Adventures in Arctic Kayaking – Update: we're stuck

UPDATE: kayakers already “stuck” in ice at 80.52397 degrees N

I had this post up for all of an hour before this news rolled in from PolarDefense. Hat tips to Tom Nelson, who’s report is presented below, and to Brian Koochel in comments. – Anthony

Polar Defense Project » We’re Stuck

“We’re stuck”

I have slept poorly. The floating ice, while thin, is so prevalent that, throughout the night, it grinds noisily against the side of the boat in a slightly alarming fashion – imagine someone scraping their nails across an old-fashioned blackboard.The then begins earlier than normal and, unusually, I am not woken by Robbie bounding into my room. Instead the ship’s engine roars to life earlier than normal – at around 5.30 – and the MV ‘Havsel’ begins to judder ominously. I clamber out of bed and scramble up to the bridge – all the ship’s crew are there, and they look serious. I look outside and I can see why. The sea is almost entirely congested with ice floes – I would estimate 80% plus of the sea is covered by them. There is a real risk that we could get stuck up here. We have drifted in the night into a much icier area than where we stopped last night. I wake up the team, and everyone groggily makes their way to the bridge. There’s a mixed reaction in the team to the prospect of getting stuck up here.

See the location on Google Maps, 80.52397, 12.21224

After awaking to find their vessel frozen in ice the team are steaming around looking for a path that’s navigable by kayak.

No paddling today.

At about 69 miles per degree of latitude, it would seem that they’re still 600+ miles from the North Pole.

My original post follows:

Place your bets now folks. If only Robert Peary could have had CNN tag along. – Anthony

Entries from Sam Branson’s Arctic diary – In the

My split feelings about this news remind me of another paradox of my expedition up here – the fact that I am spending my days paddling in ice-cold water, with a frozen, painful backside, trying to bring to the attention of the world and its leaders the necessity of stopping the world heating up.

[Sept 1:] Travel this morning was tough. The temperature has dropped dramatically and each time the guys get in the water in is a notch harder. We are starting to see larger chunks of ice, which instead of weaving through, they have to paddle around. The occasional chunk hits the bow of the ship sending small pieces out to the side into the route of travel for our paddlers. One nearly knocked Lewis of his kayak. The water is now below zero and a spill could be quite painful. The moving water by the feet of the guys has started to freeze and this could take a toll on their much needed warmth. I know that Robbie has been struggling with his toes.


[Aug 31:] The ship is noticeably colder and we are all wearing an extra layer. I have been on deck loading the kayaks and boats back onto the ship. The water soaked ropes seep moisture into your gloves and it saps the heat from my hands fast. I can only imagine what it is like for Lewis and Robbie holding on to a cold paddle with waves crashing over them. The first thing Lewis said when he got back in was ‘I can’t feel my backside!’

[Aug 28:] Some may know this place from the book ‘The northern lights’ by Phillip Pullman, where he calls it, ‘The land of the ice bears’. From what I’ve heard, this name could not be closer to the truth. The boat we are on has just returned from a trip in the ice and along the way they encountered eighty eight bears.

Gosh, that’s a lot of bears.

Just in case you might be thinking the two kayakers are doing this all alone, on a shoe-string budget, with only strength and determination….

Here is the support vessel: 300-ton fossil-fueled MV Havsel

Polar Defense writes: The support boat we loaded our kit onto is not the QE2. She is an old fishing boat called MV ‘Havsel’ – this means ‘ocean seal’ in Norwegian. She is a tough, grubby, working boat with a strengthened hull and a big engine for a boat of her size – she will perform very well up in the pack ice.

Thanks to Tom Nelson for references in this story


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“along the way they encountered eighty eight bears”
You go on a random ice linear route for 1,000 miles, and you can count bears as far as 3 miles to each side of your boat. That’s 6,000 square miles.
There are over 1,000,000 square miles of arctic sea ice right now, and millions more of continental and island square miles that are polar bear environment.
Enough said.

Scott Covert

HA! Eco snobs going about their Ecosnobbery.
They are gliding over the water in their presumably multi-kilobuck kyaks with what looks like carbon fiber paddles whining about the cold and inconvenient chunks of frozen water in their path while being followed by a huge ship possibly filled with wine and cheese and hot cocoa.
The Eskimo hunter does not approve…. panzies…

Leon Brozyna

Not betting on something where the brash young man has already hedged his bet by saying that it’s just a stunt to highlight the Arctic warming, even if he doesn’t make it to the pole. Wait till they get too far north but don’t make it to the pole and the route home gets frozen over and they end up in frozen solid ice.


