1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

Archive for the ‘North Pole 2009 Peary-Henson Centennial’ Category

Off the Ice (Part II)

May 3, 2009 3:55am

Longyearbyen, Svalbard (Norway)–N77º 47.400 E 014º53.856

One thing that did come up (and was confirmed to me in Lonyearbyen by two unemployed Reindeers) is that Santa was not to be seen at the pole because he was let go–on account of the AIG Christmas bonus scandal, I assume; and the economic downturn. (I had to recycle all those lists my friends had asked me to give him while there!) I will assume the position is now open. But a fair warning to applicants: it’s not as glorious as it looks on the brochure: very cold up here, and the accommodations leave some to be desired…!

While Keith and I had conservatively projected that the drift might have added sixty nautical miles to our travel, a consensus off the ice with the other teams, and a closer examination of our stats, revealed that we have actually traveled in excess of one hundred nautical miles additional due to the drift!  Our total distance traveled was thus in the order of four hundred and thirty seven statue miles or over seven hundred kilometers, at an average of twenty kilometers a day over thirty five days.

Tired and hungry though we were on the ice, I felt strongly that with adequate food supplies, my reserves could have carried me twenty or more days if called upon. However, once we got off, I was shocked beyond expectations to experience a complete physical collapse. Once removed from the ice, and the mental focus, my body essentially shut down. Not only was it challenging to talk to people; it was tough to walk! Getting off the Antonov in Longyearbyen–on the island of Svalbard in the Norwegian arctic—set off a personal mental countdown to the moment I would drop into a hot bath and soak! This ranks as one of the more blissful moments of my life! A note on hygiene on the trail: while we used hand sanitizer and I indulged in a “shower” consisting of one biodegradable baby wipe every five days, bacteria does not live well in very cold environments and we simply don’t sweat there. It might come as a surprise but odors were virtually non-existent in the tent. Still, I would not advocate for regular abstinence of such durations as a matter of habit!

In the final tally, I lost twenty two pounds, as did Keith; I got frostbites on all fingers; cold injuries around both eyes, and on my tongue (from sucking in cold air all day long!); lost a tip of my nose to frost and ice scrapes from my face system (it will grow back…); I have joint pains in both hands from gripping the poles fourteen hours-plus a day; my feet are swollen like cantaloupes; and my legs have as much spring as marshmallow. I am down to 7-8% body fat, and I have taken to eating five breakfasts in one sitting and doubling up on each meal. (I have never eaten so much, a concept which surprises me as much as it does the manager of the buffet style breakfast of the hotel!)

I spent the first few days following our pick-up mostly in my room sleeping, eating, recovering and organizing my images and film files. During that first week, I could not communicate with anyone; I did not even open my email until day five. Most of me wanted to hold on to the feeling I had on the ice, and communication from the outside, I felt, would shatter that suspended reality. Yet I recognized that to perpetuate a cycle of isolation would prevent me from psychological re-acclimation–always an issue after a long expedition. And I felt conflicted. My mind would fluctuate between a deep sense of personal satisfaction for this accomplishment; a feeling of anxiety from not being able to relate to a world that would race at me intent on claiming back the slack from months of preparation and almost two months away in the arctic; and the desire to be back on the ice, and re-united with the wild. I even felt emotional and inexplicably wept upon reading a congratulatory message from a peer! Clearly, my head needed a re-boot. I had plans for another (short) expedition in Svalbard to photograph polar bears and complete work for my next book. But I couldn’t get myself motivated. In fact my legs were all but buckling from under me!  Under those circumstances, I thought the best strategy would be to wait. And wait. Which is what I did for seven days, until I forced myself to hit the trail again. I had spent time researching a local outfitter. In the end, this proved to be the best thing I could have done: I hired a skidoo, locked in a guide, and took off for a few days, on the track for bear…


Barneo– Off the Ice (Part I)

