The Arctic Polar Expedition / Season Spring 2006
| One World Expedition (Lonnie Dupre & Eric Larsen - summer traverse)
Why they change their itinerary | See their last year attempt
From their website : Days 1 - 39 | Days 40 - 66
July 08, 2006 / First Shower Since May 1st
Lonnie and Eric have been picked up by a helicopter and are on board the icebreaker. They will be in transit back to Minneapolis for the next 8 days. While they are thoroughly enjoying the so many simple comforts that we all take for granted, like showers, furniture, and clean clothes, stay tuned here for information on their progress, news articles, recaps of the expedition and the very latest on global warming.
Lonnie and Eric are scheduled to arrive at Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Sunday, July 16 at 11:45 A.M.
Word of the day: 'Ursus maritimus': directly translated as sea bear, we call them polar bears. The Norwegian word for a polar bear is more accurate; it is Isbjorn, which directly translates to ice bear. Polar bears live on ice, without ice polar bears die. No ice, no ice bears, it's that simple.
July 06, 2006 / Last Day, Last Lunch, Last Camp
overcast, 33.3 F, 2 nautical miles
Day 67. The wind picked up considerably last night, or at least, what we call the night. The gusts also brought the biggest rain storm we've had to date. We hesitate to say it 'poured' but a steady drizzle lasted well into the morning. The hard wind-packed snow of yesterday turned to mush, slush and any other 'ush' word you might want to make up.
We traveled toward the North Pole in order to find a suitable ice pan to support a helicopter. It wasn't easy. The ice we have been traveling on the past week is relatively thin - 3 feet or so. We needed something over six feet thick. We skied through slush and large meltwater pools that were as deep as our shins. More water skiing. Eventually, we found an old pan, set up the tent and called in to confirm our position.
We took a little extra time to sort and inventory gear. All of our equipment seems to have survived the journey with little damage. Most noticeable are the sled-canoes. These boats have carried our supplies, and us at times, for nearly 700 miles of the most severe conditions imaginable. Despite this they look brand new!
This is our last camp. We ate our last meal of noodles and crawled in the tent for one last sleep. However, we are hesitant to fully close our eyes just yet. Instead, we unzip the tent door and steal one last glance after another at the scene beyond.
Let's be honest here: We are looking forward to enjoying some of even the simplest modern conveniences, seeing friends and family and maybe a glass of orange juice, but not just yet.
It has been hard to get to know this place. It definitely doesn't happen all at once. A piece here, an experience there. An insight gained. Hours that turn into days and days that add into months. It is so easy to think that all this emptiness is just ice, snow and water. It's not.
We wish we had the space and time to list all the things we have learned - about ourselves, teamwork, perseverance, and most importantly, the current state of the Arctic Ocean's sea ice.
What should we do we do with all the knowledge we've gleaned from this journey? We are only now beginning to imagine the effect of this expedition on our future.
One thing's for sure, we'll appreciate tables a lot more. And solid ground. Trees, definitely trees. The relationships of friends and family who have supported us for so long. Clean underwear will be nice. So will summer - a Minnesota summer.
Those are, of course, all the tangible things that affect our immediate future. More uncertain are months from now when these experiences have gained the benefit of distance and time. What kind of people will we be then? Will we be different? Probably not much. But we won't be the same, either.
We are glad for this experience. It has reinforced our love of wild spaces and our desire to help protect them. Our resolve to stop global warming has only been strengthened.
We are also pleased that you have taken this perilous expedition with us. By connecting to the internet, reading these blogs, you too have begun the first steps of a great adventure. You have learned about the Arctic Ocean, seen its moods and subtleties, learned about global warming and, hopefully, added one of 200,000 signatures to a petition to get the polar bear listed as an endangered species.
From here, let us continue together. This journey is really only beginning. Global warming is something that affects us all.
