The ice cometh: no regrets at journey’s end

Northwest Passage Diary: So we didn’t make it all the way through the passage, but the experience we have had has made it all worthwhile


Last night I slept in my own bed in Vancouver. When I got up this morning I had a shower and some cereal with real milk.

Having walked to a nearby coffee shop, here I sit with a cappuccino as I attempt to carve some words around the past few days and the completion of our trip: an attempt by myself and three companions to row 3,000km across the Northwest Passage, the arctic sea route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

It’s probably too soon to try to articulate all I have learned over the past 55 days. That will come naturally over the coming weeks and months. This morning’s simple pleasures seem more like luxuries – nothing like a spell on a rowing boat to add some perspective. I hope I don’t forget how lucky I am to have the life that I have.

The home strait
We arrived into Cambridge Bay last week. The final 24 hours of rowing were great. We covered about 70km, conditions were calm and the sun even showed up for most of Wednesday. When we arrived, we met some people at the dock who are sailing through the passage. I found it hilarious how fast they could move relative to us.

Two Australian lads we had met along the way, Matt and Cam, made it to Cambridge Bay that same day, a few hours after us, and two kayakers from Quebec, Oliver and Sebastian, whom we met in Paulatuk nearly a month ago, paddled in exactly as we rowed in. It was fantastic to see everybody again.

We decided to end our trip in Cambridge Bay, roughly halfway through the passage. This decision was made a few weeks ago, when we knew that making it to our planned destination of Pond Inlet wasn’t going to be possible due to the encroachment of ice on the route. Of course, we would loved to have made it to Pond Inlet, but when travelling through the Arctic it is essential that one considers facts and probabilities and not false hopes and wishes.

We would have needed another two months at least to make it to Pond Inlet. We probably had another three to four weeks of open water before the freeze begins. If we got stuck because of ice before making it to Gjoa Haven, the next community from Cambridge Bay (about 500km away), we might have had to rely on a rescue to get us out.

We made the right decision
I know we were correct in our decision to finish in Cambridge Bay. I suppose this is the nature of adventure, particularly when it comes to trips where nature can stop you in your tracks. Sometimes you simply cannot get to where you intended.

I am not that bothered that we didn’t make Pond Inlet; the experience we have had over the past 55 days has been incredible. I’m looking forward to sharing the stories with friends, family and clients over the coming months.

The initial 24 hours after arriving to Cambridge Bay were very chilled out. We spent our time eating real food, cleaning ourselves and our clothes and just relaxing.

It’s only now, having internet access once again, that I have had the chance to see many of the notes and comments people have made about our trip. I would like to thank everybody who has taken the time to add comments of support over the past few months.

There have also been negative messages, which in some cases seem quite angry. All I can say is that we’re all entitled to our opinion, so good on you for voicing yours. Personally I’d much prefer to be criticised for doing something I’m passionate about than to spend my time criticising others.

The truth about climate change
It seems our trip has stirred some debate around climate change. Some people think it’s all nonsense; others believe the threat it presents is real and would like to see more done about it. I’m not a climate change expert, but many of the locals we met spoke about the changes they have seen over the past 20 years and said that things are continuing to change. The people we have met up north have been genuine, warm and welcoming.

I’ve been asked a lot by friends and family what it’s like to be back. It is great, but I also miss the north and the adventure. It feels strange being back in a city.

So what’s next? For now, the cappuccino has been finished, it’s a gorgeous day today so I think I’ll go for a run.

Series concludes: You can read all of
Paul Gleeson’s Northwest Passage diaries at

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