The Towns

 

Herman plans to visit each of the following towns along his journey, in the following order...

Hay River

Hay River known as "the Hub of the North," is a town in the Northwest Territories, Canada, located on the south shore of Great Slave Lake, at the mouth of the Hay River. The town is separated into two sections, a new town and an old town with the Hay River/Merlyn Carter Airport between them. The town is in the South Slave Region, and along with Fort Smith is one of the two regional centres.

 

Fort Providence

Fort Providence, located on the Mackenzie River, is the starting point of the paddle. Fort Providence (Slavey language: Zhahti Koe "mission house") is a hamlet in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Located west of Great Slave Lake, it has all-weather road connections by way of the Yellowknife Highway (Great Slave Highway) branch off the Mackenzie Highway, and the Deh Cho Bridge opened November 30, 2012 near Fort Providence over the Mackenzie. The bridge replaces the ice bridge and ferry, enabling year-round crossing of the river.

 

Wrigley

Wrigley (South Slavey language: Pehdzeh Ki "clay place") is a "Designated Authority" in the Dehcho Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. The community is located on the east bank of the Mackenzie River, just below its confluence with the Wrigley River and about 466 mi (750 km) northwest of Yellowknife. The population continues to maintain a traditional lifestyle, trapping, hunting, and fishing.

 

Tulita

Tulita, which in Dene language means "where the rivers or waters meet," is a hamlet in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. It was formerly known as Fort Norman, until 1 January 1996. It is located at the junction of the Great Bear River and the Mackenzie River; the Bear originates at Great Bear Lake adjacent to Deline. Tulita is in an area that is forested and well south of the tree line. Permafrost underlays the area, more or less continuous in distribution. Tulita is surrounded by mountains, the latter renowned for Dall's sheep, and faces the Mackenzie Mountains to the west, which has Mountain Goat.

 

Norman Wells

Norman Wells (Slavey language: Tłegǫ́hłı̨ "where there is oil") is the regional centre for the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. The town is situated on the north side of the Mackenzie River and provides a view down the valley of the Franklin and Richardson Mountains.

 

Fort Good Hope

Fort Good Hope (or the Charter Community of K'asho Got'ine) is a charter community in the Sahtu Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. It is located on a peninsula between Jackfish Creek and the east bank of the Mackenzie River, about 145 km (90 mi) northwest of Norman Wells. The two principal languages are North Slavey and English. Hunting and trapping are two major sources of income.

 

Tsiigehtchic

Tsiigehtchic (tsee-get-chick) ("mouth of the iron river") is a Gwich’in community located at the confluence of the Mackenzie and the Arctic Red River, in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. The community was formerly known as Arctic Red River, until 1 April 1994.

 

Inuvik

Inuvik, the most northerly town on the Mackenzie River, was the original planned starting point of the paddle before the route was increased by 1000 miles on the Mackenzie River.  It boasts a total of roughly 3,500 inhabitants.  In January, the city has zero hours of daylight; in June and July it has 24 hours of daylight.  The town is located about two degrees north of the Polar Circle, right on the arctic tree line.

 

Tuktoyaktuk

This is the place where people go to dip their toes in the Arctic Ocean.  In summer, this hamlet of roughly 900 people can only be reached by air or boat.  In winter, an “ice highway” is built between it and Inuvik which traverses the frozen rivers and lakes between the two towns.  Tuk, as it is commonly known, boasts the largest number of pingos; conical hills which have been pushed up by the frozen ice underneath. Pingos are considered by some to be one of the seven wonders of Canada.

 

Paulatuk 

Paulatuk is a community of about 300 people on the Darnley Bay in the Amundsen Gulf of the Arctic Ocean.  The name “Paulatuk” means “place of coal”, after the commodity which was mined there originally.  Hunting, fishing and trapping are the main economic activities.

 

Coppermine

Coppermine, now called Kugluktuk, is located at the end of the Coppermine River, so-called after the mineral that was found there in the 18th century.  The Coppermine River flows generally north from near the Great Slave Lake and flows into Coronation Gulf, an arm of the Arctic Ocean.

