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

The Race is On

April 11, 2009 4:18am

Yesterday I said that the ice on a lead generally doesn’t break at once. Well sometimes it does. Today it did.
were out for 13 hours today, but only managed 10 nautical miles. There
were three reasons for this: 1) I fell in the drink; 2) we had our one
re-supply today 3) we hit a lot of deep powder with the new heavy
loads on the sledges.
First, the bath. We were trying to make time
and had a good start until a small east/west lead blocked our way. A
narrow section looked questionable but doable as it was only about 10
feet wide. I volunteered figuring that we could rush across the lead
and roll the dice. I unhooked from my sledge, stepped carefully on the
flexing ice, took a large step forward, and all at once–the
dreaded–the ice gave from under me and I slowly but inescapably sunk
to my neck in Arctic water. Keith quickly threw me a line and pulled me
out which left me dripping in minus 25F. I quickly rolled in the ice to
let it absorb the excess water before it froze, and stripped to put new
clothes on. It goes without saying that getting down to your skivvies
under these conditions isn’t anyone’s idea of fun–it was most
unpleasant. One of the great lessons of this environment is that there
are no time outs; no quitting and no savior. The mess you’re in is
yours to clean, and this responsibility works anywhere. Once changed we
proceeded to look for another crossing which didn’t, in the end, took
that long. But soon thereafter, we heard the powerful rotors of a
Russian MI8 helicopter, which was our scheduled re-supply drop. There
was much excitement off the chopper with a video camera and a
photographer, big hugs etc. Rick, the head of our logistics team at
Polar Explorers was there to greet us and give us our bags of food and
fuel. Victor who runs Barneo ice station, the floating base which will facilitate
our exit from the pole, gave us big, bear-like Russian hugs. Much as
the direct contact with the outside was warm and comforting, for us the
contrast was almost disconcerting: the temptation to sit longer inside
the warm chopper, to take in the comfort and conversation was a large
window outside of the harsh world we have been laboriously adapting to.
Exposed too long to this other reality, and our morale would suffer.
Besides, we were losing more time. So we rushed our supplies into the
sledges, and set off. Only now, the sledges’ weight of our first days
was there again! That miserable sensation of pulling way more than
seems reasonable, and this for another 170 nautical miles… What’s more the
terrain proved challenging and uneven, with many patches of deep
powder. Everything to make the new weight even more unbearable! The
morale was low, as another reality sunk in: at the rate we have been
going, we will not make the pole in time to exit through Barneo. If
that were the case, I would be looking at enormous costs to evacuate
through Resolute and Canada, funds which are not there…
So the
additional challenge is set; the race against the clock is on. We have
14 days to reach our goal. We need to average 12 nautical miles a day, which
we have not done so far, and not from lack of trying… Besides we are
drifting south–we lost half a mile last night and by the time we wake
up, we will have lost another mile–the drift is taking us backwards,
which is not unusual. We will restrategize. But for now we are dead
tired and will seek sleep for counsel… Temperature today was around
minus 25°F with a razor sharp chilly breeze into our faces from the
north west. Our current position is N87°20.021 and W76°49.910. The
adventure continues–but the pressure is on.
Good night!