May 1, 2009 3:58am

April 26th, 2009 Longyearbyen, Svalbard (Norway) N77º 47.400 E 014º53.856

What happened immediately following the pole, I’ll admit is a little hazy in memory. There was a touch of hysteria and excitement coming from a motley crew of characters worthy of an adventure-themed Fellini movie. Due, at least in part, to the Peary Centennial, there were multiple teams who accomplished various degrees of travel on the ice this year, most of whom scrambled, as we did, to make their exit with the last plane out of Barneo. Two of those, Huston and Fish’s (whom had we ran into two weeks back), and Lonnie’s shared the same glazed look we had on our faces. The other teams were on the ice anywhere from a few days to two weeks; some with and without dogs. Many gave us various thumbs up and good ‘ol taps on the back. I am sure we would have exchanged notes and shared battles stories, and perhaps we did. But by then, I was so engrossed in the box of cookies that the combined sugar rush and culture shock made for a messy, disorienting blur. That blur was in fact not just figurative: on that final day of travel, my eyes were watery, and as the wind froze the tears on and around my eyes, my vision was impaired for much of that day. It also worsened a cold injury on one eye, and developed one on the other, making me look as if I’d gone a round in the ring—or a few seconds—with Tyson!

In all we were perhaps 15 people on the pole that day. But because of the drift and the staggered arrivals, camps were scattered by as much as a mile apart. This gave us all our private, albeit brief, moment on the actual pole. There is only one, relatively narrow spot that has legitimate claims to be the top of the world; one of two points around which the rest of the world rotates. For whatever reason, and there is no denying it: it feels good to stand on it! When the helicopter finally got all the teams together, I know that some were keen on taking group shots and downing a symbolic swig of alcohol. But my focus was on two things: making sure not to forget any sponsor flag shots, and keeping track of those aforementioned cookies! Seriously, it was so chaotic that it would have been easy to forget what I had thought so long and hard I would do when I got there. Keith helped me focus and took the snaps. I had a moment to acknowledge my friends and associates at HP, Napapijri, Global Green USA, MySpace, Climate Partner, Lawrence Benenson and Lexar for their critical and varied support through the course of this mission. I also got to fly the Union Jack and the French at the pole, representing both my cultures. A friend had asked me to leave a small satchel containing a photo of their recently perished sibling. That, too, was done. As well, I got to take some personal moments; and make a couple of rapid and frigid phone calls from the last battery leg of our satellite phone. The people who mean the most to me got a call each: my parents. One went to my friend and business partner who put so much heart and hard work to develop and maintain this site: Mikhail Lapushner. Thank you, brother!

Soon we were rushed into the MI8, piled up on top of the dog sleds, the dogs, the long trip sledges, the short trip sledges and one another. The circus that had descended on the pole on April 26th, 2009 was leaving town. The timing was probably right because even though the game was up, and in spite of all the excitement, the temperature was still very cold! I stared out of the port hole of the helicopter as we lifted off to Barneo, feeling real fondness and nostalgia for this tough and unforgiving environment.

Barneo was a forty five-minute flight. Most of the base had already been dismantled. What was left were two forty people tents, with heating stoves, and more importantly: some bread, cheese and sausage! We waited there for half an hour while the Antonov 74 was being loaded. And in no time, it’s powerful engines roared across the smoothed-out makeshift ice runway and shot this heavy military-style cargo plane—and us with it—into the Arctic sky. This time, it was final. We were leaving the pack ice, its ridges, rubble fields and open leads; its frigid humidity and freezing winds; its cloud cover and zero visibility; and its canvas to challenge the human spirit and push the limits of its physical potential. And the thought troubled me as it slowly sank in that I would likely not be back here. At least not like that…

Intense and epic, the North Pole is one tough, tough mission. People a lot more qualified than I claim this to be the toughest expedition on Earth. The legendary Reinhold Messner said:”Everest is very dangerous, but crossing the North Pole, which I attempted to do… is ten times more dangerous.” Maxime Chaya, with whom I sympathized and who was on Lonnie’s team, laughed when I asked him how this compared to Everest. He said that any one day here is tougher than all of Everest! Whether that is fair or not (and whether it even matters), I knew flying away that what I brought back with me was an experience that has marked me, and perhaps changed me for life. But the days following my re-entry would be met with a wild gamut of emotions…

(End of Part I)


We made it!

