Suchbegriff eingeben


In December we introduced you to the Les Engages, a French team training to reach the North Cape at the Polar Night. After a first test in the Swiss Alps, paddling on the Loire in the dark and a night trip on the Atlantic during storms  they now actually attempted to reach the North Cape with skis and packraft. How that went and what went wrong is to be read in the following article:  
From Valentin Drouillard @les.engages

We are Les Engagés: Thomas, Maxime and Valentin. We are not professional adventurers like Mike Horn, top sportsmen or former special forces personnel. We all have a classic profession and live in the city (in Paris). And yet, we give ourselves the means to organize and lead great expeditions from A to Z, in complete autonomy.

After crossing Greenland in 2018, and climbing the Aconcagua (6962m) in 2019, we have just returned from our 3rd expedition in autonomy, which is also the hardest experience of our lives: reaching the North Cape (Norway) through 3 weeks of polar night. The expedition has been broadcasted on Norwegian TV news!

A start and a lost

To reach this most northern point of Europe we left from Karasjok on 28th December. This was the start of a land travel with ski / sleds. Our sleds weigh 72kg each to account for all the expedition gear plus self-sufficiency food and gasoline. Our first challenge was to get through dense woods, in complete dark. We lost a lot of time and got exhausted by heavy snow. Things worsened with Maxime being taken severely ill. We lost two days against the initial timing of the expedition.

Change of direction 

We could overcome these forests we hit a first mountainous area. Stormy winds and ice-cold temperatures (-35°C) welcomed us. We decided to take a bold bet: a corridor though the mountains that was not on the piece of map that we prepared but that seemed a better option than the highlands initially chosen. This choice became the tilting point of the expedition. Skiing on thick and gliding ice, we caught up with time despite repeated storms. Laponia even welcome us with the mystery of Northen Lights. Faith was smiling at us until we reached the Fjord and sea.

The final gap 

A channel of the Barrent sea was still between us and the North Cap, 50km North from our position. In the following review we focus on the particular challenge of crossing the strait of the Barents Sea for 14km to reach the island of North Cape.

We can't wait to get to the water. We have everything planned, the 3 packrafts (Anfibio Delta MX, Alpha XC and an MRS Adventure X2) are tied together as well as the pulkas that follow behind. Everything works, we paddle happily, we smile, laugh, in short, we are happy...

Severe damages on our packrafts 

But after 200m it's a punishment. Two of our three packrafts brust due to a mistake of inattention (a badly placed ice axe stroke in reality - yes it's possible …. the spectrum of human error is as vast as the poles). We land in an emergency and our shoes take on water. Despaired, we resign ourselves to setting up camp and start repairing the two ships. Our overconfidence has been punished.

Emergency repair in the field 

But we haven't said our last word. After an in field telefon conference (surpricing to to have coverage) with the Anfibio Packrafting Store at Friday night (surpricing to reach them in person to the time) we consult about an emerceny repair. Fortunately we are well prepared with so called LifePatches, which allow instant repairs in freezing, wet conditions.
We repair the packrafts, then inflate them. We decide to let the night pass. If the repairs hold, we'll try the crossing again.

Finally crossing – will the fix hold up? 

This morning we decide to get up at 3am to catch the last favourable weather window for what we believe is the final obstacle: crossing a strait of the Barents Sea for 14km to reach the island of North Cape. We wake up with a sense great humility this time, aware of the lesson inflicted the day before. We decide to take a thoughtful, delicate and intelligent approach. We are extremely focused. Yesterday's failure is on everyone's mind, but we must not stop there. This state of mind will not prevent us from getting intoxicated with gasoline over breakfast. We still haven't figured out how the essence managed to seep into the Chinese noodles and oats on day 15. A mystery we'll never solve. Anyway, we are pasty, slightly nauseous under the effect of gasoline vapors that rise from our stomach via unpleasant burps. It is 4am, the day has started. We calmly wait in the tent for the wind and the heavy falling snow to calm down and then we stow the packrafts and pulkas again. The repairs seem to be going well.

How many strokes left?

Our strategy is to follow the coast to get out of the fjord and then start the final crossing. At 8:20 am we are in the water. Calm. Concentrated. And above all, on our guard. We follow the coast quietly, the ebb tide helping. Then the swell begins to rise. It's rocking. We stay calm. The pulkas following behind are pounding our packrafts. We're afraid they'll burst again. Thomas, in position on the central packraft, manages to find a system to keep them away from the packrafts. After a few frightful moments, we reach the end of the fjord. We have to take a break there. Unfortunately, peeing on a packraft is not an easy thing. We rush since we realize that our boats are drifting severely towards the ocean.

We paddle until we are exhausted to find the end of the fjord. It is impossible to go up the current. The current is too strong and pushes us away from the coast. We have to take advantage of this and we decide to cross now straight ahead instead of going to the planned landing place, which is against the current. Here we go, the battle is on, unfortunately not on our initiative. But we decide not to suffer from it. Maxime on the left and Valentin on the right are paddling like devils, it's like being in a Roman galley. Thomas manages the pulkas' gap and helps paddling as well. The effort is continuous and intense.

The North Cape 

The current is strong and we drift too far east. At this moment nobody thinks about the danger anymore, we are in the game and we give all we can. We must not stop and drift. We're rowing. We're rowing. We're rowing. Cramps arise, we're cold, we're wet, but we're not letting go. The coast still seems so far away and it's discouraging, but now is the time to make the effort. Now is the time to make the difference. The last big challenge before the North Cape.

We're committing all our forces to this supreme effort. The coast is finally closing in. The muscles are letting go, but we keep going. We've got to keep going, we're moving, we're going to make it. Half a mile... 400m... 300m... 200m... We're almost there, but nothing's earned, we have to keep paddling... Aaaaaaaah! After a time of effort impossible to determine, and a certain exhaustion, we reach the North Cape coast. Euphoria overcomes us. This is it. We made it!