The First Ever
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.”
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.