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

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 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

Leads and Fog

April 17, 2009 4:10am

You can tell a “wet” or open lead from a frozen one for the discoloration on the ice at the water’s edge. A wet lead has a brownish hue which noticeably breaks from the duotone spectrum of white and blue of the Arctic ice. From an ice mound even just a couple of feet high, you can spot a large open lead from a distance; and invariably, tension sets into the pit of your stomach. An open leads means business: it will generally cut your route (for obvious reasons you are more likely to run into an east/west lead when traveling north), and challenge you for a strategy to bypass it. Often, this will involve a calculated risk. At best, a wet lead will cost you time; at worst it will kill you. We crossed so many open leads today (the strong winds of the last few days have surely helped put more cracks in the ice) that I lost count. Sivce the sea ice feels and looks like a desert, it’s a always a mind twisterr to acknowledge that leads are not canals or rivers: they immediately drop to the ocean’s floor; and that below your feet, the ice is just a few feet thick floating above the same great depth!
After being robbed of two miles ovenight to the south drift, we set off onto broken-up terrain, which slowed us down. Route finding and lead crossing strategy are some of the fundementals of North Pole travel. And today, we had plenty of opportunity for both. The weather was not bad to start at minus 22F, sunny and a light 5mph breeze. You always get an elated sense of relief and satisfaction when you beat the challenge of an open lead. Sometimes you “trick” it, sometimes you luck out; other times you work hard at it. But when nature does the work for you, that is undoubtedly one of the greatest shows on Earth. By afternoon, we got trapped in a mangled maze of twisted and fragmented cracks system, spread over a couple of miles. But unlike the seemingly still, icy world which we have mainly been privy to, today–like yesterday–displayed the enormous power that lurks the sea. Upon approaching a massive open lead, we spotted what seemed like a pinch crowded with ice blocks. In fact, those blocks–some weightiing multiple tons–were being shoved around like rubber duckies and pressed into a 20 foot pressure ridge right before our eyes. A spectacle of sound and sights of incredible proportion which not many people get to see!
Due in part to the abundance of open water, we were soon shrouded in a thick ice fog. And over the course of the day, the winds grew again to 25-35 mph strong with visibility reduced to a couple of hundred feet. Ice fogs, as you’d expect from the name, are not warm. Temperature dropped to -27F and high humidity which makes it feel 10 degrees lower. Between the terrain and the conditions, travel became increasingly difficult. Additionally, the snow drift from the wind covered many of the small wet leads making them blend in and seem frozen–a challenge when you’re in the lead.
We are also now constantly thinking about food, as it is now clear that we have to ration or we will run out, and it is affecting our psyche. We traveled for 12.5 hours and only covered 10 nautical miles–probably two more factoring drift. We are still flying east and our position upon stopping was N88°15.115 and W58°13.915. Today was tough. We hope for better conditions tomorrow… Thank you for keeping with us.


A Boat Ride and More!