We will not be able to update the web site for the next 6 or 7 days while we travel through Russia - no satellite phones allowed. In our stead the multi-faceted, multi-lingual, multiplication whiz, John Huston, will keep you posted. More news, global warming info, more expedition gear, more highlights, future speaking engagements and perhaps some juicy tidbits about Huston, the man behind the myth.
Don't worry. We'll be writing more and more as soon as possible. There is lots of work to be done in the fight to stop global warming and help save the polar bear. We are rolling up our sleeves.
July 05, 2006 / A Tough Decision
overcast, 33.7 F, 0 nautical miles
Day 66. From Lonnie: On May 1, 2006, Eric and I embarked on an unprecedented journey to the North Pole. To get here, we pulled and paddled specially modified canoes across 700 miles of shifting sea ice and open water of the arctic ocean. Our objectives were to complete the first-ever summer expedition to the North Pole to help save the polar bear by bringing attention to the growing issues surrounding global warming. On July 1, 2006 after 62 grueling days, the we attained the North Pole.
After sustaining a serious strain to my back early in the expedition and after evaluating the rapidly deteriorating and dangerous ice conditions, I decided to not attempt the increasingly hazardous journey back to Greenland from the North Pole.
Further travel would put us in a life-threatening situation with little chance of rescue. The ice pans on which we travel are fractured into a maze of open water which extends from land to the Pole. These ice conditions are very susceptible to fast-moving ocean currents, which push east toward the open ocean. The planned route to land is breaking up unusually early.
As the expedition leader it is my responsibility to weigh all of the options, including the safest possible evacuation if it is deemed necessary. In order to avoid a search and rescue operation that would put persons at unnecessary risk, I have been researching vessels already in the area so in the event of an evacuation, we could leave on a vessel in close proximity. A Russian icebreaker (with a helicopter) is on a scheduled excursion to the North Pole and will be enlisted for a routine pick up.
While reaching the North Pole has been a major truimph and unprecedented first, this expedition has always been more about exposing the dangers of global warming and the plight of the polar bear than our physical journey. We will continue our quest to stop global warming and save the polar bear long into the future.
July 04, 2006 /Rest Day - take 2
overcast, sun, 32.8 F, 0 nautical miles
Day 65. We no longer have to melt snow for drinking and cooking. We simply camp next to a meltwater pool and fill all our nalgene bottles and cook pots with all the fresh water we want. This of course saves greatly on our fuel.
Lonnie decided to have his second bath in 64 days. A ground pad to stand on and two quart thermoses filled with warm water is hardly the full spa treatment but, given the circumstances, more than sufficient. Lonnie was waiting for the wind to die down a bit, but it never did. The trick is to stop the shower just before hypothermia sets in.
Eric opted for slightly less drastic personal grooming measures. He put on a clean pair of underwear.
We spent a lot of time talking about the Fourth of July, parades, fireworks and that segued into some of the things we miss about home.
Luckily, John Huston forwarded us several emails from well wishers back home and around the globe. It is nice to know there is so much support for our endeavor and for protecting the polar bear.
The U.S. Government will decide on endangered species act protection by year's end. The settlement of a recent lawsuit requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete its '12-month' finding on whether polar bears should be listed under the Endangered Species Act by Dec. 27, 2006.
July 04, 2006 / Rest Day for the Weary
overcast, sun, 33.0 F, 0 nautical miles
Day 64. We finally got that rest day we had been hoping for. We were planning to sleep in; however, spent much of the morning (and rest of the day) fielding questions from reporters over our satellite phone.
A special thanks goes out to the Greenpeace media department for coordinating our calls. We feel this is time well spent as it allows us to talk to a larger audience about some of the dramatic changes due to global warming that we are seeing. We also were able to tell our polar bear story which is always a good bridge to talking about how global warming is affecting them.
The remainder of the day was fairly uneventful; the exception being food. Even though we are not travelng our stomachs are still in 'acquire calories' mode. While no one was looking we added additional cheese and salami to our dinner.
