By Pam LeBlanc
Special correspondent, Expedition News
Austin paddler West Hansen will trade Amazon tropics and Russian waves for crushing ice and polar bears next summer, when he attempts to lead the first expedition to kayak the Northwest Passage.
Hansen, 56, made the longest source-to-sea paddling descent of the Amazon River in 2012 and the first descent of the Volga River in Russia two years later. Team members include veteran paddlers Jeff Wueste, 57, and Jimmy Harvey, 55. Launching in August 2019, they’ll cover 1,900 miles, half of which have never been kayaked.
The team will follow the same east-to-west route that explorer Roald Amundsen took during his landmark three-year navigation of the passage, completed in 1907, starting in Baffin Bay and finishing at the Beaufort Sea. Along the way, Hansen will monitor plankton and jellyfish populations, and record ice coverage.
The expedition is expected to take 60 days and cost nearly $75,000.Hansen is looking for sponsors, and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“(Firsts) are getting more and more rare, and it’s pretty special doing something no one’s ever done,” Hansen says.
The paddlers will face gale force winds, car-sized slabs of ice and pummeling waves, plus orcas and polar bears.
“You can’t fire a gun (to spook them) because it sounds like cracking ice and polar bears are used to that,” Hansen says, noting that the team will carry satellite phones, emergency beacons, firearms and screaming flares to ward off 2,000-pound predators.
“It’s been attempted several times, but no one’s ever come close to accomplishing it,” says Hansen, who has applied to carry an Explorers Club flag. “We have a lot more experience in long distance expedition paddling than anybody else who’s tried. And we’re older, which is always a bonus.”
Pam LeBlanc is an Austin-based freelance writer specializing in adventure travel, fitness and conservation. She will join the expedition as an embedded journalist.