In memory of Roald Amundsen
Haarlem — In June 2013, adventurer Yuri Klaver will set off for Arctic Venture, his next expedition. After travelling a thousand kilometres by way of Siberian rivers in 2010 and 2011, he will now attempt to traverse North America from west to east by kajak and skis. The route largely follows the sea route of 10.000 kilometers from Asia to Europe, sailed for the first time by Roald Amundsen in 1906. If Arctic Venture succeeds, it would be the first solo crossing of ‘the roof of America’ without the use of motorized vehicles.
How did you get the idea?
At the end of my last journey over the Indigirka River in east Siberia, I wanted to go further to it’s mouth on the Arctic Ocean and thereby to set a real milestone. But I had to return home to my nine – to – five job at the municipality of Aalsmeer. When I returned to the Netherlands, people were so enthusiastic about this trip that I started to wonder about what my real purpose in life was. What am I really good at? I came to the conclusion that I had no choice other than to quit my job as a policy advisor on environment and sustainability and to go for a serious change.
I had already got some exposure in the media, but if I was to find sponsors for my next project, it had to be really special. I’ve been dreaming of Alaska and crossing Greenland ever since I was just a schoolboy. When I read about Amundsen’s succesful navigation of the Northwest Passage, the puzzle suddenly lay solved on the table in front of me. The whole route could be done by sea kajak, used as a sledge to cross the snow and ice – an ambitious but feasible plan.
Can you describe what is attracting you to do this?
I want to experience the grand scale of our earth. It is so rewarding to look back at the end of the day, and see the mountain you have started that morning, far away. If you fly from one city to another while chatting and drinking, without one single look at the land and sea you are flying over, no wonder you would say: ‘Here we are. It’s such a small world we live in.’ Normally such a superficial idea is refuted at once when looking at a clear nightly sky. But when I look back, it has been twenty years ago when we could watch the depth of the universe in our own garden for the last time. Now, where I come from, only a handfull of stars shine throught the orange glow emitted by streetlights and greenhouses.
Can you briefly describe the route you will travel?
The route has eleven stages of about 700 kilometers, starting in Nome, Alaska, with the finish at Jacobshavn, Greenland. You can find the whole route map here. During the first lap, heading along the Alaskan Coastline, bad weather can stirr up the ocean to large waves. In the second and third lap I will go up the Noatak River to cross the mountainpass in the Brooks Range, and paddle northwards over another river to reach the Beaufort Sea. Stage four, five and six will be very different, crossing the pack – ice over a large distance in winter time. During stage seven, eight and nine I will paddle further along the Canadian coastline, finding a passage through several rocky peninsulas, to reach Pond Inlet. Finally, in stage ten and eleven, the kayak will be used a snowlsled again to cross the pack ice from Clyde River to Jacobshavn, Greenland.
Do you have experience with the Arctic winter?
I got involved in winter camping trips when I was about twenty years old. I covered hundreds of kilometres through the Sarek Range in Sweden, above the Arctic Circle, using skis and a sledge. A few years later I made a winter crossing over the Hardangervidda plateau in Norway. These highlands are a good testing ground for polar expeditions, because Atlantic storms pass by regularly. The mid winters in the Arctic however are a different story. It would be very dangerous to wander about in -60 degrees in complete darkness. Therefore, I plan to seek shelter in a village from December to February.
Why do you want to do this alone?
The advantages of travelling in company are usually highly overrated. In many books about polar expeditions you will read that social intrigues are very common, even among the best of friends. If you lay tired in your tent every evening there comes a moment where there is just nothing left to talk about, which can be hard for someone who needs conversation to remain inspired. Also, it is not always more safe to travel in company, unless you are together with highly experienced people that would be able to do the trip all by themselves. I won’t draw others into hazardous situations just because I like companionship. Another reason is that I like to be unrestricted, without having to explain why I need to make another photograph or why I suddenly want to climb a particular hill. For me, exploration is something you do by your own. On the other hand, travelling alone in the wilderness feels less lonesome than hearing your neighbours having a party, since many of our desires are formed in comparison with those of others. In any case, in my mind I will not travel alone since there are so many people that support me.
