Expedition Watch: Kayaking Waterfalls in the Arctic


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Kayaking Norway. Photo: Ale Socci

“There are some places with mysterious associations and almost mythical character; Norway is one of those places to me. Endless sunlight, cliff-lined fjords, lightning blue rivers flowing from glaciers into the sea, it’s easy to see why. Since I started kayaking I have seen and heard about this Scandinavian kayaking oasis and its unbelievable rivers, but I never thought I would get to paddle here.” —Kayaker Chris Korbulic, Born Out There

Kayakers Chris Korbulic, Ben Stookesberry, and Pedro Oliva are in the middle of a 52-day trip to kayak the whitewater of the Arctic. They've been hiking up glaciers, paddling through numbing rapids fed by recently melted ice, and dropping off huge waterfalls. We emailed Stookesberry to learn more about the trip, and included his edited updates below.

WHEN: The team arrived in Oslo, Norway, on July 18, left for Svalbard on August 17, will eventually move on to Narsarsuak, Greenland, and then will return home on September 10.

WHO: Kayakers Pedro Oliva, Ben Stookesberry, Chris Korbulic, and pro photographer Ale Socci.

ORIGIN: The idea for the trip started when my good friend Forrest Noble showed me Internet images of incredible waterfalls descending from other worldly walls of ice somewhere in the Arctic. When I showed these same images to Pedro Oliva during an expedition in Africa in 2011, he was immediately obsessed with the idea of finding and descending these falls by kayak. Norway and Greenland came onto the itinerary to fill out a 13-episode season of a Brazilian cable TV series called Kaiak. It would become the centerpiece of our funding to find the waterfalls off the ice.

THE TOUGHEST STRETCH: We have already passed through one of the cruxes of the trip. In order to secure big sponsorship funding, Pedro had guaranteed a successful helicopter-Cineflex shoot of extreme kayaking in the fjords of western Norway. We had weeks of low clouds and rain, but lucked out with a mostly sunny day on the singular opening in the schedule for a filming partner that shot the aerial cinematography for the Harry Potter movies. For the grand finale of our heli shoot, Pedro, Chris, and I made successful descents of a massive falls called Kardal Fossen. This was no mean feat with a 50mph prop wash coming down from a low-flying chopper.

Ahead of us is a multi-day attempt on 19 miles of glacial torrent off the Greenland ice cap, and an estimated 435-mile expedition by sailboat 900 miles north of the Arctic Circle in order to find the waterfalls of the rapidly melting North Pole.

WHY: In this case there is a simple answer to “why”. The three of us have made expedition kayaking and cinematography our livelihood and this expedition is part of what will pay our bills.

Speaking simply from a kayaking perspective, Norway is to us what Hawaii is to surfers. From 60 degrees of latitude to well north of the Arctic Circle, big rivers fueled by plentiful rain, snow, and ice flow over glacially sculpted granite masterpieces. With so many of these rivers accessible via one of the most modern road infrastructures in the world, Norway is a dream destination.

But the real novelty, import, and motivation of the expedition is in the upcoming journeys to Greenland and the Svalbard archipelago. These two places, more than any others, exemplify the current climatic flux of our planet, and our whitewater kayaks are an apt vehicle to tell a story about the melting ice of the Arctic.

FOLLOW: Main updates on the Born Out There blog; individual updates on the Facebook pages of Ben Stookesberry, Chris Korbulic, Pedro Oliva, and Ale Socci; old kayaking clips on Kaiak; and video of this expedition on Kaiak in early 2013. It will be featured in HD on the Brazilian TV station Canal Off.

SPONSORS: Despite the significant finances of Kaiak, we were still well
shy of our projected expenditures to some of the most expensive
destinations on the planet. In order to stretch the budget to around a
quarter of a million dollars and turn his dream into a 13-episode
reality, Pedro spent months selling the project to sponsors, finally
convincing Brazilian companies TNT energy drinks and Hot Buttered
eyewear to kick in for the nearly $100,000 shortfall. For the final
crucial piece of the budget, Eddie Bauer First Ascent outfitted our
expedition to cope with the rigors of the extreme north.

—Joe Spring