Rowing The Northewest Passage: The Last First Expedition Nears End

Joule from far small

One of the adventures that we’ve been following this summer has been the Last First expedition, which is the attempt by four men to row the Northwest Passage from Inuvik to Pond Inlet. The team got underway back in July and had hoped to cover some 3000 km (1865 miles) along their route. Now, 70 days into the journey they’re just hoping to hold on and make their way to an abbreviated finish line in Cambridge Bay. That end is in sight, but like all things have been with this expedition, the final few days won’t be easy.

The team is made up of experienced adventurers who all have previous experience on difficult expeditions. The crew consists of Kevin Vallely, Paul Gleeson, Frank Wolf and Denis Barnett. They’ve been rowing a specially built 25-foot rowboat through the Arctic with the hope of reaching Pond Inlet for days, but they simply haven’t been able to travel as fast and often as they would like. This summer has seen more ice in the Passage than was previously anticipated and frequent storms have often hindered their progress as well. As a result, there is no possible way for them to reach their intended destination before the season comes to an end.

With that in mind, they’ve pointed their rowboat towards Cambridge Bay and hope to reach it sometime in the next few days. But before they can row back to land they must first address another problem. The  team’s fresh water supply has become contaminated with sea water and they must replenish it with some fresh water first. Today they will stay close to the shoreline while they search for a stream with which they can refill their water tank. If that can be quickly and easily taken care of, they will then proceed towards the end.

Judging from their latest blog entries I’d say the boys are ready to be done with their time in the Northwest Passage, even if it means they won’t be completing their original objectives. It has been a difficult and demanding journey that has tested them in ways that they didn’t expect. Progress has been painstakingly slow or nonexistent at times, which has been a constant source of frustration. If the weather holds and the seas cooperate, they should reach Cambridge Bay within the next 3-4 days, bringing an end to their row.

Kraig Becker