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2000: Profile of Sea Kayak Adventurers

At home, which is really just a base camp when you consider they spend roughly seven or eight months each year outside, the Jardines sleep on the floor.
Oregon's Ray Jardine might be best known for his contributions to the climbing world. But there's another side to him most people don't know - one where he swaps his ropes for a paddle as one of the leading expedition sea kayakers in the country.

By Ethan BellamyPADDLER magazine, Jan/Feb 2000

"Ray Jardine says that instant oatmeal you're eating has about as much nutritional value as the box it comes in," a character called "Running Man" told me in a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. The long-distance hiker, hugging a bag that looked like a daypack, shoved a steaming pot of food toward me. "Eat corn pasta!"

3,300 miles in a souped-up folding boat.

"Corn pasta?" I repeated. "You're nuts." For the next 20 minutes, as the sun rose over the thick Vermont forest, "Running Man" told me where he'd gotten the ideas that allowed him to hike 30 miles a day. He had read The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook, the magnum opus of adventure guru Ray Jardine - rock climber, hang glider, scuba diver, around-the-world sailor and long distance paddler extraordinaire.

The Jardines' kayaking, however, hasn't been limited to the North, home to such predators as grizzlies, polar bears and wolves, because it isn't the place to hone your paddling skills - it's the place where you live or die by them.

Two years later, after at least a dozen readings of Jardine's Handbook, with my shelves at home now stocked with corn pasta, I'm in his workshop in La Pine, Ore., staring up at seven large kayak hulls and molds hanging from the high ceiling. Snow falls heavily outside, blowing from the Deschutes National Forest into the two-car garage and finally settling on the deck of what Ray and Jenny Jardine call their "ultimate" boat: a tandem, carbon fiber, Kevlar kayak designed specifically for paddling through the pack ice above the Arctic circle. Weighing just 43 pounds, the 20-foot boat, with a carrying capacity of 750 pounds, helped the Jardines complete a landmark paddling feat last summer in the far north.

The trip began in Anacortes, Wash., with a souped-up collapsible [kayak] that took them up the Inside Passage through British Columbia to Skagway, Alaska. From there, they broke down the boat, packed it and their gear over the 30-mile Chilkoot trail to the headwaters of the Yukon, then spent a month paddling to the Bering Sea.

"We were prepared to walk out in the event of losing the boat and all our gear, but what a walk that would have been!" Ray said.

Though arduous and challenging in its own right, the second leg of their journey took them into a paddler's no-man's-land. The Jardine's flew their newest kayak by floatplane to the small village of Emmonak, seven miles from the mouth of the Yukon, then headed north to the U.S. border with Canada above the Arctic Circle. Jardine estimates that materials alone for the boat cost roughly $2,000, not to mention the months of work in their garage and workshop. But the final prototype boasts such features as a gun rack for grizzly bear protection and a machined rudder assembly to withstand collisions with icebergs.

This is typical Jardine. In this, his latest project, he meshed his aerospace engineering background with successful hydrodynamic designs to create a minimalist boat what would carry him and his wife into a primitive, wilderness experience. "The ultimate goal of technology is to make itself transparent," he says. "In the wilds, I use the least amount of technology necessary and leave all else behind."

For this trip, the pair donned modified dry suits, and made a habit of eating in the kayak (while Ray paddled, Jenny cooked), so as not to draw bears to their campsite. In fact, during their earlier descent of the Yukon, the pair paddled hundreds of miles at a time before stopping in order to take advantage of the long Alaskan days and strong current at the headwaters. They alternated sleeping in the boat.

Ray Jardine - burly, 6-foot, 200 pounds - emits a quiet intensity when he speaks, a voice that could narrate a wildlife documentary. A thick beard and an unruly mass of blonde hair top off his sizeable frame. As a wilderness instructor at the University of Colorado in the 1980s, Jardine tackled anything vertical. For practice, he spent his time bouldering or "buildering," chugging up the University's rock-walled buildings and doing as many as a 1,000 pull-ups a day. In photographs from the 1970s, long time climbing partner Daniel Bolster captured Jardine ascending some of the world's most difficult routes of the time; scaling overhanging bulges, muscles rippling and blood vessels throbbing in sharp contrast to the cool look on his face. That active yet contemplative visage makes Jardine look much like fabled kayak architect George Dyson, who himself spent years paddling the rugged coast of British Columbia and was immortalized in Kenneth Brower's The Starship and the Canoe.