Has your route already been traveled before?
The last expedition to cross ‘the roof of America’ from one side to the other, was led by Roald Amundsen in 1907. Bruce (Buck) Nelson walked and rafted thousand kilometres through the Brooks Range during summer. You can see his website at www. bucktrack.com. Roy Smith and his team was the first to pass the Brooks Range in winter, see www.royhsmith.com. Several short expeditions have been conducted along the coast of Greenland and Baffin Island, and the Greenland ice shelf has been crossed by individuals more than once. So as far as I am aware, I will be the first person to make a solo crossing of Arctic America, the first crossing of the Brooks Range peninsula by kayak, and the first person to combine all of these laps into one major expedition from Asia to Europe.
What is your opinion about the early explorers?
I have great respect for the early explorers. The uncertainty they encountered must have been monumental, as well as their efforts to succeed. They carried heavy pots and pans and heavy transportation equipment. If they didn’t wear leaden coats they would wear cotton clothes that remained wet and frozen until these coul be dried near a fire. It is hard to image that in the 19th century, many Alpine summits where first climbed by Englishmen wearing high hats and woman wearing voluminous dresses, as if they went for a walk in the nearby park.
When Scott journeyd to the South Pole he used ponies and motor sleds. His competitor Amundsen used only skis and dog sleds. While Scott encountered great technical problems up to a point he didn’t survive the adventure, Amundsen reached the South Pole with relative ease. It seems likely that Amundsen was moren open to the expertise of Arctic-indigenous peoples such as the Inuit, Sami and Native North Americans who were better adapted to travelling in the Arctic wilderness. My guess is that he would advise me to bring reliable, lightweight equipment and to avoid experiments.
What is your opinion about people who say there is nothing left to explore?
When the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama crossed the Atlantic Ocean, some of his companions believed that their expedition would end in disaster at any moment by reaching a wall, a fissure in the ocean, or pure nothingness. Now, five hundred years later, we are able, with one or two clicks, to look at the Mount Everest as seen from space. But have you really been there? Have you felt the cold, the height, the distance, the solitude, the smell, the hardship, the feeling of achievement? A detailed map or GPS will only give you a vague understanding of your location on Earth. The shapes of islands, mountains, the weather, your own mood, they all create a reality very different from what modern equipment tells you. Although I know the distance to travel is 10.000 kilometres, it is just way too large for my mind to grasp. So what do I know, really? The expeditions of today, in a certain way, are more extreme because they can be conducted alone and in the remotest areas, while Vasco da Gama and Cook travelled in the relative comfort of living quarters that would accommodate up to twenty men.
What do you think about living in the civilized world?
On a material level (knowledge, technology) we live in the most highly – developed time ever. At the same time however, for example in the Netherlands, we never had such a confined personal living space. Every single square meter is under scrutiny. People complaint about the price of a house and all kinds of legislations, while many of these laws are necessary to prevent people from grasping eachother at the throats. I love humanity, but why should there be so many people? Even if it is technically feasible for this planet to contain fifteen billion people, what makes this a humanly sensible outcome?
In the civilised world we drive cars that were made by others, we wear clothes that were made by others, we eat food that is produced and processed by others. It enables us to put our mind onto other things, but it also hides the causal relationships that sustain us. We are subjected to the goodwill of others, including people we don’t know. Our move from broadly – skilled survivors to clumsy specialists is the price we have to pay for our industrial revolution. It is inherently human to see the achievement of comfort as the highest goal. Now we have achieved comfort, what then? It is a good thing that people take care of each other and prevent accidents from happening. But we have reached a point where all this care becomes stifling, as if your mother were watching you. Not everyone is prepared to be manoeuvred into a life of retirement, busy with social intrigues, or wasting time in front of a television.
