Two paddlers have drawn recent media attention for their choice of an unusual campsite—an iceberg. Ethan Harold and Ammar Alkassm of New York State took an inflatable raft just off the coast of Twillingate in Newfoundland to set up for the night on one of the area’s floating strips of frozen water.
The duo set out on the stunt in June to film what would be the first episode for their YouTube channel, Orange Carabiner. The video was published in July. Spoiler, Harold and Alkassm returned safely from the iceberg camping trip. But since they embarked on the campout, their stunt has continued to draw attention.
As news stories populated on Harold and Alkassm’s iceberg camping trip, two predictable sides appeared from the local communities and comment sections across the web. Those who called the act foolhardy and selfish claimed the pair were ignorant of the dangers of icebergs and were putting the lives of local first responders at risk. Others expressed that people should let the pair live their lives and not put guardrails on the endeavors of individuals. The episode has renewed perennial conversations in the outdoors, including who should be responsible for the cost of rescue.
The Dangers Of Camping On An Iceberg
For those unfamiliar with what makes camping on an iceberg so controversial, here’s a bit of information on these peaceful looking hunks of ice drifting in the ocean. They come into the world violently, calving off the edges of glaciers. An iceberg in its infantile stage is erratic in shape and weight distribution, making it prone to rolling.
Even a well-established iceberg that appears stable can be melting below the surface. Many of us are familiar with the idea that most of an iceberg’s mass is beneath the water. When this is no longer the case, the iceberg becomes top-heavy and can roll.
Last but not least is the splintering of an iceberg. The action has been reported to be capable of emitting a roar equivalent to the sound of 214 supertankers. In their video, Harold and Alkassm even remark how they heard the boom of calving ice nearby through the night and how it sounded as if Newfoundland was being bombed.
According to studies, a rolling iceberg can produce the force of a magnitude five earthquake. Bearing all this in mind, the concerns are understandable.
The Gray Line Between Calculated Adventure And Foolhardy Stunt
We see all sorts of athletes take what can be called selfish risks. Many extreme stunts are questioned and receive criticism from the public, so it begs the question if Orange Carabiner’s act is any different.
In a follow-up CBC article on Orange Carabiner’s camping trip, the news outlet interviewed Canadian climber Will Gadd. Gadd has ascended a frozen Niagara Falls, bolted his way up glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, and, yes, ice-climbed ‘bergs in Newfoundland and Greenland. Gadd’s athletic stunts have appeared in the pages of National Geographic.
In the article, Gadd clearly states what the dangers of icebergs are. On the climbs, he has had a support dinghy nearby. Those involved were also wearing drysuits and survival suits the entire time.
After watching Orange Carabiner’s YouTube video, Gadd told CBC, “Camping on an iceberg is, bluntly, stupid.” And adds, “They were remarkably clueless.”
Orange Carabiner Responds To Criticisms
In another article with the CBC, the pair responded to questions regarding their outing. “We did do a lot of research leading up to this,” Harold told CBC.
Harold went on to state, “We spent a couple of months planning equipment, where we want to go, what to expect, what our criteria is for what we want to mount, are we going to be close to land, what’s the current like, what’s the wind speed, the water. We tried to take every possible factor into account but we also acknowledge, yes, it’s not an extremely safe thing to do.”
Harold claims the locals they encountered on their trip were nothing but supportive and even gave them advice. Alkassm explained they spent a couple days picking a suitable iceberg, eventually choosing one close to shore, in shallow water and that wasn’t drifting.
The Orange Carabiner duo began the trip with a rented tandem sit-on-top kayak which developed a crack. This left them to make the paddle to the iceberg on a Bestway Sun Deck, an inflatable floating deck described as a pool or lake accessory. It is constructed of triple laminated drop stitch PVC, similar to many inflatable standup paddleboards. On the paddle to the iceberg, Alkassm is wearing a neoprene top with board shorts. They establish in the video that water temperatures were 38 degrees Fahrenheit. On the iceberg, Harold is also seen not wearing any microspikes or crampons, walking on the ice at camp.
At Risk Of A Trend
Harold and Alkassm aren’t the only paddlers posting recent iceberg camping adventures to YouTube. In early July, Everest Maher published a video of his solo kayaking trip to camp on an iceberg in Alaska.
Within all the chatter surrounding the Orange Carabiner video, the pair are the first to acknowledge what they did was dangerous. But they are also concise to say that was part of the appeal.
“A lot of things in life are dangerous that we encourage. For example, UFC, boxing. People that climb Everest—you lose a lot of people a year—but they do it because they’re pursuing something they truly love,” Harold told CBC.
Gadd’s comments echo that the risks of an activity to an individual itself are not necessarily the deterrent if known and accepted. Nor are the financial burden of a rescue which he says pales in comparison to lifestyle associated health risks society combats daily. There is another factor, though, that Gadd considers as a veteran adventure athlete when making these types of decisions.
“One of the biggest concerns for me personally is trying to minimize the amount of risk I would put a rescuer in,” Gadd told CBC.
The pair from Orange Carabiner do not encourage anyone else to follow in their footsteps. But, in today’s viral world, we are well aware of how quickly a social media trend can take off unwittingly with the force of, say, a rolling mass of ice. Whether their stunt falls in the column of endeavors capturing the limitless human spirit or the likes of taking a selfie with a bison is a question unlikely to reach a unanimous answer.