A Grind

April 10, 2009 4:19am

87.1947N, 076.7111W
When a lead collapses from under your feet, it rarely happens instantly. It
could, of course, if it were thin enough; but you would likely not be
attempting to cross it there. Rather, when a lead cracks below your
weight it happens in slow motion, but the area breaking is typically as
long and as wide as your skis are, leaving very little leverage to
escape from the sink. That is what happened to me today. Keith had just
crossed a sketchy section but the narrowest of an open lead, which was
our best option. His combined weight with his sledge fractured that
passage after he crossed it leaving me to find a less desirable
section. I treaded carefully and found myself in the middle of this
narrow lead when Keith got agitated warning that my sledge was sinking
behind me! I reacted as fast as one does when facing the wrong
direction with skis on, and tethered to a heavy sledge! As I attempted
to back up, the ice below me gave in as well and soon, I was sinking
too. I thankfully managed to jump and throw myself to the side, thereby
avoiding buying the drink! I got away with one wet boot and a good shot
of adrenaline. (It should be said that if all else fails, the sledges
float). I then managed through another section and made a safe crossing.
today was a tough day. The first half of the day was riddle with
complex sections of large rubble and pressure ridges.There was no end
to it! The field was broken up like the Irish countryside, fragmented
in small plots seperated by walls of ice.This was the first six hours
of our day: taking the skis off; pulling the sledge up and down these
walls, or some ice junk yards; putting the skis on and repeating this
over again. Additionally, gastro intestinal discomfort isn’t fun
anywhere. But out here? Both Keith’s and my stomach felt lousy today.
Probably the dry freeze eggs rancheros from breakfast. Pulling was a
grind, and it was physically taxing. Keith was a star and led for the
afternoon as my stomach was just not there. By the end of our day, we
finally hit a flat pan which allowed us to make up some slow mileage
for the last four hours. We ended up covering 10 nautical miles in 11.5
hours. Our current position is N87°12.018 and W76°43.160.The drift is
still pulling us East but we should be OK if we keep, as I have,
favoring west. We have not been using the GPS much, but for figuring
our position at the beginning and end of the day. Because we have had
sun everyday (yes, the polar cap should be on your list of sunny
destinations: not a cloud in the sky so far!), I find it easier to
navigate compensating for the sun’s rotation around us, or 15°
clockwise every hour. (The sun no longer sets here at this time of the
That’s it: after a great day yesterday, a grind today!
Hopefully tomorrow will get us back on track! We’re both pooped
tonight. Goodnight!


White Desert

April 9, 2009 8:37pm

Great day of traveling today, as the climate lent leniency to our trip with
an average of minus 25F to 29F degrees. Peary said it one hundred years
ago, and it still holds today–perfect temperatures for trekking here.
Just cold enough to keep from sweating, but not so cold as to numb the
experience into a teeth clattering, white-knuckled ride through frosty
hell. Additionally, the terrain was friendly and relatively flat, and
the scenery epic. It felt very much like a sand desert, but white–each
boulder a block of ice; each sand drift an ice drift. We came upon two
open leads which we crossed without trouble (though there is always the
thrill of tension preceding the crossing as we never know if it will
hold or break beneath our skis!) We also came upon some bear tracks
again, though this time they were probably a few weeks old. A bear has
little business being up here, given the scarcity of food. Mind you,
were it to come upon our tracks, the bear would be well justify to say
the same of us! We took our time traveling and I made it a point to
film and photograph. It is tough. A decision to shoot is always
weighted against time lost, and a potential cold injury to the fingers.
Either way, the fingers always get it! On thee frostbite watch, we seem
to be managing our injuries. But you cannot let your guard down out
here. It is unforgiving. We have camped next to an old re-frozen lead,
in what is perhaps the most scenic of our campsites so far. I made it a
point to walk around, since we generally build our tent and rush in to
get away from exposure. A truly exotic walk into another world. It
does not get old! We covered 11 nautical miles in 11 hours. We have
crossed into the next degree and our position is now N87°02.345 and


Midnight Sun

April 8, 2009 8:38pm

86.8552N, 076.6805W

walking up a steep hill with a harness rigged to your back with a bunch
of bungie cords. Now imagine someone yanking as hard as they can every
other step you take while you are trying to go up that hill. Practice
that in the deep freeze, strap on a pair of skis and you’ll begin to
get a sense of what it feels like to pull a heavy sledge across the
ice! I figured today that we take approximately 25,000 steps a day out
here. This would then mean that the sledge yanks on our backs about
12,000 times today. It can get extraordinarily frustrating! This of
course does not factor the up and down of the terrain.
We traveled
through relatively flat pans today, and ended riding right into the
midnight sun. (Our rotations have us now ride into the “night”, which
of course makes little difference now as the sun no longer sets up
here). We covered 13.25 nautical miles in about 11 hours. We crossed two
newly frozen leads.; one of them was in motion while we crossed it–a
large frozen section was being pushed onto another one. This is one of
the more incredible displays of the power of the tides, wind and
current: to move hundreds of billions of tons of ice and crumple blocks
of ice the size of trucks, piling one on top of another. Such is the
power of nature. Our focus must be on harnessing that so sustainable
We are now tucked in our sleeping bags.
Our current position is N86°51.093 and W76°41.010.
Good night.


