Ben Stookesberry 10/01/2017 | Posted in Internationalisation, United States, Whitewater
March – September Greenland Kite kayak Super Trip 5000
2 days back from Myanmar, I received an unexpected call from Erik Boomer. It’s appropriate to mention the Torngat expedition here too because that’s where Erik and I had made this ridiculous plan: cross the Greenland Icecap by kite-skis with a kayak in tow to access a remote melt-water river. It would have remained just a ridiculous plan, were it not for Sarah McNair-Landry. Boomer’s girlfriend of 7 years has the kind of resume that no one else has, accept maybe her brother. Multiple trips to the north pole, multiple trips to the south pole, a winter Northwest Passage kite-crossing, and most importantly 5 Greenland Crossings. So when Sarah agreed to join and/ or lead our expedition, our ridiculous plan became a daunting reality.
Not so fast, this mission was a full 6 months in the making and first required me to make a trip north to Sarah’s home base on Baffin Island in order to train to arctic and kite-ski proficiency. I’ve never experienced cold like that before. It was windy and 40 below zero everyday while I was there. For Sarah and Boomer it wasn’t a big deal considering that they had just spent over 120 days dogsledding around Baffin Island in conditions that were often times much worse than windy and 40 below zero. But for me it sucked to go outside. My third day on Baffin, we went out cross country skiing in a storm and I suffered what I initially called frost-bite. That was until day 4 when they showed me photos of what actual frost-bite looks like. Let’s just say that I’ll never for get the photo of some poor fellow who forgot to zip up his fly in arctic temperatures!
On day 10 in Baffin, I was supposed to catch a plane south and I couldn’t wait, And not just because I am a wimp in cold weather. I was flying straight to Flagstaff, for my first chance to see the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. But a ferocious blizzard shut down the airport for two days and I nearly missed the launch date. The reason I mention it is that the Grand Canyon group was made up mostly of members of the Knight Family from Mount Shasta, CA. For 9 years they’re company Timberworks had kept me gainfully employed between expeditions. I thank them for my evolution (or devolution) as a professional expedition kayaker that has the opportunity to do something as stupid as crossing Greenland with a kayak. I should also give the Grand Canyon it’s due in repeating what many have said before me: It’s one of the most awesome places I have ever seen. Please don’t build a gondola in that Canyon!
But I digress, but not too far. 105 miles of hiking in Myanmar, kite-ski training in Baffin, tons of side hiking in the Grand, and those other 18 years of expedition and abuse had finally taken it’s toll on my body. Just a month and a half before the intended start date in Greenland, I was no where near ready for a 600 mile arctic crossing. That was until Eric Seymour and Jess McMillan decided to adopt me for the summer. As a world class skier and Palates instructor, Jess had a plan for me that included identifying and treating strains and stresses, isolating the problems with my body mechanics, and strengthening with proper mechanics. Eric’s plan was to import his old kayaking buddy to Jackson Hole and otherwise help the guy he taught how to kayak.
It must have worked because by the time Sarah, Erik and I hit the eastern edge of the Greenland Icecap in early August I felt better than I have in years. That was until day 3 when I realized that we were actually going to have to haul 250 pounds of gear and supplies up a vertical mile of the shittiest and eventually scariest terrain I have ever seen before we could even think about kiting. On day 7 we were still far short of reaching the Fern Line, but we decided to try and kite anyway. That decision very nearly ended our trip when the wind, still insight of the ocean, roared to life out of nowhere. My beginner self was getting rag dolled towards the ocean and unknown crevasses. Meanwhile Sarah was trying to put her kite down in the roosting wind in order to help, when her safety jammed and she was plucked 30 feet in the air by a fully powered kite, plummeting back to earth landing on her head and back.
We didn’t find out until after the trip that Sarah had actually broke her back that day, but we knew immediately that she was injured. She had cracked a brand new sweet helmet and was immobile for almost 24 hours. I say almost because less than 24 hours after she had broke her back she started moving again. 5 days later, she was pulling all her gear by kite across second largest icecap on earth. To describe what happened over the 46 days that it took to complete this mission we called the Kite-Kayak Supertrip 5000 is not my goal here. But where things went wrong in Myanmar, they went right in Greenland. When we thought all was lost and Sarah would not make it, she refused to give up and pushed forward. When the river we had dreamed of was frozen solid, a river right next door defied frigid fall temperatures and carried us into the Arctic Ocean. And also unlike Myanmar, I will never try that again.