In contrast to her husband, Jenny Jardine is diminutive, making up for the size differential with energy and an easy smile. In her garage, Jenny wipes the fat snowflakes off the kayak and gestures for me to take the other end of the boat. We walk it out to the driveway and I am shocked by the boat's lightness. To reinforce this, Jenny grabs the kayak by its two oval cockpits and lifts it easily as I snap a few pictures. As if to say, "This thing really is light," she continues to hold the kayak while I fumble with my camera for several minutes. It's a staged moment, far from the off-camera action that has, until recently, made the Jardines some of the more important yet unknown figures in adventure sports.

In the late 1980s, the "adventure team," as Ray and Jenny style themselves, focused their attention on long-distance hiking, leading to the 1992 publication of the first edition of The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook. The book, which proposes an ultra-lightweight, anti-commercial, long-distance hiking style, has sold more than 50,000 copies between the first and second editions. Throughout this past winter, Jardine has been working on a third edition of the Hiker's Handbook, as well as a new book on kayak building. Though the specific plans for the Arctic super-boat, created with more than 50 parameters through computer-aided design, remain with the couple, kayakers may one day have their own. "If I can find the right company to build it," says Jardine.

The new Hiker's Handbook (Beyond Backpacking) [now "Trail Life"] will lose the Pacific Crest Trail in its title and instead focus on a more esoteric method of developing a connection with the wilderness, a "primitive, spiritual wilderness philosophy." As is, the Handbook specifically advocates such advanced techniques as building your own pack, and much of the do-it-yourself advice is just as applicable for long-distance paddling as it is for long-distance hiking. In the Handbook, Jardine provides a plan for the packs that he and Jenny constructed for their Pacific Crest Trail hikes. For a few hours of work and $10.40 in materials, you too, writes Jardine, can build a pack that will do more than 3,000 miles.

Some other unconventional methods include wearing running shoes to strengthen ankles and increase hiking efficiency, and sleeping with a homemade tarp and quilt. With this "go light" philosophy, it's easy to see how using these same materials tossed into a homemade boat, which weighs a third less than comparable production models, can greatly increase the range of a paddler on a multi-month trek or even just a day trip.

"Ray Jardine is first and foremost a visionary ... Unlike many visionaries who only see but do not act, Ray follows his vision with action."

"Ray Jardine is first and foremost a visionary," says Bolster, Jardine's climbing partner when he tackled previously unclimbed routes in Yosemite. "If you look at the things he has done with his outdoor life, he has made his mark by seeing a path beyond tribal boundaries, beyond the norm. Unlike many visionaries who only see but do not act, Ray follows his vision with action."

That vision sent the Jardines paddling over the frozen coastline of Alaska in 1987. They paddled 3,300 miles in 100 days from Anacortes to the Bering Sea, 100 miles of portage on the Chilkoot Trail and 2,000 miles following the Yukon River to the sea. After that trip - which itself had been preceded by a three-year circumnavigation aboard their sailboat SUKA (Seeking UnKnown Adventures) they took a break for the frozen north, hiking the Pacific, Continental Divide and Appalachian trails. In 1995, the Jardines returned to paddling by building their first carbon fiber and epoxy boat - it withstood a 600-mile voyage from St. Mary's near the mouth of the Yukon River north along the coast of Alaska to Shishmaref, in "exceptionally stormy conditions." In 1996, they paddled from Shishmaref to within sight of Canada, (actually well into Canadia) another 1,400 miles. The Jardines' kayaking, however, hasn't been limited to the North, home to such predators as grizzlies, polar bears and wolves, because it isn't the place to hone your paddling skills - it's the place where you live or die by them.

"My main concern is that the Arctic is far too dangerous for me to encourage people to go up there, " Jardine says. "And rightly so, because it is also extremely fragile to human impact." Though it may sound intimidating, Jardine actually recommends the Yukon River as a first epic trip for paddlers with experience who want to expand into more remote terrain. To compare, Jardine has more than just his experience of paddling Arctic shorelines. On one river trip in the Canadian North, [24 days on the Thelon river] the pair had planned to have their superboat trucked in, but the boat never arrived. Rather than abandon the expedition, they walked over to the Wal-amrt, and stocked up on cheap paddles and a Coleman canoe. It was one of the best trips they've ever had, Jenny says.

Jardine began kayaking in Baja during the early '70s when it was a "thirsty renegade type of no-man's land," and since then has made more than 20 multi-week trips. "The first time I paddled Baja I was out of our start point, San Felipe, and into the wilderness in the first 10 minutes," he says. "Most recently, in 1989, Jenny and I paddled past houses for the first whole day, and for the next month we found that virtually every beach accessible by road had cars and RVs."