I love Google Earth, it’s got to be the coolest thing ever. Guiweather offers these plug ins where you can see the exact locations of ships and see the current weather reports from those ship in near real time.
Currently I am seeing about 4 ships off the coast of Svalbaard, and my bet is that they are hating life right about now. Currently the wind is blowing out of the North at 30-50 MPH and the temps are a balmy 36 degrees F.
Any idea about the call letters on this ship? I have been trying to look it up, but can not seem to find it listed. It would be interesting to follow thier progress in real time. My bet is that today they are sitting in that ship trying thier best to sip hot chocolate wondering why they did not choose a cruise down to the Canary Islands instead.


Someone should point out to Sam Branson that he is working his way up the proverbial creek without a paddle. This story is much like the Dutch television’s reporter who in July was sent to document the “ice free” North Pole predicted earlier this year by some 10 “scientists”, or the group of “bien pensant” eco tourists who in early June got stuck in massive ice for 6 days in the Western end of the NW Passage on one the world’s most powerful ice breakers. Reality is that there is some 500,000 sq km more ice in the Arctic than at the same time in 2007[ which makes 2008 more like 2005 than 2007] More importantly temperatures are dropping earlier and faster than in previous years, resulting in more multi year ice for 2009. My sense is that when we look back in a few years, 2007 will be seen as the low turning point. As far as the bears are concerned, what a surprise! While the WWF keeps on telling us they are all drowning, the people with snow boots on the ground in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic are all reporting record populations. Good blog. Keep up the good work.

John Riddell

Never mind Lewis.
Maybe next year.

Glad he’s stuck!


What? I thought with all the global warming it was like South Beach up there!

Bill Illis

A new blog post this morning says the ship is stuck in the ice now.


Its so refreshing to see that self flagellation is alive and well in the 21st century.
I think the whip would be a greener choice!!


Wait until the slush ice forms – it occurs nearly overnight.
I’ll bet the water will freeze faster than they can paddle out.
If they are not careful, they could get stuck.


3 Sept 2008
Stop the presses Pugh’s captain is worried that his 300 tonne diesel trawler may get stuck in melting seasonal thin ice. Unprecedented in Arctic warming history.

Brian Koochel

They’re stuck! They just updated.
This is my first post here. I’ve been checking this site out for the past several months.
Keep up the great reporting and investigating!

Cathy Wilson

Well at least he’ll have a good story to tell his grandchildren.
Oops. Nope.
Grandpa will have been revealed to be a clueless doofus.
They’ll just pull the covers up under his quivering chin,
throw another log on the guttering fire,
and smile indulgently as he babbles about his cold tuckus.

Drew Latta

88 polar bears? Yikes! I don’t imagine you’d have much of a chance if a polar bear decided to swim after you and make lunch of you and your kayak.

Robert Wood

HaHa Didn’t get very far did we, what with all that disappearing ice ‘n’ all


Anyone opened a book on when they give up?
REPLY: I give it less than a week – Anthony

Stan Jones

Would be quite ironic if they end up being rescued from the ice; though I notice he’s already got his spin in:
“One thing that strikes me is the change in the sea ice when I compare it to my Arctic trip last year. Last year at this latitude (around 82°C North) I saw lots of three meter thick ice – multi-year ice. This year, out in the kayak, I am only paddling past single-year ice which is significantly thinner, about one metre in depth. It is no surprise to me this is a record-setting year for thinness of Arctic summer sea ice.”

I must say before smiling and cooking – THANK YOU ANTHONY (and mods, guest posters and readers).
I look forward every day to “having a gander” at your site. Not only is it one of the few breaths of fresh air in the “sphere” but the quality, restraint and integrity of your contributors nearly equals your own.
I am going to make shepherds pie tonight because it fortifies against the cold and even though it has been sunny in Somerset today it is still cold and the kids feel it.
Not as cold as those poor deluded fools in their canoes, but a lot cooler than it should be 😉

Bill P

Notes from the arctic kayakers:
Ice floes everywhere… it is arctic…
What we’ve noticed is… the sea temperatue has decreased… all over the place you’ve got these little icebergs… it’s surreal… can’t think of anyplace that would be more frightening to kayak than here…

fred houpt

I might sound harsh but I think these people are lunatics. Man still thinks he can bend nature to his will. There are some tree hugging nature lovers who probably dream at night that if they were alive some 12,000 years ago they could have stopped the Last Glacial Maximum from melting, thereby avoiding a series of worldwide calamatous floods which drastically altered our earth. They must certainly still dream that somehow mankind can still alter the next hot age or ice age and stop it. This is akin to the belief that they can somehow stop the world from spinning, stop or alter the affects of sunlight or gravity for that matter.
In my view they should pack up their foolish little boats and put their energies into pressuring Brazil into more competent policing of the Amazon forests which are the true lungs of the earth. The Northern waters will take care of themselves thank you very much. The Amazon forests cannot.
BTW, I strongly recommend a book I’m reading through by Graham Hancock”Underworld”. Much of the book concerns the most recent discoveries of places that were once inhabited by mankind but now lie under the oceans that rose after the long warming I mentioned above. Remarkable now how much of history will have to be re-written and how much older civilizations really are.