April 26, 2009 4:03am

The end came abruptly; systematic and unapologetic, as can be expected from such a momentous and prolonged experience. For a while I stared in silence at the field in front of me, taking in the open, unrestricted ice kingdom; committing to memory its vastness and the contours of the mounds and ridges framing it; noting the way the sun defined the terrain; feeling the wind biting my left side; and for once relishing the chill that sneaked past the steam out of my base layer. I heard my heart pounding, fresh from the effort, tugging at me with undecided trepidation, not sure whether to weep in relief or beg for more. Any moment now, this solemn and suspended reality would be broken by the distant flapping of the helicopter’s rotors. And the dream would end.

Last night in the tent was to be our last. We gathered all the food we had left, including our emergency bag, combined it, and fed ourselves a copious dinner. We slept short and cooked our final breakfast of warm granola with goat milk powder, dried fruits and nuts. We even found an emergency protein mix! Cramped in the tent as we have been everyday for the last thirty five getting dressed, I noted one more time how a program based on tent activities would make for a great core workout! (Note to Yumi and Ron–my trainers!) This was going to be a long day, and for the first time in weeks, thanks to the emergency food bags, we both had extra bars for the road. Six each, in total. A real feast! The day was sunny with a ten knot breeze out of the north west; it would hit us in the face from the left. But the terrain was well defined, and the flat pan we had ended on yesterday stretched in front of us for another long haul. That pan was unreal: it must have gone for over fifteen miles! We’ve not seen anything like that for the entire trip. In fact, it has been shocking how little multi-year pans we saw; mostly one to two year old sections, which tend to be a lot more jagged and fractured. And a lot of one year old, messy rubble zones—as we know!

We broke up camp for the lat time, packed our sledges and shot out of the gate. The combination of extra food, and our last chance to reduce the miles separating us from the pole gave our legs new springs, and put jetpacks on our backs. Except for two slightly messy and powdery bits, we had open terrain all day and traveled at an average of 1.4 miles per hour–twenty percent over our daily average! (As well today, ironically, the drift finally slowed down!) Victor had asked me to call him with our position at eight thirty AM, Longyearbyen time (this close to the pole, you can basically chose the time zone you wish to align yourself with—it makes no difference.) We would call from the trail. He would then take off from Barneo shortly after nine, and planned to pick us up between 10 and 10:30 AM (Barneo, the temporary floating station, is on the east side of the pole, drifting around N88°17.066′ and E 3°34.270′). This gave us a solid twelve hours, uninterrupted. With nothing but open space in front of me, I motored and skied hard. My legs got sucked into the rhythm, and never complained. Nor did Keith, though I knew his hip bothered him. But the day was set to put a mark on our vanishing legacy. Each hour that passed was punctuated by the pleasing speed that would define our last travel day, and the looming and steady creep of a countdown that brought a mix of relief and sadness. The last few days have been the toughest, but today, in spite of the wind’s chill, we are eating miles and feel unstoppable. Besides, we have fuel, and those bars make all the difference. Still, I find my mind wandering seamlessly from the chanting meditation to food fantasies!

By 8:30 we had covered 17 nautical miles. I communicated that to Victor over our brief conversation, and told him that I would stay on the same longitudinal line, but push north until he showed.  As if to teach us one more time the meaning of the word respect, the pack ice threw a field of junky, powdery blocks at us, and the clouds overtook the sun to flatten out detail in the terrain. I was anxiously pushing forward, intent in reaching our farthest north. Then it all cleared: the sky, the wind, the rubble. Ahead laid a flat pan framed by pressure ridges on either side. I raced to it; and stopped. It would make for a good landing area, and was open enough to clear our minds. I scanned the landscape, and leaned on my poles. Beneath the frosty facemask and under my icy ruffed hood, the breath I took filled my heart with the essence of purpose, and a mission accomplished. And I smiled. As Keith and I stood there in the silence that had come to characterized our solitary travel, I knew that this image would define my experience up here. And I relished it. The North Pole is so ephemeral; so fleeting that it can feel like an illusion. While the Pole itself is a static geographical point at the bottom of the ocean, up here, on a sea ice constantly drifting, nothing is. In fact sometimes, as happened to me then, the dream feels more real. And as the ice shifts, unmoved by the human desire to pierce its crust with a marquee post, what is left is the image that we chose to retain. And to me, it will be that open field staring me in the eye, as if to say: “I’m leaving too. Soon.”