April 16, 2009 4:13am

Just as the doll drums were setting into our journey, something happened this
afternoon–two things, in fact–that would send new thrills to our
But first, upon waking up this morning, we found that the
south drift had only stolen one nautical overnight, and not two as
anticipated. That’s a bit like finding a 20 in an old pocket, or
getting a tax refund: it was yours to begin with, but getting it back
feels like free money! The wind has come down some but getting out was
sluggish for Keith and I. Short sleep nights and long days of pulling
in these conditions are beginning to take their toll and we are both
fatigued. As well, we miscalculated our lunch food ration and are now
short on day food–our fuel. It was Keith’s turn to put his foot
through the ice upon crossing our first wet lead of the day: his boot
went through slush like looked like hard ice. We negotiated a variety
of terrain and had a hard time finding our rhythm. But then we came
upon a 25 foot open lead snaking in across the ice, blocking our way.
We traveled east and west for some ways, but it seemed to go on
forever. We were losing valuable time. Borrowing from a solution we
used a couple of days ago, I suggested tying the two sleds together
into a pontoon, and riding it using the shovel to paddle. For safety
this time, I donned the emergency suit, which consists of a thick
plastic over suit, somewhat cumbersome but water tight, which zips up
but for a small opening in the face area. We tied a rope to each end of
the float, and I went for a boat ride! This of course seems simple
enough, but given the prospect of a possible repeat dip in light of my
midnight bath the other day, the tension ran high. I launched off the
bank, into the black water of the Arctic sea, below me fathoms of
depth. After a short awkward paddle, I used the shovel to shatter the
thin ice which had formed on the other side, eventually making my way
to solid ice. And I managed to get off. With the rope tied to each end,
it was easy now for Keith to pull the boat towards him, and for me to
pull him back. He did not need to wear the suit which was just as well
given how challenging it is to zip up on your own–it would have been
tough for me to do without him. We lost a good hour but felt excited
with our success and soon were on our way. The area would prove rich in
open leads, surely the result from the the strong winds of the past
three days. In no time, we came upon another large lead cutting our
route. This one was about 75 feet wide; the rope would be too short to
go both ways, besides the lead had a lot more thin ice to be broken
which would make creating a passage tedious work–and risky. The
moisture around a lead makes the temprature feel 10 degrees lower, and
the cold was going right through us. We slipped into our other
Napapijri cold weather over coat, and walked along the bank, pondering
what to do.That is when, imperceptibly at first, a strange whistling
sound developed. It was not the wind. And then we noticed current
moving ice particles in the water towards us, in opposite from the wind
direction. In what is surely one of the most surreal natural wonders,
the other bank was actually moving towards us! The lead was closing,
pushing all the ice onto our bank. The concept of the unimaginable
weight getting moved during this process boggles the mind. We sat there
watching this natural spectacle, seeing inch by inch of the other bank
come towards us, and hoping that it would go all the way! We got back
into our harnesses and prepared to cross at the first opportunity. By
the time the lead closed, we rushed across and moved away fast, as
now the thicker sides we crumpling up like paper: that is how pressure
ridges are formed (some can reach over thirty feet in height!)
the end we traveled 12 nautical miles over 14 hours, not factoring the
south drift. A little less than I had hoped, but what an adventure!
Temperatures were again around minus 22-25F degrees with 10 knot winds
from the west. Our position upon stopping was N88°06.490 and W63°50.589
drifting east still very fast; but we have stopped worrying about that.
We are now into our last two degrees and have nine days to go to make
the pole… It will be tight! Thanks for reading.


Winds Galore

April 15, 2009 4:14am


The wind shook our tent like rag doll all night , and by the time
we hit the trail, the were strengthening to a mid day high of 35-40
mph. Luckily, they were still in the south west coming in to our backs
and left side. Still, three days of being battered by the freezing
needles of the Arctic wind takes its toll; it is physically taxing.
Additionally, the field of vision is very reduced by the imperative use
of the fur ruff hood. Effective though it is at shielding the cold
prick of the wind, it is also very isolating. As I lead the trail, I
endlessly switch from checking the ground in front of me–a natural
position when pulling the sledge as the body leans forward–and
checking my bearing, which effectively feels like looking up at the
sky. Repeat that about 15,000 times a day and see what it does to your
neck! The stunning visuals of the fine particles of snow traveling
across the ice floor like smoke is worth the price of admission. It is
surreal and epic. I filmed and photographed some, further inviting cold
injuries and stealing precious time, but it had to be done! Filming the
snow drift into the endless sunset of the midnight sun…

We woke to a south drift loss of two miles and were determined to
make it up for it today. We were lucky again with the terrain and
managed to do 15 nautical miles in 13.5 hours of travel (which means we
really did 17 but lost another two to the treadmill-like drift).
Crossing a wet lead, the ice cracked and my ski and boot went through.
I was lucky: the ice had looked sturdy due to the snow deposits from
the wind. This environment is hard and does not forgive the slightest
misstep. I readc^e.

The race for the pole is still on. We hope for good luck in the
terrain again so we can maintain that speed. Our stopping position is
N87°55.313 and W68°00.675 and drifting east fast. By morning we will
have probably lost to the south as well. Wish us luck! Ten days to