 

Cambridge Bay

Cambridge Bay is designated as the future site of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station.  The town has a population of roughly 1,500 inhabitants.  Because of its location, it is the largest stop for passenger and research vessels sailing through the Arctic Ocean's Northwest Passages.

 

Gjoa Haven

Gjoa Haven is the place where Amundsen overwintered in 1903 during his quest to discover the Northwest Passage.  He named the place after his ship, the “Gjoa”.  The town has about 1,500 inhabitants and has seen a steady influx of the local Inuit people who come to take advantage of the healthcare and educational facilities.

 

 

 

 

 

WHY paddle the shores of the Arctic Ocean?

The coast of the Northern Territories and Nunavut, above the Arctic Circle, is not beautiful in the conventional sense of the word. It is a wild and harsh beauty, cold and windswept with no areas of natural protection like forests because it is north of the tree line. At most one will find every now and then some stunted growths, which elsewhere would be trees, that have mistakenly taken root and are still holding on in survival mode.

Although a lot of the permafrost has already disappeared from the upper layers of the soil, the land is not usable for agriculture, and, anyway, the growing season would be impossibly short.

Most of the land is low, sandy or rocky and tundra where there is vegetation. It is mostly muddy during the brief summer, and frozen solid the remainder of the year. The few hills or low mountains are not spectacular and apart from being useful as landmarks, generally do not merit a second glance.

The animals, at least the big ones, grizzlies, polar bears, wolves, caribou and musk oxen are somewhere between not very friendly to downright life-threatening.

 

So, what makes it so compelling to paddle those shores?

For one, at least for me, the most compelling reason is that I think that paddling those shores for a few summers is an experience unlike any other that I have had. It is a land with a lot of elbow room; open spaces for many miles around which requires focus, skill and perseverance to pass through, as well as a little luck.

I believe myself capable to withstand the bad weather and hardships, deal with being alone for a few months and actually enjoy the physical and mental challenge.

I am looking forward to encounter, from a safe distance, the “unfriendly” wildlife and to see the arctic foxes, the thousands upon thousands of birds, the whales, seals and walruses and sleep in a little tent on the barren grounds along this incredible coastline.

Also, the land is not completely empty of people. Every few hundred miles are small villages. The local Inuit can be found in tiny temporary settlements and fish camps along the shores of the Arctic Ocean,  and meeting and interacting with them is a major draw for the few non-natives who travel those shores in the summer, judging by their own reports.

Paddling alone in that environment is coupled with some undeniable risks. An accident can happen any time; I could become ill or incapacitated in some way. The physical demands could be more than

I may be able to cope with and, I am sure, many other reasons for not taking on this challenge could be listed. However, I have some experience in expedition paddling. In 2010, I paddled together with one of my sons for 70+ days in the Sea of Cortez; in 2012, I completed a 1.700 miles, 105 days solo paddle from Seattle, WA,  to Glacier Bay, AK through the Inside Passage.

Especially the Inside Passage paddle gave me ample insights into my capability of dealing with physical and mental hardships during a long expedition with conditions sometimes approaching what I expect to encounter on a regular basis above the Arctic Circle, e.g cold, strong winds, heavy seas and plenty of rain.

I am convinced that with the right preparation, the right equipment and the right motivation, I will be able to achieve my goal of safely paddling, and possibly hiking part of the way, from Inuvik in the Northern Territories to Churchill in Nunavut in two short summer seasons.

I also believe myself to have enough common sense to know, if and when necessary, to call it a day and return home before the intended goal has been reached, if the risks to myself or others would be too much to be acceptable.

 

Finally, I do not want to grow old and regret that I never attempted to paddle far up north while I was still relatively young, fit and healthy.

The following quote gives me real inspiration:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed in the things

that you did not do than by the ones that you did. So throw off the bowlines. 

Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.

- Mark Twain

 

 

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