In the distance, the wind carried the unmistakable flapping of the MI8’s rotors. Invisible at first, the heavy craft appeared south of us, first a dot growing to dominate its surroundings by its alien form, and loud engine.

Keith an I unhooked our sledges, as the bird lowered its frame in a white dust storm near us. The door opened and Victor jumped out, hugging us both. Nancy was on board, too, with a box of cookies (gone in a nanosecond!) The sledges were hauled inside the chopper, and we floated above the ice to reach the pole a few miles north of us. Below, the leads, rubble and pressure ridges had lost their power. The machine had neutralized them, and the match was no longer fair. But so it goes…

In no time we were dropped on the ice. A quarter of a mile from us laid the North Pole. Symbolically, we pulled our sledges off the craft, got in to our harnesses and skis, and marched to it. A point that does not give itself up easily–the drift makes for a fierce defender of the pole–one moment right, the next left, you think you are about to have it and then, no: you’re headed the wrong way! I walked in circles with my GPS for ten minutes until it read N89.59.996; then 997; then 998… 999… Finally, my unit read: North Pole N90.00.000! I shot it with my camera, locked it in the unit to record it. And in seconds, just like that, it was gone. That point from which any step heads south, the top of the world, where all longitudinal lines blend and all time zones meet, was mine for one brief, ethereal instant. And then no more.

But then you’ve heard the saying, haven’t you?  “It’s the journey—not the destination…”


T-minus one.

April 25, 2009 4:04am

89.1313N, 36.6076W
Over the course of 14 to 15 hours of day in/day out pulling, there are many instances when the effort feels overwhelming; and endless. Your legs lose all power; your back and arms burns. You reach a physical barrier that screams for a break–generally a power bar or drink break. These tend to be short, as you must be cold at stoppage in order not to sweat during effort (for then you’d get dangerously cold during breaks as the sweat would freeze). Those short breaks, and any type of food, sometimes even just a candy, give enough mental seperation from the effort to bring fresh reserves until the next cycle. It occurred to me that life is like that, too. Sometimes if you are challenged and see no end to it, it is important to acknowledge that this time shall come to pass, that everything in life is transient, and therefore not to let it affect you.

This will be my last dispatch from the ice for this trip–tomorrow our last pulling day here. After five weeks of this epic adventure, I know that re-entry will be a challenge. But all things do come to an end–and I could really use a sandwich! The last few days have been the toughest. We pulled long days, with reduced food rations, and the conditions were especially tough. But today, perhaps a salutation to honor our effort, the sun was mostly out, the winds died down, and we traveled open pans with only a few pressure ridges to cross. The temperature fluxed between negative 15F and 20F degrees. This was perhaps our easiest travel day. We lost 2.5 nauticals overnight to the south drift, but managed 14.5 nauticals in 13.5 hours of travel, which means we likely did 2.5 on top of that.

In all, I have estimated that we have lost around 60 nautical miles to the drift on this trip. The winds have been especially strong, and we only once gained north drift, and only by a half a mile. Surely, the moment we leave the ice, the trend will reverse! Our ending position was N89°07.881 and W36°36.458. Tomorrow we will push long and hard for an anticipated 18 hours, to get us as close to the pole as possible. The helicopter will then lift us and and drop us within striking distance. Two extra days and we would have been there un-assisted…

As I sit here, typing in my iPAQ (great PDA by the way–amazing communications tool) I cannot help but think of Peary, Henson and the four Inuit on their team, and how after reaching the pole on Aril 6th 1909, they then had to face the un-assisted return to land, for another month of journeying. They were no satellite phones, no blogs, no power bars, no technology developed Napapijri fabrics, no nylon tents. Just six brave men facing the unknown with no safety net, and no back up. I would raise my protein drink to them in salutation–but i’m all out!
Good night. I will report back from Longyearbyen, from which we are making our exit. Until then!


