January 29, 2023

Orcas Island resident Karl Kruger single-handedly paddled 420 miles of the frigid Northwest Passage on his custom-made stand-up paddleboard last summer.

This trek is no small feat in itself, largely due to the fact that his route took him to the edge of the world along the thin line where the frigid tundra and the Arctic Ocean meet near the 71st parallel.

A professional nature lover and naturalist guide, Kruger is no stranger to pushing his limits. He has spent thousands of hours exploring and guiding people through some of the most beautiful and rugged regions in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. His adventure expeditions range from introducing his guests to the great outdoors aboard his 64-foot steel cutter S/V Ocean Watch to being the first – and only – person to complete the entire 750-mile Race To Alaska (RTK ) completed solo From Port Townsend to Ketchikan on a stand-up paddleboard.

According to Kruger, he has felt a deep connection to the sea and nature throughout his life. His father taught him to paddle when he was three years old. Kruger then taught himself to windsurf at the age of 12 and at 17 he was teaching others to sail. He chose this trip to the Arctic to push his personal limits.

“What happens is that you go out there and realize there’s something much deeper that you don’t even understand yourself until you get out there and start making the thing,” he said.

For Kruger, competing in the Race to Alaska — and traveling to the Arctic — was about growth.

“I did it because I wanted to see if I could do it. I learned a lot. I’ve grown in really important ways, but when people ask me if I’ll do it again, I say, “Why? It’s over,” he said. “In terms of actually performing the RTK and navigating, it didn’t scare me at all. I knew I knew the coast.”

By this point in his life, Kruger had traveled up and down the coast to Alaska more than 25 times.

“I knew where I was going and felt really safe and secure,” he said. “When I arrived at the end of RTK with a very deep knowing that I was capable of a heck of a lot more. Next time I might bite off a much bigger piece and see what’s up. I started looking for a project that scared me.”

That’s when he decided to paddle the Northwest Passage of the Arctic.

Though COVID delayed Kruger’s original plans by a few years, in 2022 he embarked on the first 420-mile leg of a multi-stage journey that he expects to finish in 2026 when stitching together a route that will have started in Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest territories and finally ending in Pond Inlet in the Ikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut, Canada, on northern Baffin Island.

For Kruger, the trek has opened his eyes to the fragility of humanity, but also to the connectivity people are losing in today’s high-tech modern world.

“In today’s world, it’s easy to lose sight of that fragility when you’re so well taken care of here in the system,” he said. “If I were to walk now and I trip and fall and hit my head on the sidewalk or whatever, it would take seconds and there would be flashing lights and a whole herd of people would be there to help me. When you’re out there, you find yourself in that place looking over your shoulder and making sure you’ve actually left land behind and have several miles to go before you see land again. And then you lose sight of water because of the fog. And you’re just in this bubble, in a place where if things go really wrong, if I fall and break my leg or something, you’re gone. I mean, you are in an incredibly fragile place, a delicate place, and no help is coming.”

Kruger adds that the experience helped heighten his senses and draw his attention to the intricacies of nature and the world around him.

“When you’re out there alone, what do you have, what do you have left? Where are you going? What helps you? And what I was beginning to realize was that I was tuning in to these really subtle tugs. We all have these, but I think we become desensitized to them by living the life we ​​live,” he told you go. Being in a place where you don’t have all of that suddenly forces you to go back to what it means to be human. And you tune in to those little tugs, and I’ve always deeply regretted ignoring them.”

During the trek, Kruger described a sense of grandeur, but also acknowledged that for much of the trip there wasn’t much to focus his attention on, so he focused on the little things like a beluga whale swimming in appeared nearby, or waves on the sea surface.

“Up there, forces act on you that lie beyond the cosmic. It’s like the size of the sky, you’re on top of the world and you’re literally feeling the very last peaks of the tidal waves entering the Arctic Ocean,” Kruger recalls. “And you break the ice and thunder. It’s like the environment is breaking you up in every possible way and taking away all the clues.”

As a professional navigator, he shared that this was the most fascinating part of the voyage for him, as binoculars and compasses were worthless. He really started to dive deep into observing and paying attention to swell angles in order to navigate.

“There is nothing to see. There’s the blue part and the brown part, and where they meet isn’t correct because the ice moves everything every year,” Kruger said. “You’re so far north that a compass turns. The requirement was to find other means of navigation that could be relied upon. Then, on the third or fourth day, I started to realize what this journey would be about.”

He also described the experience as a spiritual journey.

“What has become of it is this deep immersion in the connection with the ancestors,” says Kruger. “I talked to the ancestors. I caught myself asking the ancestors to show me the way and I promise I will do the work.”

Fourteen days and 420 miles after Kruger began his arctic voyage, he arrived safely in Paulatuk, Northwest Territories, Canada. Kruger says he really opened his heart to heavenly spirits and “it changed the way I do things. Ever since I’ve been back, I’ve vowed never to stop walking this path. Navigating life successfully takes an open heart and honesty… and that’s why I’m attracted to human hands. Passing through by paddle is something very special. It’s powerful.”

Kruger intends to return next summer to continue his solo Arctic voyage. To learn more about his expeditions, visit www.krugersea.com/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *