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The First Ever

Four adventurers are the first people to travel the entire Northwest Passage in kayaks.
Three men and one woman in head to toe red and orange gear pose on a rocky landscape.
Courtesy of West Hansen, www.thearcticcowboys.com

The Arctic Cowboys pose for a photo during their attempt to kayak the Northwest Passage.

A team of three men and one woman have become the first to travel the entire Northwest Passage by kayak in a single season. The team achieved their goal in 83 days.

The Northwest Passage is a legendary sea route that begins at the Atlantic Ocean and cuts through the northernmost part of North America to reach the Pacific Ocean. Explorers attempted to travel the route for centuries, but expedition after expedition ended in failure or even disaster due to sea ice and the harsh northern climate. Finally, in 1906, a crew led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen completed the journey.

Since then, melting ice due to climate change has made the Northwest Passage more accessible, but it’s still a harsh journey. Many people have traveled the entire route in different kinds of human-powered vehicles, but no one has been able to paddle it in a single season. Until now.

The successful expedition was years in the making. Its leader was U.S. explorer West Hansen. Hansen had already paddled down the entire length of both the Amazon River in South America and the Volga River in Europe. He started planning the Northwest Passage journey in 2018, but the trip was delayed due to COVID-19 and poor weather. His first attempt, in 2022, was thwarted by bad weather and other issues.

This year’s team included Hansen, Eileen Visser, Mark Agnew, and Jeff Wueste. They called themselves the Arctic Cowboys. The team started in July, but while that’s summer in the Arctic, the weather was wintry by most standards.

“The biggest challenge was the sea ice,” Agnew told the BBC. “We became trapped in the ice a lot. There was this one occasion in particular where we were trapped in the ice and two icebergs began to ram together with us in between.”

Courtesy of West Hansen, www.thearcticcowboys.com,

There were also winds, 15-foot (5-meter) waves, falling snow, and encounters with wildlife, including a polar bear who sat on the outer wall of their tent while they were inside. Luckily, two of the team members were able to scare off the unwelcome visitor. The team completed the route on October 10.

The Northwest Passage expedition is complete, but for Hansen there may be more adventures ahead.

“I’m really good at handling difficult situations in the moment and figuring out what needs to happen,” Hansen told Texas Monthly in 2022. “I’m not good at avoiding difficult situations, and I put myself in those situations unnecessarily.”

The video shows the Arctic Cowboys during their journey.

NEWS EXTRA

Celebrating Diwali!

Four colorful lanterns hanging and lights running along the ground with people sitting and standing next to them.
© Nikhil Gangavane/Dreamstime.com, © RBB—Moment/Getty Images, © Magdalena Kucova/stock.adobe.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The five-day festival called Diwali (or Divali) is observed each year in October or November. In 2023, Diwali falls between November 10-15, 2023.

Diwali originated in India and is part of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain religions, though it’s also observed by some Muslims and Buddhists. Diwali is observed differently in each religion. In Hinduism, for example, the holiday honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Homes are decorated with lights to invite Lakshmi’s presence and bring prosperity.

In general, Diwali is a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, or good over evil. People celebrate by feasting, eating sweets, exchanging gifts, and cleaning their homes. Though Diwali lasts for five days, the main celebration takes place on November 12.

Did You Know?

Side by side of a traditional kayak and a modern kayak.

Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0), © Marek Uliasz/Dreamstime.com; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The kayak was invented by Native Alaskans thousands of years ago.

The photo shows a historical Alaska sea kayak, known as a baidarka or Aleut kayak, and a modern whitewater kayak.

What Causes the Northern Lights?

© Sjo—Creatas Video+/Getty Images Plus

West Hansen and his team of paddlers encountered danger in the Arctic, but they also saw something beautiful: the aurora borealis, or northern lights.

Auroras are dazzling displays of colored light that sometimes appear in the night sky in Earth’s far northern and far southern regions. Auroras may look like rays, shimmering curtains, or clouds of colored light.

What causes them? The Sun sends out a stream of electrically charged particles called the solar wind, which travels from the Sun toward Earth at great speed. Earth’s magnetic field forces the charged particles in the solar wind toward the planet’s northern and southern polar regions.

As the particles move downward through Earth’s upper atmosphere, they crash into atoms and molecules of gases such as oxygen and nitrogen, causing the atoms and molecules to give off light. This light is an aurora. An aurora’s colors are determined by the different gases.

Braving the Northwest Passage

Animated map showing a route through the Northwest Passage.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
From harsh weather to high winds to sea ice, the difficulties of traveling the Northwest Passage are legendary. You can learn more about this sea route at Britannica!

WORD OF THE DAY

fortitude

PART OF SPEECH:
noun
Definition:
: mental strength and courage that allows someone to face danger, pain, etc.
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