Home Fitness guide Watch out for polar bears! The Washington adventurer aims to be the 1st to cross the Northwest Passage on a paddleboard

Watch out for polar bears! The Washington adventurer aims to be the 1st to cross the Northwest Passage on a paddleboard


A western Washington adventurer set out last week trying to become the first person to cross the Northwest Passage on a stand-up paddle board. The passage is the legendary, but normally frozen, sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific through Canada’s far north.

The solo paddleboard trip is the brainchild of Karl Kruger of Orcas Island, Washington. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because Kruger is the first – and so far only – person to complete the 750-mile race to Alaska from Port Townsend to Ketchikan on a stand-up. paddle. It was during that 2017 run through the Inside Passage – the R2AK in shorthand – that Kruger said he had the idea to tackle the much longer Northwest Passage for a “deeper experience “.

“What I found myself wanting after R2AK was just more,” Kruger explained. “What made me happiest about the race to Alaska was A, the loneliness and B, the connections I made along the way with people.”

Adventurer Karl Kruger set out from Tuktoyaktuk, Canada on July 24 to conquer the Northwest Passage with approximately 150 pounds of food and gear strapped to his paddle board.

Scott Brennan/Courtesy Photo

On July 24, Kruger launched its custom-built 18-foot expedition-style paddleboard into the Arctic Ocean from Tuktoyaktuk, near the northwest corner of Canada. The appeal of this launch point is that it is the only place along the Arctic coast of the Northwest Territories connected by road to the rest of North America. If all goes as planned, Kruger will skirt the coast to the east and follow the receding pack ice for 1,900 miles until he arrives at Pond Inlet, at the northeast tip of Baffin Island, in Canada.

“There are so many risks that I can’t even count them all, physical risks involved in doing this project,” Kruger said. “But at the same time, I also know that I can do it. In the end, I’ll have a lot to share. For me personally, I think the biggest danger of this journey is not making it.

Risks include stormy weather, hungry polar bears, shifting sea ice, and hypothermia from falling in cold, cold water. Race to Alaska co-founder Jake Beattie said he wasn’t too worried about Kruger’s survival on this trip.

“When I first heard about his Northwest Passage paddle, I think I had two reactions. They were simultaneous, straightforward and if anyone can do it, Karl can do it. “, said Beattie from Port Townsend.

Beattie described Kruger as “an incredibly capable sailor” with an “amazing combination” of physical form and mental toughness.

“He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met,” Beattie said. “He can go through anything.”

Kruger organized supply drops in coastal villages along the planned route. He paddles between them with packets of freeze-dried food and a high-energy protein shake mix strapped to the bow and stern of his paddleboard.

Perhaps the most unusual piece of equipment Kruger has packed for this odyssey is a tripwire to encircle his tent. This wire sets off a loud bang if a polar bear approaches while Kruger is sleeping.

The 50-year-old father is giving himself about seven weeks to complete the Northwest Passage before resuming his day job as a guide and charter boat captain based in Washington’s San Juan Islands. Support team member Elyn Oliver wrote in a July 25 Facebook update that Kruger rode 14 miles on the day he left and rode 15 miles on the second day as he battled strong winds opposites and rough seas.

In an email interview with Tuktoyaktuk the day before departure, Kruger said he expected highlights of the trip to include paddling alongside beluga whales, seeing his first polar bear in the wild, donning ice floes and meet Inuit residents and learn about their connection to northern warming. He said one of his motivations, besides personal challenge and growth, was to bring attention to how Inuit ways of life and the Arctic environment are changing.

“What also drew me to this project was the very reason it’s possible for me to paddle here in one season: climate change,” Kruger said. “The Arctic is no longer what people imagine it to be. It has changed a lot.”

The Northwest Passage has been of interest to explorers for centuries. Some of history’s most accomplished seafarers have tried unsuccessfully to find a shorter trade route between Europe and the Far East, including John Cabot, Captain James Cook, George Vancouver and Vitus Bering. The arctic route was difficult to determine due to shoals and the presence of sea ice most of the year.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen led the first expedition to successfully sail until 1906. It took another 38 years before the second sail took place, this one by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police crew in a reinforced schooner to manage icy waters.

Recent seasonal sea ice retreat due to climate change has led to increased shipping traffic and commercial interest in the High Arctic, leading the Canadian Coast Guard to create an Arctic Region Command. Arctic in 2018. But search and rescue resources are still scarce.

“Traveling through the Northwest Passage is a risky business, and it is in favorable weather conditions. Often the weather conditions are unfavorable and it is a challenge even for a larger, well-equipped vessel,” Steve said. Thompson, Superintendent of Marine Transportation for the Canadian Coast Guard. search and rescue in the Arctic region.

“The Arctic is unforgiving. These voyages are dangerous and those undertaking them really need to consider the risks they pose to themselves as well as others, including community responders as well as professional responders.”

If an adventurer got into trouble, the first to come to the rescue would probably be Inuit villagers or hunters. Thompson said the Canadian Coast Guard has provided training, and in some cases new lifeboats, to volunteers in Arctic villages who serve as Coast Guard auxiliaries.

Kruger carries a SPOT satellite tracker, a device that can transmit a distress signal and act as an emergency locator beacon. The tracking device updates its position 24 hours a day on a public online map (click on the “load limited data” button).

Two other expeditions have made plans for the first historic transits of the Northwest Passage under human power this summer, albeit in the opposite direction chosen by Kruger. Scotsman Levan Brown planned to leave Baffin Island with two eight-person rowboats bound for Point Barrow, Alaska, but announced in June that the expedition would be postponed until next summer due to ice conditions unfavorable and supply management problems.

Any day now, a Texas trio dubbed the Arctic Cowboys expect to leave Pond Inlet for Tuktoyaktuk by sea kayak. Like Kruger, the Cowboys plan to camp ashore, but since there are three of them, they can sleep take turns with someone on the lookout for polar bears under the midnight sun. They give themselves two months to cross the Northwest Passage to the west.