Is there a message with regard to sustainability?
The Arctic holds the largest continuous expanse of unbroken wilderness in the world outside of Antarctica, with a vast array of biodiversity. Every year 279 species of birds arrive from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. Marine mammals, including grey and humpback whales, and harp and hooded seals, also migrate annually to the Arctic. Several million reindeer and caribou, and many other unique mammals such as the polar bear can be found all year round. Many of the animals are affected by the retreating pack ice due to global warming. By capturing everything on camera, I will provide an in-depth view of the Arctic that may well become of high value for future generations.
Meanwhile the retreating pack ice opens a navigable sea route, which gives access to large amounts of oil and gas. Many companies therefore, foresee opportunities. Arctic conditions however, enlarge the chance of accidents to occur, hinder clean up operations and meanwhile hinder the natural process that decomposes chemicals. I hope that these companies make every effort to prevent such accidents. All means have to be used to preserve the wide horizons, the silence and the animal life, for the local communities that depend on it and for everyone who wants to enjoy one of the last wildernesses on our planet.
With the expedition I want to show that sustainability stands for reliability and independence in the most demanding surroundings. I will use methanol for cooking, solar panels to charge batteries, a kite and other lightweight means of transport such as skis and a kayak. A motorized vehicle (other than an airplane) could never traverse seas, rivers, snow covered mountains and ice, without a high risk of mechanical failure. It would also require large amounts of fuel only to carry the fuel.
How do you get your food? Do you hunt?
If you are going to catch a good meal for the day, you normally spend the entire day fishing, or cleaning a large animal you have shot. Since I’ll spend the whole day travelling, the ‘living of the land’ mode will be highly impractical. Occasionally I might catch a small animal if it is on my path, but this would only be just for some additional proteins.
The foodstuff I’ll take with me will be flour and milk powder to make pancakes, potato powder, sausage, cheese, nuts. Everything is calculated on a food list you can find on my website. I figured out that freeze-dried food is not necessary, although I bring food supplements by Mannatech, to be shure all the essential nutritions are taken. With fifty kilograms of food, one can travel a thousand kilometres in accessible terrain.
Can you tell me something about the challenges you will face?
Polar bears can be found along most of the route. These animals are dangerous because they are likely to consider you as a meal. Strict measures will be taken to fend off polar bears as well as to be warned for their approach. I will sleep in a down jacket to be ready for evasive action (including shooting if necessary) within three seconds. Icebergs may hinder the passage along the coast. Arctic storms can pass by without warning. Bad weather causes high waves op to eight metres as well as severe wind chill. At the end of winter, temperatures can still drop down to -30 degrees centigrade. It will also be a challenge to pull a fully packed kayak over the Brooks Range. And by no means the last challenge will be dealing with complete solitude for weeks on end.
Can others draw a lesson from your expeditions?
Today’s modern world throws out a huge amount of information: images, stories, sounds and products, some of it relevant, much of it highly irrelevant. Journeys such as mine are an ultimate way of taking good distance, in order to retrieve focus. As soon as you are able to find comfort in a harsh environment with little means, you will find your own priorities, your own ‘worth living for’, sooner of later. This is truly a great gift from the wilderness.
All of us are capable of extraordinary achievements, as long as we dare to step away from our comfort zones once in a while, the warmth of our house, our computer, our car, or even our social commitments. Once you have left these comforts behind and allow yourself to be put to the test, mentally and physically, you will notice that these were only superficial barriers, of minor importance when compared to the formidable growth in fortitude in one self, which I believe is essential for a positive approach to the world.
How can we stay informed about your adventure?
Every few days I will report on my progress on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArcticVenture. Here you will also find a map providing insight into my location every single day. I will also photos and a video on youtube on a weekly basis. You can find background information and watch the videos about my previous explorations on my website www.outdoorempathy.com.