The sun came out for the first time in a long while and we were amazed at the ice all around us. It is on days like today that we really begin to fathom how vast this place is.
But it is not infinite. The ice on the Arctic Ocean has already decreased by an area twice the size of Texas since the late 1980s. Scientists also believe the Arctic Ocean will be ice free in summer in less than 50 years. That does not bode well for the polar bear.
The bright sun has kept us up longer than we would like. Not a big worry as the Hilleberg Hotel is warm and cozy and we are planning on another rest day tomorrow. Hopefully, we will dream of all the things we miss so very far away.
July 02, 2006 / Back in the USSR
overcast, rain, 33.7 F, 3.5 nautical miles
Day 63. We woke up in the eastern hemisphere singing old Beatles songs... 'back in the USSR'. Last night we drifted 3.5 miles south toward Siberia: the exact opposite direction of where we expected (and hoped) to drift and need to go. So, we had to delay our much needed rest.
With images of our sleeping bags and an extra Clif bar floating in front of us, we trudged back toward the North Pole where we are currently (once again) camped.
The wind has finally started to die down and hopefully the drift will slow down as well. Better still, would be ice movement toward Greenland so we can just relax and take our minds off the ice for a few days, but we'll believe that when it happens.
The day started with a nice summer rain. Big drops soaked our jackets and fogged our glasses. Luckily, it only lasted for 10 minutes or so. The ice was fairly kind to us, but it was still slow going. By day's end, we had skied through numerous melt pools 3 to 6 inches deep - our snow skis turning suddenly into water skis.
We are now getting quite good at locating the north pole by dead reckoning. We keep the wind in our face and the sun over our right shoulder. Today, we paddled the last 1/8th mile down a lead to the Pole, then set up camp on an old floe nearby.
In the end after a tiring day we had no net mileage gain. Tomorrow will be a rest day (hopefully). We have big plans of laying around and doing nothing. Perhaps in the afternoon we will go for a walk around the world.
July 01, 2006 / The Pole and a Messenger
overcast, freezing rain, 32.5 F, 1.5 nautical miles
Day 62. At 4 am this morning, Eric froze in his sleeping bag. Not from being cold, but rather to try to discern a noise outside that sounded a lot like footsteps in the soft snow.
There have been many times where both of us have mistaken a random noise as something more formidable than a snow flap blowing in the wind. On a completely calm night, even the thump of your heart beating resonates through the sleeping bag nylon like the steady footfalls of a stalking predator. But this was different than all those other sounds.
This was a polar bear walking a few feet from our tent. A polar bear exactly one mile from the North Pole.
We managed to quickly scare the bear away with a 'bear banger' flare. It wasn't in a big hurry to leave and stopped frequently to sniff the air. By this time, Lonnie had the video camera running and caught a few farewell glances on tape. We hurriedly put our boots on to assess the scene.
The bear had followed our ski tracks into camp. It came from down wind to disguise its scent and used several small drifts to hide behind as it stalked us. Then, it circled slowly around the tent, coming 5 feet from Lonnie's head.
It was not aggressive. It did not damage any equipment. It was 10 feet away on its way back to the lead when Eric first saw it. To us, it seemed more curious than anything else.
We are on fairly young ice. There are hundreds of leads all around. We have seen seals nearly every day for the last week. So, it seems plausible that a polar bear could be in the vicinity.
But 550 miles from land? On the very same day we would eventually attain the North Pole on an expedition whose mission was to protect the polar bear. Apparently so.
Yesterday, we were searching for meaning and not finding it. This morning it walked within 60 inches of us. We find it difficult to not draw a deep significance from this encounter.
Sure, it was just a polar bear doing what polar bears do: living and hunting on sea ice. Maybe it caught our scent from far off and was just curious. Maybe it was looking to assert dominion over its particular range. Maybe it was looking for an easy meal. But may, just maybe, it was a messenger from the rest of its race sent to remind us that the fate of the polar bear lies in all our hands.