Book Ended

April 6, 2009 8:47pm

86.631N, 76.604W

Eerie and ominous, with the profound beauty of the simplicity of
void. That is what the “big lead”‘ conjured up upon walking to it this
morning. A “melt way” frozen over from this summer, this lead spells
out the future of the Arctic ocean as it breaks up; its ice thickness
further threatened by the exponential factors of warm air and warmer
water. This lead was enormous: two miles across and its length unclear
as it stretched East/West well beyond what the eye could see. Imagine a
white, vast surface almost perfectly flat–like a salt flat–fractured
by steamy black veins snaking in the middle of this dreamy whiteness.
The cracks reveal the ocean below, but here they feel like a taste of
Mordor, and foretell things to come; like new forces are at play. The
Arctic ice is rapidly changing, and I wonder if generations to come
will have the chance to do what we’re doing. Will people celebrate the
Peary bi-centennial by attempting the pole? I think not…

We treaded carefully, as the open section which had stopped us
last night had thinly frozen over. Once we skied over a two foot open
section of black Arctic sea. Walking on this gigantic lead felt like
being in a dream, or the computer generated set of a sci-fi movie: just
ice and sky! My one great privilege which will undoubtedly live to be a
great frustration is that whilst witnessing such unique sights, I also
know that it is impossible to capture its scale and breadth on film.
Besides, shooting here is so challenging–each shot a production, each
with cold exposure to fingers–that most shots are not taken. They are
committed to my memory bank, but I will not be able to accurately share
what I see with others. So goes the frustration of photographers
everywhere: for every shot taken, they are thousands that screamed to
have be shot!

Today was a great travel day, across changing terrain, but mostly
big pans, and relatively flat. We pulled for 11 hours and covered 12.3
nautical miles, our personal best. Temperatures were mild–around – 25°F.
Our current position is N86.37.896 and W76°36.268. We stopped and camp
next to a small, narrow open lead, book ending our day. We will cross
it tomorrow. Good night.


Keith Live From the Ice

April 5, 2009 8:49pm

A Grind

April 5, 2009 8:48pm

Today was a grind. There were no gimmes. No freebies. No mulligans, “this
one’s on the house!”, or “first ball in!”. Nothing but hard earned slow
miles. The Arctic terrain can be unrelenting; and un-flinching. Yard by
yard we negotiated the broken ice boulders and pressure ridges the size
of two storey houses. The mix of cruddy or powdery snow swallowed up
the sledges’ rail as if dragging them through syrup. Each section led
to another chaotic and random display of Nature’s forces. In this grand
theater, it is hard not to feel insignificant. And the purpose of our
mission, in its simplicity, felt all the more absurd. Try and imagine a
giant crumble cake. Throw it in the deep freeze. And now reduce your
size to about an inch, strap on so ski, and decide to cross it!
Sometimes the best thing to do is to just put one foot in front of the
other, and move forward without thinking. After 9 hours and the same
amount of nautical miles, we noticed steam ahead of us. A giant melt
area perhaps 4 miles across laid in front of us. Occasional slivers of
black Arctic water broke the frozen surface. We decided to camp by the
“river’s” edge, hoping that the slivers will freeze over. Either way,
we will don our emergency swim outfits in the AM and make a go for it.
With the coming full moon, neither one of us wants to tempt the monthly
powerful tides in this area. Wish us luck.
Temperatures today were around -25 to -33F degrees. Our current location N86°25.530 and W76°27.047. Good night!


