West Hansen, front, Jimmy Harvey, middle, and Jeff Wueste, back, paddle Lady Bird Lake in April. Pam LeBlanc photo

Austin paddler West Hansen is holding out hope he can still lead a team of paddlers through the Northwest Passage this summer, becoming the first to kayak 1,900 miles through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

That prospect, however, is looking increasingly unlikely. Despite a drop in Covid-19 cases in Canada and an uptick in the vaccinations, Canadian officials recently extended the closure of their border to non-essential travel through at least July 21.

Hansen says he needs to launch his Arctic Cowboys expedition by Aug. 1 to make it through the passage before cold weather hits.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, about 24 percent of the total population of Canada has been fully vaccinated as of June 25. (In Nunavut, where the expedition is headed, about 40 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.)

Two-thirds of Canada’s residents have received at least one dose. Officials say they want 75 percent of the eligible population vaccinated before they open the border.

“The expedition is on hold until U.S. citizens are allowed into Canada. If Canada changes its policy within the expedition timeframe, then the expedition will move forward,” Hansen said this week.

West Hansen, a social worker from Austin, plans to lead a kayaking expedition through the Northwest Passage. Pam LeBlanc photo

Hansen became the first person to paddle 4,200 miles from a newly discovered source of the Amazon River to the sea in 2012, then paddled the entire Volga River in Russia two years later. He endured everything from river bandits, whitewater rapids and an injured shoulder during those adventures, but will face a different set of challenges – from shifting sea ice to frigid water and polar bears – in the planned Arctic expedition. 

“All the gear is ready,” he says. “Right now, everything is hinging on Canada’s policies.”

In the meantime, Hansen and the two other members of the Arctic Cowboys, Jimmy Harvey and Jeff Wueste, finished the grueling Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile paddling race from San Marcos to the Texas coast. They placed eighth overall and sixth in the unlimited category, finishing in 45 hours and 16 minutes. That marked the 21st finish for Hansen.

The Arctic Cowboys, when here at Cottonseed Rapid, placed eighth overall in the 2021 Texas Water Safari earlier this month. Pam LeBlanc photo

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