We attained the North Pole at 12 noon CST in a moment of, considering our morning, complete anticlimax. We took a few pictures to document the moment, then watched the GPS coordinates scroll south on the screen due to the rapid drift of ice. In a few more minutes, the Pole was completely covered in water.
All of our emotions splayed in a winding trail between here and Ellesmere Island, we stood quietly for a while, then said almost simultaneously, 'Well, should we set up the tent?'
June 30, 2006 / More Seals?
morning sun, overcast, 34.2 F, 9.5 nautical miles
Day 60. One more step. One more step. One more step. It has become our mantra.
It was a long day - physically very difficult, but mentally a nice break from yesterday as the threat of an icy death seemed slightly less imminent. Still, we finagled a few risky moves to get the ol' adrenaline pumping. Several face plants in the wet snow were especially invigorating as well.
We slogged over 10 hours trying to gain at least a small toe hold on our attainment of the Pole. The snow was the same mashed mess we waded through yesterday and slowed us to a crawl.
At 6 p.m. we took a short break from pulling sled-canoes to call in to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). Kert Davies from Greenpeace facilitated the call. We have been sending the NSIDC, via Kert, our data on snow depth and density and ice freeboard. We were able to answer a few questions from scientists there clarifying our information. We also talked about some of the qualitative observations we've been making on the state of the Arctic ocean. We look forward to continuing our sampling.
The more we know about the condition of snow and ice on the Arctic Ocean right now, the better scientists will be able to predict future change. However, make no mistake, the minimum ice extent (in summer) will be less than last year's record. Global warming is happening now and its first victim will be the polar bear.
Further evidence: We saw three seals today; the last only 11 miles from the north pole.
June 28, 2006 / Worst to First to Mashed Potatoes
morning sun, overcast, 32.8 F, 6 nautical miles
Day 59. 'For anyone who has wondered how global warming and reduced sea ice will affect polar bears, the answer is simple -- they die,' (This is Rick Steiner's quote in the Dec. 14 WSJ article on polar bears in Alaska drowning.)
This expedition has never been about us, rather we are here to help save the polar bear. If you want to save the polar bear from extinction then you have to stop global warming.
We openly wondered again about the state of the Arctic ocean as we stared, mouth agape, at the scene ahead. It was a definite cringe moment: We have to go through that? If there was ever a time on this expedition where we wanted to just give up and go home, this was it.
As far as we could see, small pans (under 100 meters) were stacked up and grinding against each other. Soft brash and ice chunks choked the gaps between each pan, plus the whole mess was moving and moving fast. Returning to one potential crossing point after a scout, we found that it had moved 3 feet in one minute.
This rapid movement of the pans was also loosening large ice chunks. One truck-sized piece heeled over just after Lonnie crossed. There is nothing like imminent danger to stimulate action. We had to get out and get out now. Unfortunately, Eric still had to cross that same spot. Chaos ensued.
Lonnie came back to help, but realized his sled-canoe was being pushed away by heaving brash ice. He went to drag it to safety. Meanwhile, Eric was pulling his sled-canoe up and over a 10-foot ice chunk onto another sloping 10-foot chunk surrounded by brash ice. The canoe stuck fast, then slipped free causing Eric to tumble forward, narrowly missing a face plant in the open lead. Eric's sled-canoe was stuck again, only this time sideways and in danger of getting crushed. Lonnie arrived back on the scene and helped free it, but we weren't in the clear yet.
The next lead with Lonnie just across, two more HUGE chunks dislodge and rocket up. They flip upside down exposing the bluest of blue underbellies. The water is boiling. Where Lonnie just crossed will be impassible in a minute as the moving pan was releasing the pressure holding the brash ice firm. Don't think, just go.
We spent almost an hour racing through all that scary-ness. It seemed like forever. We hope to never have to experience anything like that ever again, but know full well that it's quite possible.
