Boomer, Turk Off to Ellesmere Island

Looking ahead to a 'summer' of Arctic paddling and adventure

Erik Boomer, self-portrait, May 3, from the Arctic Ocean near Iqaluit, Nunavut. "Tommorrow we catch a flight even farther north, then the day after that we catch another flight even farther north," Boomer wrote in the email with the photo. Photo: Erik Boomer

By Tim Mutrie

Erik Boomer and Jon Turk officially departed for their 100-something day attempt to circumnavigate Ellesmere Island on May 2, from Ottawa, Canada. As Boomer describes it, they will be linking together various puddle-jumping flights, including a stop-over on Baffin Island, until they reach the real “put-in.”

Boomer, 26, a professional photographer and whitewater kayaker, has never actually paddled the kayak he’ll be getting intimate with during the Ellesmere Island adventure, up in the far northern Canadian Arctic. But when C&K caught up with Boomer prior to departure, on April 26, he wasn’t the least bit concerned about that trivial detail. Or the fact that, now that Tyler Bradt is no longer on the team (due to a recent injury), Boomer hardly even knows his sole expedition partner for the next three-plus months, Jon Turk. Arranging a food cache to be dropped in a bear-proof box along the Ellesmere route, however, that was chaffing him for sure.

(See an earlier C&K report on the Ellesmere mission here, replete with some archival images by Turk; and see a bigger picture state-of-paddling-expeditions story here.)

Canoe & Kayak: Details, details.
Erik Boomer: “We are getting close, man. Trying to get this last food-drop taken care of right now, actually. That’s kind of imperative—to have food on the north side of the island there. And I just got my wisdom tooth pulled a day ago; had to get that taken care before the trip. I knew I’d be out for a long time and didn’t want it to start bothering me out there. It’d be a pretty lame reason to stop the trip.”

But Arctic bronze-age dentistry would be a cool sidebar to the adventure, no? [Laughter] “I think all the mountaineers used to pull all their teeth before big expeditions.”

Jon Turk, May 3, on the Arctic Ocean near Iqaluit, Nunavut. Photo: Erik Boomer

So you’re in Boise now? “Yep, actually just paddled the Milner Mile on the Murtaugh. But man, we’re just in the final throes trying to get this food drop arranged, which is super, super important. But other than I think we’re ready to go. I’ve been training by pulling tires around the park and my legs are in super good shape.”

What’s the deal with the food drop? “The drop is set for May 2, the same day we’re flying up to the Canadian arctic. … I’m thinking I ought to charge up some bills or something and let the creditors try to find me up there. [Laughter]”

What’s the weather up near Ellesmere? “It’s been negative-30 Celcius up there recently, which is darn cold, man. Obviously in the summer there’s much different temps, but I’ve been checking historical temps, highs and lows. Lemme pull up my chart here; got it saved. Looks like it gets down to -27 Celcius in May.”

Tell us about the boats you and Turk will be paddling and dragging? “They’re Wildnerness Systems Tsumanis; I think they’re 14 feet. They had to be certain dimensions to fit in the planes to get up there. And as long as they’re big enough to fit all our food and supplies, that’s less weight we’ll be hauling, and also less stuff that we’d try to ram in there.”

Days you’ve spent in the boat? “None. But I paddle a lot of whitewater boats, so something that’s stable and goes fast in a straight line, that’s gonna be great, fine. They’ve got a lot of anchor points to strap stuff on with, and they’re supposed to be tough; so that’s all we’re looking for, not some kind of high performance machine.”

Back to the food drop. “The deal is, we got this food drop ready in December. We went to Costco and health food stores and packaged 100 days of freeze-dried food, nuts and chocolate. And we had to ship it to the Arctic, so it’s up there, sitting there. We’re pig-tailing with a bunch of other expeditions, and we’re trying to get them to leave our food up there in a bear-proof box. But three different North Pole trips have had to cancel their trips because the weather’s been so harsh. I don’t think anyone’s tried a traditional North Pole expedition this year, in fact. So our food’s still sitting there. But there’s a research trip going up on May 2, and it looks like it’s actually gonna go. I’ve probably sent like 50 emails over this one drop, and things are still coming together. It’s all about pre-planning with an expedition like this, hopefully.”

