2,000 miles kayaking through the Arctic | Polarjournal
Mark Agnew, a key team member of the Arctic Cowboys, an adventurous group based in Texas, is about to embark on a remarkable Arctic journey. (Photo: Mark Agnew)

Twice he failed to row across the Atlantic. Now Scotsman Mark Agnew hopes to become one of the first people to kayak the Northwest Passage. He is part of a four-heads team that will embark on the nearly 2,000-miles journey from Baffin Bay to the Beaufort Sea in July. After a severe motivational crisis in 2018 as a result of his failed crossings of the Atlantic, Mark Agnew is now aiming to make history in the North.

Mark Agnew has been preparing for the challenge. (Photo: Mark Agnew)

Mark Agnew, along with the three other adventurers, will follow the route of Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition in 1845. Both ships involved in this famous expedition got caught in the ice. Franklin and his crew of 129 men on “HMS Erebus” and “HMS Terror” lost their lives. For a long time the fate of the Franklin crew remained unclear. The last traces of the expedition members had been discovered many years later near King William Island. Only in 2014, the wreck of the ship “HMS Erebus” was found in Victoria Strait. The remains of “HMS Terror” were discovered in 2016 south of King William Island, in Terror Bay.

The kayak team will depart from Bylot Island and hopes to arrive at the Inuit community of Tuktoyaktuk 90 days later. (Photo: Mark Agnew)

The team will follow the historic Arctic route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and hopes to make the passage by kayak for the first time. This would be the first time the Northwest Passage was completed in a single summer using only human power and in a motor- and sailless water vehicle.

According to Mark Agnew, “A hundred years ago, the Northwest Passage would have frozen over for most of the year, but now we’ll be able to kayak the 2,000 miles in a single season. It’s a pretty devastating example of how much climate change has impacted the planet.”

The expedition team for this Arctic adventure will consist of Mark and three Americans – Expedition Leader West Hansen, Jeff Wueste and Eileen Visser. Wuest and Hansen had already made an attempt to cross the passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans last year together with Rebekah Feaster. However, the expedition was stopped by the two after 17 days and 418 kilometers covered. Delays due to bad weather and material delivered too late and in the end also the resignation of Rebekah were the reasons for giving up.

Joining Mark Agnew on the expedition are expedition leader West Hansen, Jeff Wueste and Eileen Visser. (Photos: Arctic Cowboys)

Failed Atlantic crossings

Mark Agnew also knows all about giving up on expeditions. He and his team attempted to set a world record in rowing across the Atlantic for the first time in 2016 and again in 2018. The two Atlantic crossings ended up being aborted for different reasons: In the first because it turned out that the rowing boat was not completely watertight, which meant that the team had to row in several inches of deep water. “It became unbearable and we were finally taken away by helicopter,” Mark Agnew commented. The second expedition of 2018 also had to be abandoned early for technical reasons and Mark was rescued by helicopters. The sometimes derisive comments and newspaper reports that followed, referring to him as “Captain Calamity,” ate hard at him. This resulted in a mental crisis and made him feel worthless and unmotivated.

The ill state lasted for twelve months because he was convinced that his days as an adventurer were over. Now, however, he has changed his attitude and is well motivated for this next adventure. But it’s not just a thirst for adventure that drives the Scotsman on this expedition. He also wants to raise funds for the Wilderness Foundation UK and hopes to end up raising more than UK£25,000 (around €30,000). The foundation helps people suffering from anxiety disorders and offers therapies and programs for them, especially in the outdoor sector.

The group is currently still at the start at Button Point on Bylot Island, at the entrance to the Northwest Passage. Ice floes have made it difficult for the four kayakers to launch so far. They plan to make another start today or tomorrow, Thursday. The goal is to get to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories by the end of September and thus achieve what Franklin and many others have been denied: to conquer the Northwest Passage.

The PolarJournal editorial team wishes the Arctic Cowboys and the Arctic Girl good weather conditions, a hopefully ice-free Northwest Passage and good luck for a successful expedition.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

Expedition Arctic Cowboys
Mark Agnew Northwest Passage

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