A short ski more and we are on some of the best ice we have ever skied on, with not a lead in sight. We breathed a sigh of relief and then six or seven more.
We have lost a bit of weight due to the work load and long hours. We feel the diet is right on in terms of volume and calories for hauling. Over the course of the expedition, we expected to lose up to 15 pounds and bulked up accordingly. We estimate that Eric has lost perhaps around 10- 12 pounds. Lonnie, on the other hand, has lost an estimated 25 pounds. We are guessing since both of us are on the exact same diet (actually Lonnie is eating a bit more) it must be a combination of age and metabolism plus the added fatigue from back strain cutting into the Frenchman's physique.
Today, the additional strain of traveling through snow with the consistency of mashed potatoes pushed us both to our physical limits. However, it was especially hard on Lonnie who 'bonked' near the end of the day.
The good news: Let's see... The good news, good news. News that is good. Hmmm. Oh yeah, it was a beautiful sunny morning for almost two hours.
A funny story: With the warmer days, we are now sleeping head-toe in our tent to give each other some more breathing room. Eric woke disgusted as Lonnie's bare feet were only inches away from his face. The next morning Lonnie asked, 'Were you tickling my feet last night?' Needless to say we are reinforcing the boundary between each of our 'halves' of the tent to avoid this particularly unpleasant scenario ever again.
June 27, 2006 / Making Watery Progress
some sun, overcast, 33.8 F, 8.5 nautical miles
Day 58. The ice is not sinking, it's simply readjusting its equilibrium to a newly acquired mass (one of us jumping on it) in relation to its buyoancy. Sometimes that new balance is above the water level; sometimes it isn't. Regardless, we have to mentally remind ourselves of this fact: We're not sinking, we're not sinking, we're sinking.
Today, we paddled across seven leads. A few were only 10 meters wide or so, but others were over a quarter mile. There was even a 30-minute paddle with a few portages. We had not planned on coming to the Arctic to do a northern Minnesota-style canoe trip. That's how much water we are seeing.
We are making history every day - the northermost canoe trip ever. Of course, we would prefer to not have that kind of notoriety.
During our planning and preparations, we had set a goal of reaching the North Pole by July 1st. While we are narrowing the gap between us and it daily, it is slow and requires maximum effort. Honestly, with 23.5 nautical miles to go, we don't know if we'll make it by then. Or make it period.
The ice conditions today were borderline insane. This ocean is breaking up underneath us. We repeat, this ocean is breaking up. The day started simply enough; we snaked our way out of the pressure into some flat ice. It was so nice for an hour or so that Lonnie did an enthusiatic 'good ice' dance. The ensuing ice craziness wasn't entirely his fault, but we can not afford any amount of false bravado or jinxes at this point.
The ice is fracturing into small pieces and being blown east or west depending on the wind. The second skier had to enlist some extra hustle today to cross several gaps before they widened. Pressured ice is everywhere. Several frozen monoliths towered upwards of 20 feet.
More Huck Finn rafting, more giant leaps, more slush pools, more small unstable chunk hopping, more big water than ever before. Eric fell in the ocean up to his thighs - a first. Usually, we roll in the snow to soak up extra moisture, but the snow is so melty and wet that it just made the situation worse. He got a bit worried that he would have to take his long underwear off to dry as he has been wearing it for 58 days straight. So, he just 'wore it dry' and his personal record increases daily. We are thinking about putting a warning label on our expedition, 'Do not attempt this ever again.' We'd send a picture of our camp site tonight, but it would just remind us of the precariousness of our current situation. The ice is just so broken. Instead of one big sheet there are literally hundreds of small pans (10- 100 meters in diameter) for as far as we can see.
While we refuse to think about tomorrow before it happens, it is not difficult to predict our fate. On the horizon, water cloud after water cloud after water cloud.