Rumble in the Rubble

April 23, 2009 4:05am

88.930N, 37.1603W
The wind finally let up a bit today, though the conditions were generally mediocre with low visiibility for the most part, and the sun struggling at the losing end with cloud cover. Some nasty times were spent in two rubble fields, something that we hadn’t done in a few weeks. We hadn’t missed much, and the experience remains as unpleasant as ever–hard to find the selling points of pulling heavy sledges up and down large blocks of ice burried in thick powder, generally forcing us off our skis.
I had said, a while back, that the Arctic sea should be on the list of sunny destinations since we had had three straight weeks of sunshine; well, hold on to your bikinis as I may have to revise that opinion: we haven’t had much sun now for about a week. While it does not affect temperature out here, the sun still helps psychologically; more importantly it helps define the terrain for route finding and simplifies navigation as it rotates in the sky at the rate of 15 degrees every hour. I spent the day navigating using the wind instead for guidance, which hit us from the west with 10 to 15 knot gusts. (These alternatives save battery life from the GPS.)
While a definite improvement on yesterday, that wind gets right through you during the short breaks. We spend those chewing the most out of our rationed energy bars to make the experience last longer! Any mouthful of flavor is a treasured experience to both taste buds and our growling stomachs. Keith and I have come to sorely miss the Herbalife protein bars which we have ran out of ten days ago. If you haven’t had one of those, you should try them out: they’re really tasty!
The south drift robbed us of three miles last night and today we pushed hard for 15 hours and made 15 nautical miles. Given the loss ratio to the drift, we probably traveled 18 NM or more, so this was a big day, much of it spent–luckily–on large flat pans. Our stopping position was N88°55.802 and W37°09.620. We’ll be out of 89° tomorrow. Finally.
We have been told categorically that our flight off the ice will be no later than the 26th in the AM as Barneo closes then. (Barneo used to close later in may, but the rising temperatures have made this too precarious for this floating station servicing expeditions and scientific research on the ice for four weeks). We will therefore be air lifted to the pole for the last few miles lost to the race. In the end, the many leads, the drift and the blizzard hampered our progress this week. No honor lost; just another humble lesson from the great white desert. If only we had two more days!…


Earth Day

April 22, 2009 4:06am

88.7318N, 44.2366W

Another day of strong winds and poor visibility. After our tent was shaken and stirred all night long, it was our turn to get battered again by the 25-40 mph west-southwest lashes. Though the 100 foot visibility made today feel like gravy compared to yesterday’s pea soup in a blender. I guess everything is relative.

It’s hard not to feel defeated as we woke up behind our latitude position of the previous morning. Today, we spent half of the day repeating the hard earned mileage we lost overnight to the drift. Now we really feel like Sysiphus (he was sentenced by the gods to push a rock up a hill until it rolled back down, for the rest of eternity). Like nomads of the white desert, either chasing our shadow, chased by it, or by either side depending on the time of day–a whimsical companion for the many hours of this solitary journey–there is a lot of time to contemplate.

I reflect on human’s amazing ablity to survive in one of the harshest environments on Earth. And today especially, as the world celebrates Earth day, I think of how important it is to get out of the false sense of security that we have developed as city dwellers, lulled away by the convenience of technology from the responsibility and connection we have to the land that hosts us. Where does our garbage go? We don’t know. What is the true impact of our electrical power source and what is our consumption? What is our footprint since all efforts have been made to conveniently burry it inside a small envelope we call a bill?

Indigenous cultures have an innate sense of renewable and sustainable living because it is logical. Western cultures have mostly lost that. With each step into the white vastness of the Arctic sea, I am reminded of how small and vulnerable we really are, and confronted with the mirror of my own footprint. While the snow drifts covers my tracks, I know that I, too, would soon drown in the tears of Nature as its ice melts and floods our cities, forcing on us the reckoning of an order we lost. So let’s act now. (You can check www.globalgreen.org for some tips on what to do.) Happy Earth day!
We traveled for 12 hours and made 10 nautical miles, but probably covered 4 more lost to the drift. Our stopping position was N88°43.911 and W44°14.201. Temperatures today were around minus 15F without windchill. Good night.


Sausage Anyone?