Considering the blokes from Top Gear drove to the North Pole recently I would say reports of it being ice free are somewhat premature.

Bill P

More notes:
We labor on… the ice scraping across our bows… a short rest at the mother ship for hot chocolate and a nappie… now we’re back in it, the water… cold as, well, cold as ice water… Meanwhile the response from world leaders is tepid. Here I am, protecting the Arctic, and they’re being tepid…


1 hour of climate change debate at the geologists’ congress in norway:
the interesting points in my view:
– in the 8 person panel, there were 2 sceptics, one of them H. Svensmark (comic ray cloud formation…). However most questions from the audience were sceptical. I think this is a quite typical difference for scientifc institutions and the majority opinion of their membership.
– one panel member was the Danish minister of energy and ecology. Her main point appeared to be her bias towards “action”. She thinks action is necessary, even if the scientific basis is not solid. And even if it is all wrong actions (such as energy conservation) etc. are good for other reasons. So she just wants to act, as she feels she has to as a politicain. (I think David Henderson has explained quite convincingly where this bias towards action comes from: )
– Few words about the moderation: I think the moderator comes from Germany. I’m also German, so I had a special interest at his performance and also Mr. Haugs. I was diappointed that Mr. Svensmark only had the chance to talk in the beginning (at 9:31) though some questions related directly to his work. On the other side, the moderator asked Mr. Haug for an answer in every round. I think we Germans are not very good in discussing things balanced, so I was not surprised about the quality of the moderation and I was even less surprised, that Mr. Haug came up with the extremest positions of tipping points, desaster and all well beyond the IPCC’s reports.
– Interesting contributions from the audience, was for example a person from indian (21:23) who discribed the IPCC as a “closed circle” and strongly critized the nobel prices for “incorrect conclusions”.
– At 46:45 a reknown geologist asked the question of question: how many years of cooling does it take until we know that the world is not warming…?
– And does anyone know the person at 50:45 ? He discribed himself as a climate scientist (what he thinks puts him above usual geologists…). While he belittled not less than 3 of the sceptical speakers before him (to the first he said: “don’t know who he is”, the second had a “graph misused”, the third was “…the person before, whoever he was”, he kissed quite obviously andnastily up to the Danish minister with his “gratitude for her wisdom, etc.” ). Is this person related with the IPCC ?

Mike Hodges

I am curious as to what his reaction will be when he returns without reaching the N.P. Will he begin to doubt or will he look for excuses? I noticed he’s downloaded into the “thin” ice argument so realism still has a lot of denial shell to penetrate. What does he have riding on it? A book? Does he have a contract with a publishing company? As I know a guy who tried to be the first one to circumnavigate the world on bike and boat only, I would say the internal drive was much more strongly related to publishing value than to “save the planet”. (We’ll ignore how he had to transport his boat by truck to Alaska before being able to row across the Bering Sea).
I would strongly suggest Mr. Branson turn his stern south and start paddling hard.

Cathy Wilson

Hey Anthony!
My husband just tossed me Investor’s Business Daily because he knew I’d be interested in an article titled ‘There Goes The Sun”.
Congrats! They quote you and reference
REPLY: I had no idea. Thanks, Anthony


I wonder if they’re smart enough eventually to realize that practical experience will resolve this ‘paradox’ for them.


Another myth to debunk.
The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”.
Plant life in the oceans (cellular and multicellular) are responsible for some 2/3rds of the planets oxygen. Of the portion due to land, the Amazon is responsible for less than a third, and even if every try in that land were cut down, the grasslands that replaced it would continue to produce almost as much oxygen.

Jack Simmons

Did this expedition buy the carbon offsets required by the green community?
While we’re at it, who is going to present the government of Russia with a bill for the carbon offsets for their invasion of Georgia?


If these idiots had checked out Cryosphere Today before they left, they would have noticed a huge ice sheet was blocking their path to the North Pole almost as soon as they got started. This is quite possibly the most poorly planned expedition ever.

My sense is that when we look back in a few years, 2007 will be seen as the low turning point.
I believe the correct term in climate science is “Tipping Point”!!!

Mike Bryant

“Here I am , protecting the arctic…”
I can’t even think of the words to say to this person, but they are not good words…


I wager that those fools are going to have to be rescued by the navy and this is as far North as they make it. Funny though, its almost like they did this intentionally to mock global warming believers.