Ironically, we had some good laughs today, too. Not gut busters as we've previously had but fun chuckles. Spend 58 days with anyone and something is bound to tickle your funny bone sooner or later. Today, Lonnie's lean frame due to some serious weight loss was particularly hilarious.
We are trying to reach the North Pole. For so long it has been our ultimate goal. The conditions stink, our skis and snowshoes sink. Once there, we'll see who gets Santa's coal.
June 26, 2006 / A Paddle to the Pole
some sun, overcast, 33.4 F, 6 nautical miles
Day 57. The Arctic Ocean is breaking up underneath us. The fractured slabs of ice we traveled across today made us reassess everything we know (or thought we knew) about sea ice. For us now, all bets are off. We can only take each day as it comes.
Today we paddled across a big lead for 40 minutes straight. That's right, we said 40 minutes - over a mile of open water. At the time, we were probably 35 nautical miles from the Pole. Unbelievable. We are seeing more and more open water than ever before and openly wondered that when (or if) we reach the Pole, it would be by canoe.
Further evidence of a disintegrating Arctic ice sheet: A pair of gulls circled curiously over head for several minutes.
This, of course, also makes us think of polar bears, which could go extinct in our lifetime because of global warming. Polar bears won't be able to survive if their Arctic environment continues to melt down like we are seeing.
The snow was so soft that the lead person had to use snowshoes to break trail. Even with the additional buoyancy, we sink 12 inches or more into the snow. Its good exercise for the legs, as if we need it. Imagine doing the stairmaster for eight or nine hours straight, then add pulling a 200-pound sled-canoe to the mix for the anaerobic phase of your workout. Now do this for several days and you will begin to understand what we are experiencing.
Physically, it is energy-sapping work (Lonnie ate four Clif bars in the first part of the morning). There is no way that we could do this alone. Sharing the work is our only hope. Tomorrow we will go from 1-1/2 hour stints as lead person to 1 hour. The deep heavy snow is just too much for our normal intervals.
These last miles to the Pole are proving to be our hardest. Much harder than we ever imagined. Deep soft snow, maze after maze of leads, and now, pressure ice as big as we have seen since the first few weeks of our journey. Throw in a melt pool cleverly disguised by a layer of snow and you have a recipe for wet feet and slow travel.
That 'good ice' we had been hoping to see for so long does not exist. Our future for the next few days is not difficult to predict. We are no longer inching forward, we are millimetering.
We have eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner together for 57 straight days. Our dirty socks hang in each other's face as they dry in the tent. We get in small disagreements every so often. Lonnie is a morning person; Eric likes evenings. Despite all this, we are still on speaking terms with each other. Better actually. If anything this journey has strengthened our ability to work together, which is good as our survival literally depends on one another.
Once again our MSR snowshoes have proved lifesavers. So much in fact that we're making them our sponsor of the week. Please visit www.oneworldexpedition.com to learn more about MSR and their great snowshoes, which we call four-wheel-drive for our feet.
June 25, 2006 / Deep Thoughts
some sun, overcast, whiteout, 33 F, 8 nautical miles
Day 56. A few open spots of blue gave way to a full-fledged sunny day. No kidding, after 10 million days traveling under spirit-draining overcast, we had a shiny bright morning. It was nice to see the snow we were skiing on for a change.
It was so bright, in fact, that another full arching rainbow formed directly in front of us. Our pace quickened as we tried to ski underneath the vaulted peak. Unfortunately, the sun didn't last long and the rainbow faded to white then disappeared.
We were left in a complete whiteout. Now that there are fewer and fewer ice chunks to use as reference points, navigating north through this is, and we're saying this in extreme understatement, difficult.
Difficult and stressful, at least, for the lead skier. It is he that has to choose a safe route across fractured ice, avoid pressure ridges and decide when to catamaran. He has to break trail through whatever we encounter. Then, inevitably, attempt some risky move and another one after that for one and a half hours when the shift is over (until the next shift that is).