April 21, 2009 4:07am

88.651N, 50.212W

If there is one dimension that was missing from our expedition in
terms of conditions, it is the full blown whiteout blizzard. Up to
forty miles per hour headwinds, snow flying sideways, cloud cover and
and fog with visibility from twenty feet to nothing. Even by Arctic
standards, I think that qualifies as the full enchalada. Well, now
we’ve had it. And there is no question that to travel in these
conditions is simply miserable. No skin can be exposed for risk of cold
injury. Goggles are therefore imperative. But goggles need to be
managed carefully; or they will fog up. Once they do, they are done for
the day, since the fog will turn to frost and cannot be cleared in a
cold environment. A slight misalignment of your head layers or face gear
will send steam from your breath. up into the goggles and the jig is
up. Or if you look down and breath at the same time… Which I did.
Twice. Once with my first pair; and once with my spare. A case could be
made that with that little to see to begin with, fogged up goggles are
just joining the party. But I had to let Keith take the lead as he had
better luck with his. Meanwhile as I trailed behind trying to keep up
in virtual blindness, all I could think of was “when can I eat the
sausage?” which is one of our rare evening treats! Hungry and blindfolded is
how I will remember this day which without much doubt will go down as
our toughest. It started with light cloud cover and 20 mph cold
headwinds as we skied across the second part of yesterday’s enormous
lead–two miles’ worth. It had recently frozen over, though parts were
still wet. By the time we reached its end, a lot more was wet. It was
all mashed up, and moving. Fast. I climbed on top of a small pressure
ridge in the making and rode it, as it was all pushing forward. We
finally made it out of there and the weather turned. In no time, the
visibility turned to null and the wind gained in strength. After braving this for
three hours, dreaming of sausages and wondering when the nightmare
would be over, we threw in the towel. Our progress was very slow, and I
felt our time better suited for recovery to push when the weather
lifts. After 7.5 hours of travel, we had barely made 5 nautical miles.
As I write this, 4 hours into our break, the south drifts has already
shaved one mile off our progress… Our stopping position was
N88°39.110 and W51°25.864 but we are likely to lose another 4 as we did
last night… A tough day, indeed.


White on White

April 20, 2009 4:08am

88.638N, 52.212W

Another day of high adventure and epic traveling for an exhausting
14 hours of wildly changing conditions. We started our day in what
amounts to a whiteout blizzard. No actual snow was falling of course,
but the wind was drifting light flakes through the air which could have
fooled me. The winds were strong out of the south east, the sun covered
by a deep cloud cover, whilst we were shrouded in fog! The result was
white on white conditions with visibility often reduced to less than
fifty feet.

As with yesterday, all detail was gone from the terrain of course,
which required a high level of concentration to navigate. The drifts
again covered all thinly frozen leads, making them precarious to cross.
My GPS was strapped in front of me with a waist tool as the only
directional reference, save for short visual point bearings–generally
less than 20 feet–when I could actually find one. I invariably plowed
in powdery mounds, and route selection was virtually impossible. But we
lucked out as we benefited–as would seem, since we could not
see!–from somewhat flat pans that enabled us to travel relatively
fast, even under the circumstances. Within two hours, the clouds
lifted, the wind dropped to 5 knots out of the west, and the fog was

The terrain was mostly flat and we were fast. We skied through a
series of extraordinarily beautiful areas which proved one more time
that just as you think you’ve gotten the gyst of variety around here,
the landscape hits you with another stunner–visuals reserved as the
high privilege of the committed Arctic traveler. We came upon two vast
recently frozen leads areas, flat as a salt lake, surrounded on either
side by jagged, pressure ridge-ridden terrain which emphasized the vast
openness of the flat area. They spread for miles. One felt like the
high plains of a Gobi desert. The other was a south/north lead which
had to have frozen over the last week or so. This one was enormous,
stretching for miles, two of which we were able to ski its impecably
flat surface. The lead was a quarter mile wide. As we progressed, we
noticed increasing areas of weak freeze, and small slivers of open
water. This lead us into an enormous, complex system of broken, jagged
and cracked terrain that spread over for miles–surely the result of
the last week of strong winds. Most of the leads were thinly frozen
which facilitated crosses for us, even while the ice was often flexing
under our skis! But the visual impact was unlike anything else:like the
aftermath of a natural nuclear explosion; that something of tremendous
force had literally obliterated any unity in terrain. Lots of fun to
ski around, but a real maze to get out of. We were stuck in it for over
three hours. The frozen sections were getting progressively and
un-mistakenly thinner as we as we headed north. In the distance a thick
ice fog cloud signaled some large open water systems, directly in our
path. The wind had been picking up, and grew to a steady 25 mph from
the north, directly in our face.

