Circumnavigating Ellesmere Island in Canada’s high Arctic was considered the world’s last great unattempted polar expedition, due not only to its remoteness but also to its dangerous ice conditions and roaming polar bears. The water surrounding the rugged coastline remains frozen most of the year, with a six- to eight-week window each summer when the 24-hour Arctic sunlight melts the ice into puddles of seawater large enough to paddle through.
Knowing it would take more than 30 days to navigate nearly 1,500 miles, explorer Jon Turk and extreme kayaker Erik Boomer started before the thaw, skiing across the snow drifts that topped the sea ice. They packed their kayaks with 30 days of food (they would resupply later) and dragged the 220-pound sleds—loaded with their food, kayaks, and gear—behind them. “Over the course of 104 days, we hiked, skied, crawled, and paddled over a terrain of moving, colliding sea ice, interspersed, occasionally, with open water,” says Turk.
At the crux of the expedition, at a bottleneck where Ellesmere is only 12 miles from Greenland, currents pushed the sea ice into massive compression, launching football-field-size chunks of ice into the air. “It was the biggest, most dangerous, and most physically demanding expedition of my life,” says Turk.
Explorer Jon Turk has penned three books depicting his world-class expeditions, including his crossing of the Pacific Ocean, from Japan to Alaska, by trimaran and kayak. He is best known for completing the first circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, Canada—with extreme kayaker Erik Boomer—in 2011. The 1,485-mile journey took Turk and Boomer 104 days on foot and skis and in kayaks. Read his Adventurers of the Year profile.
Jon Turk's Gear Pick: White-Water Paddles
On the Ellesmere expedition, Turk and Boomer used AT (Adventure Technology) bent-shaft white-water paddles. “We used white-water paddles because we needed a little more impact resistance for bashing into ice than is built into a standard touring paddle,” says Turk.