adventure 2

Crossing Baffin

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| Adventure

This summer, American photographer and whitewater boater Erik Boomer will join Canadian brother and sister polar super-guides Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry and Nunavut-based physician Katherine Breen on a multisport traverse of northern Canada’s Baffin Island. Coined “Qajaqtuqtut”—Inuit for “they kayak”—the two-month-long, 600-mile expedition is an attempt to reintegrate the traditional skin-on-frame kayak into Canadian Arctic culture. — Conor Mihell

Inspiration: “Kayakers were able to do laps around the early whalers’ ships—even when they were under full sail,” says Eric, 28. “The kayak was one of the pieces of technology that allowed indigenous Arctic people to hunt. Over 4,000 years they brought it to an incredible level of refinement. In Greenland the kayak has become an emblem of culture. But in Nunavut, it’s completely died away. We’d like to change that.”

Build it yourself: “We designed something with a little more volume,” says Eric. “The original Greenland-style kayaks had so little volume that paddle strokes washed over the back deck. The kayaks we’ve built have a wooden frame that’s held together with pegs and lashings. The skin is ballistic nylon and polyurethane.”

Find your way: “We’re trying to retro-fy our navigational techniques,” says Sarah, 27. “Boomer and Eric were convinced we should navigate by sextant, and Kate and I agreed to it—as long as we could bring along a map and compass as well. The biggest thing is weight—we have to bring navigational tables and calculators. I think it will be cool to update our website with our Spot GPS position compared to where we think we are based on our sextant calculations.”

First D to start: “We’ll start with the modern part, dragging whitewater kayaks across the Penny Icecap to the Weasel River,” says Sarah. “Boomer wants to run the Weasel—it’s Class V and possibly runnable. We’ll pick up our sea kayaks on the east coast at the village of Pangnirtung and paddle Cumberland Sound. Then we will follow a traditional hunting route on inland portages to Nettilling and Amadjuak lakes, and eventually back to Baffin’s south coast.”
Group dynamics: “I’m kind of just the muscle meathead of the trip,” says Boomer, 28. “I like being cold and suffering. Kate is balanced soul … the energy she brings to the trip is very strong. Eric’s the most skilled craftsman. He headed up the building of the kayaks and will handle the repairs when we’re out there. Sarah is a jack-of-all-trades; she’s super skilled as a navigator and leader.”

Risk management: “We could come up with a long list of dangers,” says Boomer. “We’ll be in polar bear and walrus territory—dangerous animals will be a recurring theme. There’s the risk of crevasses on the ice cap, the uncertainties of the Weasel River, and paddling on the Arctic Ocean. The sea can go from placid to scary windy very quickly. Then there are the issues of being hungry and grumpy, and so many other hazards.”

The crew finishes its traditional kayaks in Iqaluit Nunavut. From left, Eric McNair-Landry, Katherine Breen, Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer. Photo: Erik Boomer

Comments

  • Ben Larson

    What I’d like to see are companies that make money off the kayak work with Inuit and other Arctic peoples on ways to meaningful share some of the profits. For instance, maybe retailers selling kayaks could ask folks who buy kayaks if they’d like to donate or invest a few bucks into community and economic development funds for Native peoples.

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