Meanwhile, the second skier is meandering along in a perfectly groomed and packed ski track. The stress of being in lead is gone. The skiing is slightly less physical. Sometimes, he may even daydream.
Today our thoughts focused on the human condition. You know, the 'why are we here' and 'what are we doing' kind of stuff. Not so much Lonnie and Eric on an Arctic expedition either, but us as humans beings and our responsiblities as such.
We have an incredible ability to manipulate our environment at an unprecedented rate. With that, we must also consider the consequences of our actions. Our existence does not hang in the balance by individual strings; rather our lives are inexorably connected to one another. A warming Arctic, the potential extinction of the polar bear, our consumption of fossil fuels... these are all interrelated.
Other big brain busters today that didn't make the final cut into the trail report but are still worth mentioning: If Clif bars weren't bars but loaves like bread, would we toast slices of them? How much would our Esquif sled-canoes weigh if they were full of bananas? What is the sound of one ski sinking in soft snow? If no one was around would it make still a sound?
June 24, 2006 / Seals at the Pole?
overcast, 33.5 F, 7.5 nautical miles
Day 55. Seals at 89:10.00 north! We have never heard of seals this far north and are wondering if the lack of ice in the south due to global warming is driving them north? Or is it thinner ice in the north with more open areas? Either way, these changes are a stark reminder that we need to act now to stop global warming.
It was another hot summer day on the Arctic Ocean. It has been above freezing for over a week now and we have officially given up on ever skiing on firm snow again. Instead, we will plow our way to the Pole sinking up to our thighs at times. We have adapted to the conditions by implementing a high-stepping ski-tip-lifting stride.
The positive side to all this (yes, there always is a positive side) is the canoe-sleds slide nicely on the ice granules... which is nice compared to the anchor-like glide of earlier days.
Just as we were noticing that the surface of the snow had changed a bit we found ourselves sinking up to our shins in wet slush. There was a large melt water pool hidden just under the snow that nearly gave us soakers. The official melt pool was on an old multi-year floe.
A few lead crossings were straight out of Mark Twain. We used chunks of ice as small rafts to ford several watery gaps. At one point, both Eric and Lonnie were on an ice chunk with the sled-canoes and using ski poles to steer. Later, Eric nearly slid head first into the drink during a similar crossing. His sled-canoe slid forward on the ice changing the balance point.
We had a short discussion about fear and getting through the day at one of our sit breaks. There are points during each day where one of us is either scared or frustrated. The key, we decided, was to always remember that the conditions will change and that these emotions are only temporary. Still, we have to constantly remind ourselves of this fact.
By the last third of the day, we emerged from pressure and fractured ice oblivion into ice like we have never seen - large pans that are really flat (we're serious) with little pressure between them. There are lots of cracks and leads but we have had good luck finding places for boat bridges and other makeshift lead crossing techniques that we have begun to implement.
We are ending our day with a positive outlook for tomorrow's ice, but neither one of us will say our hopes out loud at the risk of upsetting the bad ice gods.
June 23, 2006 / One Degree to Go!
overcast, whiteout, 34 F, 6 nautical miles
Day 54. For those of you who don't know us, there is supposedly only seven degrees of separation between you and someone who does. However, right now, there is only one degree of latitude separating us and the North Pole. We can't even begin to express how that makes us feel.
OK, maybe we can a little bit. Yippee, yahoo, awesome! We are so excited, elated, relieved, happy, overjoyed and glad to be here. Helping us celebrate was a seal - that's right, a seal in a lead only a hundred yards from our camp. We can't believe that we are seeing seals this far north.
Our transition to days is now complete. The result of this process: two tired explorers traveling in the same whiteout conditions. Oh well, we have better hopes for tomorrow or the next day or the next.
We spent much of the day in our usual mode. Pull the sled-canoes then paddle the sled-canoes. In fact, today we paddled across some gigantic pieces of water. It seems the closer we get to the pole the more water there is. This fact is disconcerting to us.