Nostalgia, as much as a sense of loss, pervades his description of the hundreds of miles of uninhabited beaches that have been destroyed by the tremendous influx of migrant Mexican campesinos and expatriate gringos who live on those beaches and have all but fished out the Sea of Cortez. Though Jardine says you can still find solitude in Baja if you know where to look, he equates the region to the Mediterranean. "It was over-harvested and consequently sterilized of most living things," he says. His experiences seeing the decline of the Baja peninsula ecosystem were just one of the reasons the Jardines flew-in their homemade kayak and paddled above the Arctic Circle. "We wanted to experience the Arctic before the ravages of so-called progress turned it into another Baja," he says, noting that the problem above the Arctic Circle is that things don't decay. "You leave a messy campsite or lunch stop and archeologists will be studying it a thousand years hence."

Both hostile and fragile, the extreme temperatures and diverse life above the Circle captured the love and respect of these two adventurers. "In 1996 when we paddled across the top of Alaska we saw only two people. Actually they saw us first. They were security guards for the Prudhoe oil-extraction operation, and they threw us out of one of our campsites." Apparently there was a considerable danger of poison gas at the rumbling compound Jardine described as a "sterile Las Vegas secreted on the backside of the moon."

Jardine calls his birth in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1944 the "Start of the Great Adventure." Looking at a man who has hiked the entire 2,700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail three times, you'd never know that a skiing accident once threatened to give him a permanent limp. But after nine months in a cast, the high school gymnast, caver and Eagle Scout hastened his recovery by hiking Pikes Peak 50 times.

After finishing high school with poor grades, Jardine decided on a career as an aerospace engineer and returned to school to take extra math and science classes that allowed him to enroll at Northrop University in Los Angeles. Ultimately, he rode the wave of cold war space technology back to Colorado where he worked as a systems analyst for Martin Marietta specializing in space-flight mechanics and shaping satellite trajectories.

Then in 1967, Jardine began pushing the bounds of his outdoor experiences when he taught for the Colorado Alpine Winder Mountaineering School and climbed on of North America's classic alpine routes, the North Face of Wyoming's Grand Teton. In 1970, Jardine left his aerospace career for good and strapped on his climbing harness to fulfill his passion for the wilderness full-time. That spring, in Eldorado Canyon near Boulder, Colo., he worked his way up increasingly difficult routes before moving on to California's Yosemite Valley, where he lived for 11 years. It was a decade that would shock the rock climbing world into change, with Jardine in the forefront of the free-climbing revolution.

In Yosemite, Jardine pioneered the adopted European technique, much maligned, of "hang-dogging," working through a sequence of difficult climbing moves and resting on his gear until he completed them, which earned him the opprobrium of most fellow climbers who adhered to traditional tactics. It also earned him a monumental accomplishment: the first free-climb of a Grade VI (multi-day) wall on El Capitan's West Face [Correction: We climbed the West Face in the traditional style, with no "dogging"] and ultimately his benchmark ascent of the Phoenix.

Thereafter Jardine spent much of his time in Yosemite trying to climb what is still known as one of the most difficult and aesthetic free climbs in the world, The Nose route on Yosemite's most prominent granite cliff face, El Capitan. But Jardine, and everyone else for that matter, would fail at freeing the nose until 1994, when Lynn Hill, one of only four women to ever climb a route rated 5.14, freed The Nose for the first time. Rock & Ice magazine wrote: "The brilliance of his routes, the undeniable contributions of his designs, and his yet-unrealized visions of the future of the sport place Ray Jardine among the rarest of climbing revolutionaries."

"Friends," a toothed, trigger-set camming device that jams into rock cracks, now comprise the bulk of the gear used by climbers where once only loops, slings, hex nuts and pitons sufficed. Many rock climbers owe their lives to Ray Jardine. He spent 10 years developing and selling the camming device that revolutionized the sport, not only allowing for safer climbing, but expanding the entire idea of what is considered climbable, most notably the first route ever rated 5.13. For the brief time that he alone had climbed the route, he was the top climber in the world.

But aside from the monumental effect that Friends made on the climbing community, their value to Jardine was more straightforward. He went from being a scruffy climbing junky who lived in a van to an entrepreneur with a few dollars in his pocket. And by maintaining the frugal lifestyle he'd been living as an Outward Bound instructor for the previous decade, Jardine fulfilled his boyhood dream of sailing around the world.

"From a U.K. perspective we see them (Ray and Jenny Jardine) in a long line of U.S.-based wilderness thinkers and philosophers like Muir, Emerson, Thoreau and Abbey," says Richard Else, the executive director of a BBC2 film series, Wilderness Walks. "We were interested in Ray and Jenny for a number of reasons: their achievements a long distance hikers, their importance as innovators - their own design of a kayak for their recent trips in the Arctic - but perhaps most importantly for their philosophy, motivation and commitment that lies behind these achievements."

