Missing In Action: Climate Change


Not only the Mainstream Last First project was rowing the Northwest Passage. Another rower, Charles Hedrich, also started rowing from July 1, 2013. Unlike the Mainstream Last First project, he is trying to row the complete Northwest Passage from Bering Strait to the Davis Strait. The Last First project aborted their mission on August 30, 2013. Until now Charles Hedrich is still in the running. But according to his website he also seems to encounter problems. His website is in French and although I speak the language somewhat, it is not a language that I am very comfortable with. So I give the translation for what it is worth (I think it is better than the one of Google Translate, which is a bit funny to say the least):

First narrowing of the Northwest Passage, the ice is located between Sachs Harbor and Cape Bathurst. Will he pass or not?

The cold already arrived, the night lasts 7 hours now and the temperature becomes negative. Gales follow one another with a steady pace.

Passing the blockade seems possible but the row trip is at great risk. The blocks of ice, icebergs or growlers may literally crush the rower. Anyway the passage is already closed between Cambridge Bay and Resolute. As Charles said before leaving “it is dead”. Global warming is missing. In 2012 the passage is closed around October 20, in one month and a half … But that’s Adventure. Theories are abandoned and practice prevails. React to the situation at hand, decide, avoid catastrophe.

I couldn’t really place the “it is dead” statement. What does this refers to? The trip? Climate change? He has quite a poetic language use. That the reason for the funny translations of Google Translate.
Then I found the context of this saying (translated from French):

I need to arrive at the end of September the latest, after this it is dead.

The “it is dead” part refers to the trip, meaning it will be the end. If he doesn’t arrive before the end of September he will have to abort the trip this year. Why the end of September? As he said in the first quote, last year the Passage was open until October 20. But apparently Climate Change forgot to visit the Arctic. The melt season was shorter and the Passage is already closing 1.5 months before the time of closure last year. Resulting in a couple aborted attempts in crossing the “Northwest Passage” or crossing the Arctic. Both Mainstream Last First and Hedrich seemed to count heavily on the effects of Global Warming to get trough the Passage. The Mainstream Last First had misplaced confidence in this effect and it seems to be the same for the Hedrich attempt.

What caught my eye in the Hedrich article was that after the explanation of the difficulties ahead he also wrote about the previous explorations, titled: “The Northwest Passage: a dangerous quest”. Surprisingly, he repeated about the same stuff as the Mainstream Last First FAQ, just a bit less. He only wrote about the fatal attempt of the Franklin Expedition and the first successful expedition of Roald Amundsen with the Gjøa, excluding all the other successful expeditions. I can imagine why. By only mentioning the failed crossing and difficulties and length of the first successful crossing, it will sooth the prospect of the possible failure.

Luckily he also gives his source: the entry of the Northwest Passage in the The Canadian Encyclopedia. This article seemed familiar. Also here only the failed attempts culminating in the Franklin Expedition, the first crossing of Amundsen, the first crossing by the St. Roch and its first one season crossing. In the following text some mention that the crossing was only possible by means of an ice-breaker. No mention about the other 180+ crossings. At the end a large chunk of Climate Change stuff. It seems they both took this as inspiration for their communication to the world.

Don’t get me wrong here. I have no problem with neither attempts of crossing the Northwest Passage by human power alone. This is an incredibly feat and I highly respect that. Rowing for 5,700 km or even 3,000 km or even 1,500 km is quite an achievement, certainly in an unforgiving environment as the Arctic. But I do have a problem with the one-sidedness of the communication about the project. It is not that pronounced with the Hedrich project, but it is the pivot stone in the Mainstream Last First project: this row is only possible because of climate change and the melting ice. But what if the project doesn’t succeed? Will Climate Change still be named, not as a culprit, but as a phenomenon that seemingly was not there this year?


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