Big Plans

This story featured in the 2012 July issue.

Photo: Alejandro Peralta

Yuri Klaver plans to kayak and ski 6,000 miles around the top of the world. Can he do it? C&K Expeditions Editor Jon Turk weighs in.

Stone Age Siberians migrated from Asia eastward across the circumpolar north, with pregnant mothers, bone-tipped spears, and parkas sewn from whale stomachs. They completed the passage over the course of a few hundred generations. Starting this month, Dutch adventurer Yuri Klaver will attempt to repeat the 6,000-mile journey in three years. His route starts in Siberia, traverses North America, and crosses Baffin Bay to Greenland. He then plans to ski across Greenland, and cap the journey with a 200-mile kayak crossing to Iceland. Any single leg of this journey is formidable. The entire passage, solo, would set a new standard for polar travel.
Can he do it? Well …
The first 600 miles follows an unprotected Arctic coastline—nasty but reasonable.

The Bering Strait is another matter, and not merely because of the 53-mile distance and exposure to Arctic storms. When Misha Petrov and I proposed this crossing in 2000, the Russian pogranichniki responded that they would shoot us if we tried. The Americans were more reasonable. They asked for $10,000 to set up a temporary immigrations outpost in Alaska. In an expedition of this nature, details are everything. Yet when I asked Klaver how he would surmount this political obstacle, he wrote, “it is difficult to understand the exact rules in Russia.” Followed by, “Your remark about the American immigration is new to me, so I have to work this one out.”

Once over to North America, Klaver plans to paddle up rivers into the interior of Alaska, and then cross overland, east of the Brooks Range, returning to the Arctic coast near the Alaska-Yukon border in February 2013. Why not just follow the coast around the northwest corner of Alaska, rather than push overland in the dead of winter? “The coastline to the Beaufort Sea will not be very spectacular for the eyes,” he answered.

Next, he plans to kite-ski across Canada to Baffin Island. Sarah and Eric McNair-Landry made this traverse in the spring of 2011. They’re both seasoned Arctic veterans, and they found the passage arduous. Yet Klaver plans to keep going, eventually crossing Baffin Bay, across moving pack ice, in winter, to Greenland. He writes about this crossing, “Apart from the practical inconvenience of having to paddle several days nonstop … ”

Yikes. He calls traveling nonstop, alone, without sleep, out of sight of land, in winter, with ferocious winds howling down from the North Pole, a matter of “practical inconvenience.” Then, he plans to ski across the Greenland ice sheet and make a second multi-day kayak passage in polar waters to Iceland.
It’s not my place to judge whether Yuri Klaver is a madman or a visionary. How much suffering can one human body withstand? How many polar bears and storms can you encounter, before your luck runs out? I can only marvel at his enthusiasm and wish him success.

— C&K Expeditions Editor Jon Turk has been an adventurer for more than 40 years, most recently completing a 1,500-mile ski and kayak circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island with Erik Boomer.

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