After reading the most recent Globe and Mail article about our expedition we noticed a comment from an individual claiming that what we’re doing is in some way untrue. In a nutshell the comment stated that our expedition is a row between two arbitrary villages rather than an actual transit of the Northwest Passage. Typically, we don’t respond to such comments but believe that this posting deserves to be answered in a more detailed manner in our blog (even though we’ve already provided clarification throughout our website.)
What we’re trying to do this summer has never been done before. We are hoping to row, without sail or motor in approximately 75 days, through the maze of islands and ice sheets of the Canadian archipelago that once represented a closed door for mariners attempting to navigate a sea route over the Americas in a single season. The Northwest Passage was anything but a passage in those days and presented a seemingly impassable route across the top of the world.
For explorers of yore attempting this transit there was never a question of getting to the Canadian archipelago from either the Greenland side or from the Alaskan side. It would be a challenging voyage of course but getting to either side was always possible. The big question for these explorers was whether there was a northwest passage between these two sides?
As countless ship logs revealed sailors coming from Europe would round the southern tip of Greenland and head north looking for an entry west to the passage. Henry Hudson thought it was at the southern end of Baffin Island. He was wrong and stumbled upon the enormous inland sea that would later bear his name. Jacques Cartier would be stopped at a set of rapids in modern-day Montreal and call them the La Chine because, to his mind, China lay on the other side. He was wrong too. Others would find countless dead-ends until finally the mouth of Lancaster Sound was revealed as the entry west. The gateway to the Northwest Passage was found and is the location of Pond Inlet, Nunavut today – our finish.
When Roald Amundsen made the first successful crossing of the Northwest Passage from East to West in 1903-06 he finished by anchoring near Herschel Island at the mouth of the Mackenzie River (a short distance from our start point in Inuvik, NWT today) and skied 800 kilometres to the city of Eagle, Alaska to send a telegram announcing to the world that he had successfully made it through the Northwest Passage.
As the very word passage defines – “The act or process of moving through, under, over, or past something on the way from one place to another” we’re hoping to traverse one of the several Northwest passages that weave a line through the Canadian archipelago from one side to the other.
We’re not unique in this interpretation. Not by a long shot. Canadian adventure paddler Don Starkell journeyed across the passage in a kayak over several seasons finishing in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT. Victoria Jason finished in Tuk as well. Canadians Jeff MacInnis (son of legendary explorer Joe MacInnis who helped find the Titanic) and Mike Beedell accomplished the first wind-powered crossing of the Northwest Passage travelling from Inuvik to Pond Inlet over three seasons. The much publicized inflatable motorized traverse of the passage by Bear Grylls in 2010 went from Pond Inlet to Inuvik as well. There are many others.
We will travel between Inuvik and Pond Inlet on our journey through the Northwest Passage. Our journey is not about breaking world records or about beating chests but rather is about raising awareness for a more poignant issue that is affecting the world today – climate change. We hope that by making our traverse across the once ice-choked Northwest Passage in a thin-skinned row boat we’ll be able to present in no uncertain terms that things are changing in the arctic and they’re changing fast. We’ve deliberately chosen a route between Inuvik, NWT and Pond Inlet, Nunavut because travelling between these two communities defines a traverse of the Northwest Passage in a most compelling way. Thirty years ago the passage was an ice-choked, impassable waterway through the Canadian arctic. Today the passage lies open in summer, open enough that it may even allow a small fiberglass row boat, solely under human power, to traverse it in a season.
No one has ever done this before because no one could have done this before. Climate change is breaking records. We hope through our actions we can share those records with the world.