During the North American summer of 2020, West Hansen, Jeff Wueste and Jimmy Harvey (aka: The Arctic Cowboys) will kayak the entire 1900 miles of Northwest Passage, which - according to international maritime laws and Roald Amundsen - lies from one end of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the other. These huge islands contain waterways that held the mystical route sought by explorers for centuries, to link Europe to Asia.
Prior to the digging of the Panama Canal, the only ocean route between Europe and Asia was around the treacherous Cape Horn, then through the Drake Passage - some of the most dangerous seas on the planet.
Until Roald Amundsen made the first successful sea crossing of the Northwest Passage (1903 - 06), this labyrinth of ice took hundreds of lives as explorers attempted to break through the icy barriers, hull crushing rocks and violent arctic storms to make the journey across the top of the world.
Since then, many sailboats and ships have successfully plied the Passage, though modern sailors still fall prey to the desolate elements. A handful of kayakers have attempted the journey and completed parts of the route in multi-year attempts, going over land and over ice, but no kayaker has made the journey in one single season and without portaging over land.
This is the goal for the Arctic Cowboys.
1900 miles in 60 days, across the top of the world.
THE ROUTE will begin at the western edge of the Passage in the town of Tuktoyaktuk, then follow the southern channel to King William Island. Depending on ice condition, we'll either turn north at Victoria Strait or go around King William Island before heading into Peel Sound, then head east into Bellot Strait to Prince Regent Sound. As far as I can tell, we may be the first to kayak Bellot Strait. Then, north in Prince Regent Sound and cross over to the Brodeur Peninsula as soon as conditions are appropriate. This will be our longest open ocean crossing at around 60 miles.
Once we hit Lancaster Sound, we'll head east, crossing Admiralty Inlet and head south at Navy Board Inlet, where we'll follow Eclipse Sound to Pond Inlet and to Baffin Bay - the eastern boundary of the Passage. After that, we'll head back to the town of Pond Inlet to return home.
Who Are The Arctic Cowboys?
Well, we're all native Texans and we all live in Austin, Texas. While we don't wear cowboy boots any longer, we've all worked cattle and tend to be a bit more comfortable out there than in here. The three of us are well into our 50's, so that's a bit of an unfair advantage we have over younger explorers. We're all ultra-marathon canoe racers with a whole bunch of Texas Water Safari finishes under out belts with a record or two thrown in for good measure.
Jeff Wueste was born/raised in the west Texas desert, which was good training for the arctic. He's a construction contractor and has kayaked the Amazon and Volga Rivers.
Jimmy Harvey is a native Austinite who owns a pool company and has travelled the entire world on adventures. His fishing skills will come in handy in the Passage, except for that whole polar bear thing.
West Hansen is described elsewhere on this website.
Where is the Northwest Passage?
A few people believe the Northwest Passage is defined by arbitrary boundaries: the Bering Strait on the west and the arctic circle in lower Baffin Bay in the east. Simple geography and international maritime law sets the boundaries of the Passage within the confines of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago:
Any route described outside the confines of an archipelago can't logically be defined as a "passage", since the route goes through what is defined as a "sea" or "ocean".
The western boundary of the Passage extends from the Eastern limit of the Beaufort Sea from Lands’ End through the Southwest coast of Prince Patrick Island to Griffiths Point. From there a line to Cape Prince Alfred, which is the most Northwestern point of Banks Island, through its West coast to Cape Kellet, the most Southwestern point. From there across to Cape Bathurst on the mainland.
The Eastern boundary of the Passage goes along the East coast of Ellesmere Island between Cape Sheridan and Cape Norton Shaw then across to Phillips Point on Coburg Island. From the Southern Point of this island at Marina Peninsula down the East coast to Cape Sherard (Cape Osborn) and across to Cape Liverpool on Bylot Island. Down the East coast of Bylot Island to Cape Graham Moore at the islands Southeastern point, then across to Cape Macculloch and down the East coast of Baffin Island to East Bluff, the islands Southeastern point and the most Eastern point of Hudson Strait.
Tuktoyaktuk is approximately driving 4200 miles from Austin, Texas - which, coincidentally is about the length of our Amazon River expedition. We may either drive to the Passage, sail to the Passage from San Francisco or both, depending upon our expedition budget.