The obvious impact of cold, humid and strong Arctic headwind is
fatigue. It beat us up! We skied long and hard all day, but were
stunned that our stats showed only 10 nautical miles! How could that be?
Terrain today was friendly for the most part giving us 1.3 mph average;
leads were generally friendly; we skied long hours… In fact, over our
14 hours of travel, we calculated that we lost 5 miles to the dreaded
south drift, now increased by the north winds! Over our short night of
sleep, we will lose an estimated 3 to 4 miles on top of it…

Under those circumstances, our stopping stats are somewhat moot but
here they are anyway: N88°38.302 and W52°12.727–still also drifting
east, hard. Temperatures are noticeably warmer–around minus 18F
degrees–but you wouldn’t know it for the wind. Our mood is still
positive, and the scope and scale of the sights we are witnessing far
outweighs the challenges they brings. I am left to ponder in amazement
at the power of the nature that surrounds us, and to appreciate the
freedom we are afforded to journey unrestricted through it. What an
adventure! Good night.


Pitch Whiteness

April 18, 2009 4:09am

88.4589N, 55.6776W

Living in a tent on the ice for any extended period of time yields particular adjustments to a lifestyle which does away with most modern conveniences. To begin with, building and breaking camp everyday forges a habit of systems devised to optimize time whilst finding coherence in an otherwise chaotic environment. But from frost to hygiene, tight living quarters, proximity to an open flame and gas inhalation–there are many issues that would hardly qualify extended tent life as entirely safe, healthy or much less: comfortable. Yet, there is no question that throughout the day, the prospect of this unpretentious, shielded environment, a warm meal and a sleeping bag is one of the more re-occurring comforting thought to enters the mind. And after a hard day of pulling, I often find that I sleep the best in a tent. Sometimes it is the simplest things that make us happiest.

Food has become another obsessive thought; all kinds of food, but mainly those that are taken for granted or are readily available. Like pancakes; toast; cookies; chocolate; and yes, mom: your lamb stew!

The day begun in virtual pitch whiteness. When the sky is overcast out here, all manners of depth, perspective and height disappear. The pale shade that normally gives the icy terrain its detail is completely gone. What remains is the seemingly posterized ice blue color of most pressure ridges–and pure white. It feels as if you walked into the very rough, unfinished plates of a cartoon sequence. This makes route finding difficult and precarious: you will walk right into an ice mound in front of you thinkng it is flat terrain! Very unsettling. Additionally, with the absence of the sun, navigating with the GPS becomes imperative, keeping it around your neck for constant updates. This was our morning; and it makes for slow travelling. Especially as yesterday’s wind spread snow drifts everywhere, including on thinly frozen leads, now camouflaged into the landscape.

The weather was incredibly still, which added to the eerie, surreal visuals. The temperatures were warm at around minus 18F degrees. As the day developed, the weather lifted for a while, then the wind came back and strengthened to another late afternoon of 25 mph lashings from the west, while a fog rolled in bringing back the low visibility of our morning! Meanwhile, we came across many leads. We assembled the sleds into a raft again to cross one, a sequence which I am pleased to have on film. It will be in the documentary I am filming of this experience. One lead was a few hundred feet wide, and forced us to ski around it, which took almost two hours.

Overall, a day of epic contrast, and some of the more extraordinary visuals, much of which could not be committed to film as I have a technical breakdown, and my backup is almost out of battery! So disappointing…

We traveled for 14.5 hours and covered 14 nautical miles which hardly makes up for some 1.5 lost to last night’s drift. Our stopping position was N88°27.536 and W55°40.667. We are planning on cutting our sleep down from 7 to 5.5 hours and working on 20 hour days to increase our mileage and performance in the race to make the pole by the 26th… Henceforth–and sadly perhaps–blog entries will likely now be shorter! The pressure and focus is set on that goal. With one week to go, we will also need a little luck! Good night.


Sebastian live from the Arctic!

April 17, 2009 4:12am