Steven Goddard

In 1922, it was possible to sail to 81N in ice free water.
He never had a chance to get within 500 miles of the North Pole. What a joke.


Cathy Wilson (10:02:52) :
“Hey Anthony!
My husband just tossed me Investor’s Business Daily because he knew I’d be interested in an article titled ‘There Goes The Sun”.
Congrats! They quote you and reference
I’ll second that.
Here’s the link to the IBD Editorial online

Steven Goddard

On this date in 1980, the ice edge was in the same place where they are stuck now.

Bill Marsh

simon (09:32:06) :
Anyone opened a book on when they give up?
REPLY: I give it less than a week – Anthony
I’ll take the under

anna v

Well, BBC has news for us
“Major ice-shelf loss for Canada
The ice shelves in Canada’s High Arctic have lost a colossal area this year, scientists report.
The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away.
One of them, the 50 sq km (20 sq miles) Markham shelf, has completely broken off to become floating sea-ice. ”
You win some, you lose some.


what a peculiar expedition! It’s hard to figure out what message they’re trying to convey, other than shooting themselves into their (frozen) feet.
Or, is this simply a manifestation of a politicized version of the British sporting spirit? Obviously, it now requires heavy support with large vessels complete with camera crews, cooks, etc. – I’d recommend comparing this to Matty McNair’s account of leading a female expedition to the Pole (March to May 1997). Since then, Matty has carried out many unsupported Polar expeditions, North and South.
In a larger context, I believe that in 2009 we’ll see a pronounced sea ice rebound from the 2007 minimum. It may all be quite simple: Arctic ice cover changes lag behind atmospheric temperature adjustments because of the different circulation and heat-capacity constraints of sea water.

anna v:
“The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years…”
Which means that the climate was warmer thousands of years ago. Or maybe colder, since the planet was emerging from the last Ice Age. Or maybe we’re right in the middle of the climate’s completely natural and normal cyclical variation.
As Goldilocks would say, “…it’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it’s ju-u-u-u-st right.

A minor correction. They are dieseling around not steaming around. Sure both spew GHGs but don’t give them a free pass on their carbon footprint.

Bruce Cobb

Despite what looks to be abysmal failure of the expedition, I doubt that he’ll change his rhetoric much, if any. Here’s what he says in his first paragraph of his “Message to world leaders”: “Global warming is, I believe, a significantly greater threat to us, to our economies and to our way of life than any or all of recent issues that have headed national agendas: the credit crunch, global terrorism, the price of oil, healthcare, ageing populations etc. World leaders need to attack this threat head-on. This response will need to be as aggressive, and as global, as the world’s response to fascism and Nazism in the mid-twentieth century. And I think the best way to approach this problem is as though a war is being fought, a war whose outcome will determine the fate of all of us.”
The spin will be something like, sure, I didn’t make it this year, but the ice is much thinner, blah-blah, and will be even more susceptible to melting in the future, and I’ll be back again next year, because “From what I have seen over the past week it is not a question of ‘whether’ but simply ‘when’ the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice.”

M White

Go to
Scroll to the bottom and check it out
AL GORE – 29 November 2007
Tomorrow I am the warm up act for Al Gore.  He will be addressing a group of property financers in London.  I will give a personal account of the climate change I have witnessed in the Arctic.


Well, BBC has news for us
“Major ice-shelf loss for Canada
The ice shelves in Canada’s High Arctic have lost a colossal area this year, scientists report.
The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away.
One of them, the 50 sq km (20 sq miles) Markham shelf, has completely broken off to become floating sea-ice. ”
You win some, you lose some.
almost 5 million sq km of ice up there and they report on 50 of it.

Bill Marsh

Anna V,
“The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away.”
Since we’ve only had reliable monitoring of Arctic ice extent since 1979, when the satellites went up, what exactly do they base this claim on?
It appears that that area was ice free as recently as 1922, as described in the NOAA achieved article that claims the Arctic was ‘ice free’ beyond 81N — farther north than these ‘gentlemen’ have been able to get.

Bill Marsh

I ‘borrowed’ this link from JunkScience. It is relevant to the nature article.

Pierre Gosselin

Personally I think it takes a damn naive fool to think one can simply paddle on up there like its a hospitable region.
The guy deserves the Moron-of-the-Year award.

Mike Westrich

Well let’s look at the bright side. If they get stuck in the ice they can provide a tasty meal for the 88 starving polar bears they passed thus single handedly saving an endangered species, and it looks like the bears won’t even have to swim 100 miles for lunch. At least the expedition won’t be a total bust.

Poor Lewis Pugh just got to the very beginning of the Arctic ice, 1000 km left. See the current Arctic ice map and many other things here:
A link to this blog is included.