Good Day

April 4, 2009 8:50pm

Another good day and with it gentler temperatures, all things considered, at
around -25 F degrees. A vast improvement from a few days ago (think as
a reference of a temperature change from 60F to 80F !) It makes trekking
here considerably more civilized and less of a balls out “what the ¤%#*
am I doing here!!?” experience. Still nippy on the extremities, to be
sure, and with the slightest breeze, the razor blades of the polar cold
lash at any exposed skin. Today’s terrain was varied and magnificent. A
lot of wide pans, some rubble (though much less than last week), and a
lot of up and down; but the sledges are getting lighter, thank God! We
came upon an enormous system of melt ways, frozen over, remaining most
likely from the summer. Huge waterways looking like rivers stretching
for miles east/west (unfortunately for us as we are headed north), and
some as wide as 1/4 mile wide. While this makes for excellent
skiing–great gliding property on the hard ice–it spells the ominous
demise of the Arctic summer ice. Indeed while it is predicted to break
entirely in the summer period by as early as 2013 but privately
scientist feared it might have happened last summer, and could anytime
hereafter. Broken ice in the summer means the end of multi year ice and
a rapid breakdown of the structural integrity of the sea
ice–regardless of season. But for us, today, it was eerily beautiful.
We came upon a sliver of open water which we crossed on skis. The water
was black below us. As a bit of trivia: a way to expect an open lead is
to look for the steam that rises from it. Strange though it is to think
of freezing water as steaming, the differential in temperature with the
cold air can be as big as 50°F or more.
We skied for 9.5 hours today
and covered 11 nautical miles true north. We are definitely hitting our
stride, and feel more at ease in this harsh but beautiful place.
Amazing the human body’s ability to adapt to any condition; just like a
virus… For those on frostbite watch, an update: still closely
monitoring a toe and a finger for Keith, and two fingers on me. But I
think we will keep them all!
Our current position is N86°16.383 and W76°35.633. Good night!


Live from the Ice

April 3, 2009 8:54pm

Older and Rubble Free

April 3, 2009 8:53pm

The sounds of heavy breathing, of skis scratching the ice below our feet,
and the occasional whistle of the wind on our face are the faithful
companions of our solitary sojourn. From morning until evening, hardly
a word is exchanged. When I lead, I will occasionally check for Keith’s
shadow near my feet, as the sun is mostly behind us, and low on the
horizon. I will stop when the words ”fuel!” or ”drink!” are shouted
behind me. When Keith leads, my eyes are primarily focused on the
tracks directly in front of me, and I lose myself in introspective
contemplation, and spiritual meditation. I will recite for hours on end
the Guru Rimpoche mantra and watch how my focus sways this way or that.
When the time comes, I too will shout for a food or drink stop. We
hurry through those, catch our breath and set off quickly again before
the sweat on our bodies turn to ice on our skin. As each day rolls into
the next, there are no signs of life to break the quiet sanctitude of
our journey. Not a bird; not a bug; no plane high above in the sky. The
feeling of solitude in this white stillness could, for some, scream
louder than despair. But mostly I immerse myself in complete communion
with the ice, and feel at one with it–one in thirty million species
inhabiting this Earth; no more, no less. And I get lost in the unique
privilege of finding myself here, nourishing my soul with the pure and
raw power of Nature.
But today we did see signs of life! In close
proximity were one set of fox tracks (what would a fox choose to do at
this latitude where there is no food for hundred of square miles?
Certainly an eccentric); and soon thereafter a set of bear tracks–a
mother and two cubs. (Also probably confused, unless of course she was
looking for us!) Today being my birthday, and with plenty of thinking
time on my hands, I got lost in examining the nature of choices. And
got to think of the men and women who chose to live temporarily in
Eureka. The last bastion of civility before heading for the ice, Eureka
is a station battered by the merciless lashings of the Great North. The
vehicles that make it there know that they have reached the end of the
line, and are resolved to finish here without ceremony.The men who
drive them have stern faces shaped by their pioneering spirit. As with
the frontier towns of the past, people here are lured by opportunity.
But as the lines on their faces deepen, they all seem to soften
internally, moved by the power of this harsh desert and surprised by
the answers that come to them from questions they had not sought to
ask. Eventually, it would seem, everyone is forced to ponder the same
question. “Who am I, and why am I here?” In the white, stark vastness of
the Great North, answers come easier because there aren’t as many
places to hide.

We traveled 10.3 nautical miles today, in 9 hours.
Some nice big open pans but also some clumps of rubble– one the size
of a three story house!–which slowed us down. Many freshly frozen
leads to cross and much warmer temps at around -27 F degrees. That is a
15 degrees increase from a few days ago: today, we were sweating–no
Our current stats are N86°05.316 and W76°37.365. Thank you for
the many birthday well wishers. It means a lot to hear this kind of
support out here. Keith brought some Irish whiskey for the occasion.
This one’s for you!