400 kilometres in, Texan kayakers pull plug on Northwest Passage expedition

The Arctic Cowboys team weathered choppy waters, cold temperatures and logistical surprises, but decided after 17 days to call off their expedition as more bad weather loomed.

Bad weather in Arctic Bay was the last straw

A woman and two men smile in the cab of a truck.
Rebekah Feaster, West Hansen and Jeff Wueste set out late last month to kayak the Northwest Passage. (Source: West Hansen Expeditions (Facebook))

Buffeted by bad weather and unexpected delays, the remaining members of the Arctic Cowboys kayaking team have stowed their oars in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, and called off this summer's attempt to paddle the Northwest Passage.

The expedition, four years in the making, will have to wait another year.

Pulled by the allure of paddling a 2,000-mile route through a pristine natural area before it gets taken over by larger ships, the team of three kayakers drove from Texas to Ottawa and then flew up to Pond Inlet at the end of July with the goal of kayaking to Tuktoyaktuk.

Last week, teammate West Hansen told CBC the pull for him is, in part, to live his life to the fullest.

"There's a lot of people that have never seen some of the things that we're seeing," he said. "We only have a certain amount of time on the planet ... and we want to make sure our lives aren't wasted sitting around and just doing menial tasks every day."

But a few days in, the team lost one of its expedition member, as Rebekah Feaster bowed out due to sea sickness and anxiety.

A blue line winds its way across a map, between islands, showing a kayaking route.
The Arctic Cowboys planned to kayak 2,000 miles along a route shown here in blue. (Source: West Hansen Blog)

Hansen and fellow paddler Jeff Wueste pressed on until late last week when they reached Arctic Bay and discovered more bad weather waiting for them.

The two were about 418 kilometers — 260 miles — into the journey and on Day 17 of their trip when they made the final decision last Thursday to pull the plug.

It was the latest of several weather-related setbacks that have cropped up over the past two weeks. Last week, Hansen and Wueste told CBC they hadn't had an easy time on some stretches because weather was dictating their movements and putting them behind schedule. It weighed heavily on their minds as they battled strong headwinds that hampered their progress.

They spent four days holed up in a camp while crossing through Lancaster Sound on the north end of Baffin Island, as high winds whipped up the waves.

"The windy days, we're just enjoying the place via the land," Wueste said.

Hansen said there were a couple days on the west shore of Navy Board Inlet when waves four to six feet high were hitting them from all directions.

"These waves were coming from behind us, from both sides of us because they were bouncing off the cliffsides, and then also in front of us — they were just beating us up left and right," Hansen said.

"We had a very thick fog that came in and limited our visibility to like 50 metres ... and when we're going along a glacier with icebergs all around us, that was a particularly difficult time with the waves."

The Arctic Cowboys aren't alone in having to put off their goals to paddle the Northwest Passage. Earlier this month, Karl Kruger had to suspend his attempt to be the first person to paddleboard across the passage — after 15 days and 420 miles, he stored his board in Paulatuk and plans to return next summer to do another leg of the journey.

With files from Cindy Alorut