Kayaking Across the Top of the World
Lone Dutchman Yuri Klaver resumes 5,000-mile journey from Alaska to Greenland
By Katie McKy
A couple of Siberian summers launched Yuri Klaver on an extraordinary Arctic arch. The 40-year-old Dutchman’s experiences paddling, skiing, and scaling mountains in Asia’s northernmost wilderness piqued his determination to explore the other side for a full Arctic kayak expedition.
Last summer, Klaver began a three-year arch across the top of the world, traveling by paddle, kite, ski, and heaps of true grit. The 5,000-mile epic began last summer on the western edge of Alaska, and will continue through the Northwest Passage and all the way to Greenland, where, if all goes well, Klaver will conclude his 8,000-mile arc in the autumn of 2015.
First though he must return to the Noatak River on Alaska’s North Slope and dig his kayak from the snow where he left it at the end of last summer. Whatever the next two years bring, Klaver will have an answer to the questions Robert Service posed more than a century ago in his Call of the Wild:
“Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?”
Kate McKy: How did you conceive of something so grand?
Yuri Klaver: I grew up in a small town in Holland. I remember skating miles and miles, with cheeks so cold it seemed I’d lost them. So, the cold is in my blood. On to a nine-week mountain – river kayak expedition in Siberia, I realized that that was the thing I liked to do most. So, I planned a massive trip with sponsors and quit my job as an environmental consultant.
How do you determine what awaits you since you so few have forayed into these regions?
My experience with Siberian rivers, summer Arctic shorelines, and deep winter camping should do part of the trick. The experience I most lack is sea ice conditions, although I have seen ice pilled up to 20 feet at the edges of the IJsselmeer Lake in the Netherlands. Therefore, I brought a polyethene kayak which should be able to withstand bumpy conditions. However, I don’t expect sea ice to be a large problem this season, as I’ll arrive at the Arctic Ocean in June and the ice sheet should be gone by then.
What awaits you that worries you the most?
One of the things that worry me is gale force winds, without could prevent putting up the tent. This happens when the soil is rocky or consists of loose pebbles. Without a windshelter, things become very dangerous.
Do you sleep well at nights, given that you’re both exhausted and polar bears are out there?
Sleeping can be a serious problem in summertime. Mosquitoes force you to sleep in a tent, which can become hot in the sunshine. To be able to sleep without worries about bears roaming around the tent, I made an alarm system to wake me up when they approach. The alarm is attached to a line that is stretched around the tent with carbon tripods. When the animals become very intrusive, there is the heavy caliber pistol, which must be loaded at all times.
What do you miss most when you’re on the ice and the icy water?
Seriously, it’s ice cream and a cold beer and, of course, my friends, family, and our cat. I am not bound to a girlfriend, which prevents homesickness a lot.
What occupies your thoughts when paddling and skiing?
At the start of such trips, it’s hard to manage the turmoil of thoughts I bring from modern life, often about planning and looking ahead. It is said that a human being has approximately 4000 thoughts a day. After a few weeks, however, especially when progress is slow, inspiration is likely to vanish, as if there is a concrete brick stuck into your head. Therefore, it’s important to identify negative thoughts and to not get involved with them, since they may drag your whole system down, mentally and physically.
Please share a sublime moment.
Arriving at Ikpek Lagoon, a wave brought me quickly into the shallow water, while the last orange sunlight hit the far mountains inland of Seward Peninsula. It was a remarkably steady, vibrant, and yet silent pleasure.
What’s been harder than you expected?
Halfway the west coast of Seward Peninsula, I decided to cross its interior from west to east. I paddled up the winding Serpentine River, pulled the kayak five kilometers over land, and then moved to the Lane River, which empties into Kotzebue Sound. The idea was to save a week’s time by cutting off a portion of the route, but I ended up dragging the kayak 25 kilometers, which took two weeks. In total, it would take three weeks to reach Kotzebue Sound.
What has been the greatest danger?
Rounding the narrowest point of the Bering Strait, I encountered a swell of about two meters, with waves breaking about three miles from the shore. Progress was slow because I regularly had to put the nose of the kayak against the waves. I became tired and knew I would not reach the next entrance of the lagoon. Heading to the shore, I was afraid of being thrown on the beach with a loaded sea kayak of 120 kg on my neck.
Read more at www.lonewolfadventures.com.