“So we’re gonna have three caches. We’ll take off from the south point of the island, and in 30 days or so we’ll hit Eureka, where there’s a weather station and that’s an easy point to get a cache. But at the north point of the island, another 30 or 40 days, that’s the cache we’re trying to get locked in now. And from there, we’d have another 30 or 40 days to get to the third cache on the southwest part of the island, right beside Greenland. But all these days are rough figures. It’s dependent on the conditions we’ll face out there. The ice is so dynamic; it changes constantly. We’re hoping to have good flat ice so we can make good miles.”

Are you bringing wheels for the boats? “No wheels man, it’s solid ice. But we’ve got some plastic mounts that’ll form onto the boats. We actually tried a sled-type prototype, but it really didn’t work out well. Tyler Bradt invented it, and we tested it in Montana on Georgetown Lake.”

And now Tyler is out. How’s he doing? “Originally this was a three man team: John Turk, Tyler and me. John’s almost 70, super experienced, and Tyler, who holds the world record for the waterfall drop, well, about two weeks ago, he ran a 100-footer and broke his back. He’s recovering right now. It happened on Abiqua Falls, about an hour from Portland. … He may try to catch up with us and fly in if there’s some way he can fly in. But that may not be likely. But he’s still helping us with the social media and promotion. We’re not really going to be blogging, we will call in to Tyler and he’ll post stuff on Facebook and things like that.”

What’s the Facebook site? “That’s not yet set up, but it will be.”

So what’s your relationship with Jon Turk like? “Tyler knew Jon from growing up, and now it’s Jon and I, and we’ll be spending a lot of time together, and we’re the two that know each other the least. It’s funny how those things work out.”

He’s like a full guru, right? “Yeah, man, full guru. Full diehard. There’s definitely a lot to learn from that guy. Definitely a talented writer and a gracious human being. Jon’s in New York right now, and we leave Ottawa May 2, then spend a day or so on Baffin island, just working our way up. Quite a few connections and airports, all in some pretty small planes.”

OK, let’s talk polar bears. “Yeah, man, we’ve got a shotgun, 12 gauge, with slugs.”

How many rounds are you taking? “Boy, I need to talk to Jon about that. We need to purchase some rounds too, because it’s tough to do that in Canada, and we’re talking about having some buckshot too so many we can hit ‘em with the buckshot, hopefully just to scare ‘em off. We’ll also have some bear bangers—firecrackers, basically. They kind of shoot out of this pen deal; shoots out and goes pop. And then of course you always want to try to be big around bears, using your gear and paddles, whatever and however you can.”

So you’re taking skis too? “Skis with skins; backcountry cross-country skis. They’re a little wider than your standard Nordic skis, and with metal edges. We’ll screw some skins right into those things.”

Any feelings of doubt or trepidation? “Yes, there’s definitely a bit of trepidation. It feels like committing to a difficult river or canyon or drop, except it’s gonna be three or four months long. So I’ve done a lot of thinking about it and I’m going to be as careful and cautious as possible. I’ve been writing down all the possible pros and cons, and when I step back and look at the list it’s clear that I want to go up there and try this thing. But it’s a long undertaking, you’re exposed, and it’s gonna be tough and not fun all the time. But, that’s kind of what I’m after.”

What camera are you taking? “Canon 7D. I’ll take a couple batteries and we’ve got a solar charger and we should have good sun for charging at night—Arctic summer. I’m also really trying to plan ahead and story board so I’m not taking a bunch of bullsh*t pictures; just take the ones that tell the story.”

Are you taking full Everest-style down suits and sleeping bags? “With the temps were looking at, it’s not gonna be that that cold, about zero and warming to 32 degrees [Fahrenheit] at the warmest. So when we’re traveling we won’t be wearing too much. It’s also such a wet climate, so we’re taking a lot of synthetics. So we’re definitely not bringing any extra warm gear, and we’re trying to use everything we bring.”

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