A TransGlobal Car Expedition image of its March 2022 test drive to Resolute.
The TransGlobal Car Expedition has completed its test drive from Yellowknife to Resolute but lost a vehicle on the ice while returning to Cambridge Bay.
The expedition caused an international incident earlier in March when its Russian-chartered jet landed in Yellowknife shortly after Canada banned such flights over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
After accepting fines related to that flight, the expedition – involving Russian, Icelandic, Canadian and Ukrainian team members – took seven vehicles, including modified Ford F-150s and specially designed amphibious trucks, overland from Yellowknife to Cambridge Bay.
The final leg, a drive of 870 km across ocean ice from Cambridge Bay to Resolute, was completed earlier this week. The trip was a test ahead of the expedition’s plan to complete a round-the-world journey that starts in South America later this year, crossing through the United States and Canada before reaching the North Pole then descending back through Europe, Africa and Antarctica.
This month’s test drive, the expedition wrote, “represents the first-ever overland wheeled journey from the continental shelf of North America to the High Arctic.”
However, the trip returned with only six vehicles.
TransGlobal said the seventh was “unfortunately lost through the surface in an area of rapidly shifting ice on a heavy current” while returning from Resolute to Cambridge Bay. Though the type of vehicle was not identified in a Thursday news release, the CBC – quoting Nunavut RCMP – later reported it to be an F-150.
The expedition said nobody was hurt.
“The authorities have been advised and the team has initiated a recovery program,” the news release stated.
“This incident will inform the safety measures needed for the main expedition and represents important data on the viability of travel on the ice in the context of global warming, which is making travelling over the ice more dangerous for Indigenous communities and other ice travellers.”
Andrew Comrie-Picard, a Canadian race car driver and broadcaster who had acted as a spokesperson for the team when it reached Yellowknife, could not be immediately reached by phone on Friday.
Ice data shared
The reported sinking of a vehicle during the homeward journey follows reservations expressed in some quarters about the group’s due diligence in communicating its plans to northern governments.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly, referring to the trip as a “so-called expedition” in the legislature this month, had raised the prospect of the group requiring a rescue should something go wrong.
TransGlobal did not indicate any emergency services had been required during the group’s mishap this week. The expedition has already acknowledged it should have made more effort to reach out in advance of its arrival in the Northwest Territories.
The team has sought to answer concern about its environmental impact in the North by highlighting its use of ultra low-pressure tires. TransGlobal says the tires are designed to leave less of a mark on the tundra than a human walking.
Some politicians have welcomed TransGlobal’s trip as a sign of interest and investment in the Northwest Territories as two years of Covid-19 public health measures ease. The territory dropped most of its travel restrictions at the start of March.
Katrina Nokleby, the Great Slave MLA, earlier said the group’s arrival in Yellowknife was “quite wonderful” and represented a “great opportunity” for sectors like the NWT’s film industry. Caroline Wawzonek, the territory’s industry minister, said the NWT Film Commission had “been engaged” by the expedition team.
Attempting to demonstrate the expedition’s benefits, TransGlobal this week said ice thickness data logged during its test drive had been provided to researchers working on ice thickness projections in the Arctic. TransGlobal also said it was establishing a relationship that may integrate its data with Siku, a web portal that in part serves as an Indigenous ice database.
Russian mountaineer and expedition member Vasily Elagin was quoted as saying: “I’m incredibly pleased with the execution of the plan and the expertise of the whole team in working through many challenges on the route.
“This is a major achievement on a very difficult route that has never been done with wheeled vehicles before.”