Circumpolar Expedition (1990-1993)

  • Start date: 12-2-1990
  • End date: 25-3-1993
  • Start / end point: Narsarssuaq (South Greenland) -Valdez (Alaska)
  • Total km: 14,000
  • Expedition duration: Three years
  • Challenges achieved: Longest polar crossing in autonomy
Ramón Larramendi’s Circumpolar Mapfre Expedition, between the years 1990 and 1993 is considered the longest non-motorized polar crossing ever made in history. In this adventure, driven and designed by Larramendi, he traveled a total of 14,000 km over three years, crossing the entire Arctic from southern Greenland to Alaska, through the Northwest Passage. Antonio Martínez Peral, Manuel Olivera Marañón and Rafael Peche Acosta also participated in different stages. During the three years, they only used Inuit transport means: dog sledding, kayaking, skis and walking. They did not have any external assistance along the entire route. They surpassed in more than 4,000 km the previous record, held by the Japanese Naomi Uemura in 1974-76.


Larramendi and Peche began their adventure in February 1990 in Ummanak (Greenland) where they stayed until June learning the handling of sleds and acquiring knowledge to survive in the Arctic. During those months, they covered more than 2,000 km in training trips.

On June 16, 1990, they started the kayak route in Narsarssuaq (south of Greenland) heading north, until arriving at Ukkusissat on September 15 after having paddled 2,000 km. In this municipality they spent the autumn, waiting for the formation of the sea ice to start the winter trip.

Finally, on February 3, 1991, they continued the dog sled route to Canada. The extreme polar conditions caused major delays in their plans, forcing Larramendi and Peche to drastically ration food and rely on hunting to survive. After having advanced some 3,500 km, on July 1, 1991 they reached the town of Resolute Bay (Canada). On this stage, on April 23, they passed through the Magnetic North Pole.


In Resolute Bay, the expedition members spent two months trying to cross the complicated Northwest Pass, but up to five times the strong winds and the drifting ice masses prevented them from achieving their objective. Crossing 60 km of open sea with a kayak was confirmed to be an extremely complicated adventure. On one occasion, Larramendi managed to cross the pass, but the weather conditions were very adverse and he was forced to return to Resolute Bay and wait for the sea to freeze.


In November 1991 the expedition resumed the journey by dog sled in the middle of the polar night, traveling 400 km of extreme hardness and exhaustion. The expeditionary (at that time, Larramendi and Antonio Martínez) opted to wait for sunlight and did not resume the trip until February 1992. Once underway, and with Manuel Olivera who had joined the team, they started a new great phase of the adventure in which they traveled, without long stops, 4,500 km of the Canadian coast, until arriving at Inuvik on July 6, 1992. They were already very close to the Alaskan border.


That summer of 1992, they crossed into Alaska with the aim of circumnavigating the entire coast in a single stage, but their kayaks were blocked by ice, storms and a very early freezing of the sea near Kotzebue, almost at the northernmost point of the US state. Once again they had to prepare a new dog sled to continue the following winter. On January 1, 1993, they restarted the crossing and, after 1,950 km of travel between boreal forests, reached the town of Anchorage, south of Alaska. From there they went to Whittier. The last 150 km between Whittier and Valdez, they covered by kayak, reaching their destination on March 25, 1993.

They had traveled the 14,000 kilometers of their route in 38 months of unassisted travel, in which they passed through more than 70 Inuit populations, noting firsthand the social, political and economic news of the American Arctic. In total, they coexisted for more than 20 months with these populations, time in which Larramendi learned to speak the Greenlandic language.


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