Rush Hour Traffic

April 13, 2009 4:15am

One thing you would not expect up here on the ice is a traffic jam. Yet,
that is effectively what happened to us at the end of our day.
we lost a mile south overnight to the drift, not to mention the
easterly drift which has increased to two latitude points a day, for
the last two days! With that, and yesterday’s disappointing distance,
today’s focus was on performance: I was determined to do 14 nautical
miles. Less than that, and I thought our prospects to make the pole by
the 26th were poor, a sentiment I knew was shared among our logistics
team. Setting off, I was gripped by the irony of bringing a time
pressure into such a seemingly timeless environment. Such a human thing
to do. In our communion with Nature up here, this felt so out of
context. And sad. Even out here, we cannot help but bring our social
baggage. Brought to focus on speed and efficiency, I could not help but
feel upset at myself: here as well, in the end, I would be competing.
This meant no indulgences in travel, and no shoot time until I felt we
could afford it. On a day like today this proved more painful than I
thought, as we saw big weather shifts, and with it some visuals which
were new to us. Battered again by winds from the south west lashing out
and turning us into whip boys, a cloud cover shortly set in,
progressively covering the sun. The landscape became tough to read, as
all the already low contrast of this white environment was gone–save
the blue and green hues off the pressure ridges. Imagine walking into a
thick white fog, but with no fog: that is more or less what it felt
like out here–but add 25 mph winds! Luckily, the clouds lifted, but
the wind persisted, increasing through the day. We mostly lucked out
with the terrain and, save a couple of tough spots, benefitted at last
from friendlier large flat pans. But towards the end of the day, we
came upon a wide wet lead: open water near our bank, and no clear idea
of how solid the ice was on the other side. We proceeded to walk to the
east as one spot in the distance seemed cluttered with slush that might
help our passage. That is when something very different came into view.
Two unidentified black spots, standing where we were headed. We these
humans? As we approached, it turned out to be John Huston and Tyler
Fish, who are also going for the pole, their trip unsupported! Within
millions a square miles we run into two other dots who like ourselves,
elected to subject themselves to this exercise in self torture! To be
fair we knew they were within striking distance of us and were, too,
caught in this powerful easterly drift. We had a good moment with them,
as they put on their water suits and we thought to set up camp and wait
until morning as the crossing looked sketchy. This was the end of our
day, the beginning of theirs. Surely by morning, the lead would freeze
over. But soon they were on the other side and gave us the thumbs up!
We quickly gathered our stuff and made the testy crossing through
slush. Both Keith and I put one boot through the ice, but made it
safely. On the other side, these boys had left an angel in the snow as
a sign of good luck. They are on the same tight schedule as we are. We
eventually caught up with them and shared tracks for about an hour,
when we called it a day after a solid 14 hours. We are tired but
satisfied with 14 nautical miles of true north travel. Factoring the
drift and the weaving, we probably did three miles more than that. We
will lose some overnight but currently our position is N87°42.449 and
W72°20.880. Temperature were in the order of minus 22F degrees not
factoring windshield. Good night and thank you for being with us.


Hard Days Work

April 12, 2009 4:16am

It’s hard to think of anything good to say about 25
knot Arctic winds whipping you all day with it’s frozen razor lashes.
But I did come up with one. Well, two if you count wind direction which
in this case was from the south/west and thus not head on (we are
headed north–but of course you knew that). The one good thing about a
cold wind beating you senseless while pulling a heavy sledge is that,
while the fine snow powder can become a blanket of liquid-smoke by your
feet, it is also hardening the ice. And this makes pulling a sledge
lighter. It is a trade-off. But behind the protection of a good
fur-ruffed hood, and with proper wind resistant clothing, and so long
as the wind does not blow directly in you face, the experience can be
less unbearable than would seem. It reduces the field of vision to what
is directly in front of you– which can feel isolating or cozy,
depending on how you look at it. Breaks are very short because the wind
does not like you to stop. Conversation is minimal, and focus is high,
especially now, given the time pressure we are on if we are going to
make the pole. We are fighting a south drift which is like running the
counter backwards: every 8 hours or so, we lose a hard fought for mile
to the Arctic sea drift; like walking on a treadmill.
Our first
order of the evening last night was to dry my clothes from the swim I
took that day. They were frozen into hard ice and weighted near 40
pounds! Then we elected to lose some lest from the re-supply, which
meant throwing away a lot of food, primarily our “treats” which amount
to things like bread, cheese, and extra meal items. To make more daily
mileage, it is now necessary for us to be lighter, thus faster. While I
hate littering out here (we have been religious about carrying our
trash) there is a neat bag with 40 ponds’ worth of frozen food which
will either make 1) an Inuit family believe in Santa Claus 2) a polar
bear finally feel justified in traveling these 3) a nice archeological
find one day.
Terrain was really tough for our first few hours,
negotiating a difficult maze of pressure ridges, the tallest we’ve had
to climb (up to 15 feet). The pans were short and hard fought for. This
tested our spirit; in three hours we covered about a mile… We came
upon a narrow thinly frozen lead which, given yesterday’s experience,
had us play very safe: we tied the two sledges together and tested the
manufacturer’s claim that the float, no matter what. We climbed onto
them, and broke the ice ahead of us to clear a passage–that took some
time. Finally, in the afternoon, the terrain started to open up a bit,
and we got to buy some mileage back. In the end we skied 14.5 hours and
only managed 11 nautical true north miles. Our current position is
N87°30.030 and W74°54.528. We are drifting East fast–the decimal
points on the GPS are literally rolling. We have tried to compensate
but I believe this will reverse… Temps were mild but for the wind, at
about minus 22F degrees. That’s it for now. Tomorrow will be opppp!