Hosted by Cameron McNeish, arguably Britain's best-known hiker as well as editor of The Great Outdoors, Wilderness Walks features Ray and Jenny Jardine leading the British film crew through a weeklong hike of the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon last fall. The show is "devoted to finding people who have had their lives profoundly affected by a relationship with particular landscapes," and may eventually find its way onto American television.

"We found it absolutely fascinating to see and hear first-hand their own views, to see how they camp with a tarp and a quilt instead of sleeping bags, and lighting fires the traditional way with fire-bow and tinder," writes Else from London. "Most of this will be totally new to a U.K. audience and will, I think, just blow our viewers away."

Of the show's guests - a rock singer turned politician, a British government cabinet minister; and a writer who spent 18 months walking 10,000 km from the Atlantic Ocean to Istanbul - the Jardines stand out. They have taken their fundamental relationship to the wilderness further' integrating it into a whole wilderness philosophy, Else says. He also cites Jardine's impressive curriculum vita as further merit for his appearance on the show.

In addition to endurance kayaking and climbing, Jardine has participated in many other outdoor interests. He taught for seven years at Outward Bound, and he flew hang gliders at altitudes up to 16,000 feet and cross-country 50 miles. Indeed, as far as he knows, he's the only person to ever fly a traditional hang glider off the summit of El Capitan, a highly illegal activity. The flight allowed him a once-in-a-lifetime view of the rock he'd spent months climbing, as well as a "Hey-You-Turkeys!" directed at a startled climbing party bivouacked on the top of El Capitan Towers.

I spent the night on the floor in Jenny Jardine's office, surrounded by boxes of the Handbook. On the bookshelves, copies of the works of outdoor writers appear thumbed through and tattered with use. Ray and Jenny tell me how they have a hard time relating to anyone who can't understand the state of wilderness perception that Tom Brown calls Alpha. They cultivated this primitive connection in their years of living outside close to nature. This connection is so deep, the pair assert, it allows them to walk through herds of elk without startling the grazing animals and to make use of heightened sensory awareness. They both remember being overwhelmed by the smell of anti-perspirant and perfume when they entered apublic library after their most recent through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. "I was sneezing like crazy," Ray said. "We had to leave."

At home, which is really just a base camp when you consider they spend roughly seven or eight months each year outside, the Jardines sleep on the floor. They don't drink coffee or alcohol. The entire bottom half of their refrigerator [not plugged in] stores not eggs or milk or leftovers, but an industrial-sized bag of bird seed that they feed to the wildlife around their home. They heat their house with a wood stove. And in contrast to the powerful new computer on Jardine's desk, they refuse to use any but the most primitive technology to start their fires.

"Put your foot here," Ray says, directing my traditional firestarting with a fire-bow. My left foot covers a small piece of cottonwood. As I work the bow back and forth in one of the holes, smoke starts to rise and a small pile of heated dust forms in the notch. But my arm gets tired and I knock the pile over. "That's OK, try it again," he says. I do, and after several more minutes, I lift my foot carefully and see two small coals of glowing cottonwood dust. Ten minutes later, the wood stove is roaring.

Jardine tells of the beginning of his around-the-world sailing experience, the dream that finally pulled him out of Yosemite Valley. He'd read countless books on sailing, and how to go about rigging his boat for the voyage. But the day he and his wife set out to sail around the globe, they hadn't sailed more than around San Diego Bay. Over the next month of the voyage, they rode out four hurricanes, one of which killed two of their closest friends who were just a few hundred miles away. But despite that storm, and another which blew "SUKA" 30 miles sideways, the Jardines came through unscathed, but much wiser. "There's adventure out there; left, right and center," Jardine says. All we have to do is grab ourselves by the bootstraps and go out there."

Photo by Ethan Bellamy

Following this mantra, Ray and Jenny spent August paddling the Back River, a lonely, remote waterway of Northern Canada. They didn't need corn pasta or a hi-tech boat on this trip, however, reverting instead to one of their old tactics, buying a Coleman canoe from the Wal-Mart store in Yellowknife. They waded and portaged 550 miles from the headwaters nearly to the Arctic Ocean, where they turned up the Meadowbank River and followed it to its source. Another portage of the Continental Divide, a series of lakes and 40 miles down the Thelon River found them at Baker Lake Village, where they sold the canoe and flew home. They saw no one, living mainly on fish while foraging the tundra for greens and berries on the nearly 900-mile trip. They lost the boat, then recovered it, while lining a set of rapids on the Meadowbank. They endured three weeks of frigid wind. They loved it. "We were prepared to walk out in the event of losing the boat and all our gear, but what a walk that would have been!" Ray said. The Jardines, settling in the first snowfall in La Pine, are planning their next trip to the Arctic.

The story has 26 pages. This is page 24.
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