The snow is melting fast, too. Days of southerly winds have really changed the conditions. Today, any drifted area was as soft as it's ever been and swallowed skis and legs on several occasions. Snow covered cracks in the ice are also now a danger as we sink deeply in.
The day had a weird 'other-worldly' feel to it. Some of the small flat areas surrounded by older pressure looked like the moon. We whiled away the hours trying to imagine near weightless skiing. We are so far removed from other human life that this journey might as well be on the moon. 'Huston this is Hilleberg One. Do you copy?'
There is not a lot of drama to report, so you'll have to tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of 'As the Explorers Ski'. Will Lonnie cook noodles for dinner? Will Eric wash the dishes with snow or leftover water from the morning's oatmeal? Only time will tell.
Just a reminder that we'll be speaking at Pacuare Lodge in Costa Rica this December. To learn more, please visit www.oneworldexpedition.com or http://www.costaricanatureadventures.com/worldexpedition/ Today's picture: the explorers getting ready for nighty-night.
June 22, 2006 / Laughing All The Way
overcast, whiteout, snow 33.3 F, 8 nautical miles
Day 53. All we can do is laugh. When it's another whiteout, the fog is so thick that all we need to do is open our mouth to get a drink, the snow is soft as sugar and no longer supports our weight on skis... These conditions are so over the top and ridiculous that all we can do is laugh at ourselves.
A popular phrase of late: 'What were we thinking of when we decided to go to the North Pole in summer?' To which the other replies, 'Are we having fun yet?'
The good news is that the snow hasn't been sticking to our skis. So, that's one less problem to deal with. We've got other solutions, too. Our remedy for the bad visibility: We're switching back to traveling days. The fog tends to burn off somewhat around noon and if we can squeeze an hour or two of actually being able to see, we'll take it. Perhaps we can even get a few pictures with some sun in them...although we're not holding our breath on that one.
We hope our non-vampiric schedule will allow us to communicate better with John Huston at base camp in Minnesota, the folks at Greenpeace and press as we zero slowly in on the pole.
We have devised an exciting new sport. We set up the sled-canoes to be catamaraned at a lead, hop on top, then use our paddles to push us down into the water. The ensuing half-second ride and splash rivals any water park feature attraction.
The boat bridge is back in action as well. We haven't had much need for the technique until recently. The procedure is relatively simple: Shove the sled-canoe so that it spans a wide crack then, with skis still on, walk or crawl across. It's loads of fun. Try it if you get a chance.
It was announced today that the leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sens. Bingaman and Domenici, reached an agreement with Sens. Stevens and Kennedy on the threat to Cape Wind in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill. They have dropped the Massachusetts gubernatorial veto power for this important clean energy project. Cape Wind is a proposed off-shore wind farm in Massachusetts and an important component of our clean energy future. We are pleased to hear this newest development.
To learn more about how you can support Cape Wind, the proposed wind farm off Long Island and other clean energy projects, click here: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/capewind
Today's picture: Skiing into nothing. Conditions like these are difficult to navigate in, to say the least. It's almost impossible to see even the horizon line.
June 21, 2006 / Happy Summer
overcast, whiteout, 33 F, 7 nautical miles
Day 52. At exactly 12:01 am (the middle of our travel day), we stopped forward progress to pay special homage to this day. We wish we could say we were more excited by the first day of summer, but in all honesty, it played out much like all our other days on the Arctic Ocean.
For starters, we haven't seen a sunrise or sunset since arriving in Resolute at the end of April. It's 24 hours of light all day, every day. We often wonder how people function in the dark. Back home in Minnesota, our friends are celebrating this longest day with a huge solstice pageant. Have some extra fun for us.
The weather today wasn't very summery, either. We had a bit of snow in the morning, then a wet fog which turned into the worst whiteout we've had to date. We had to navigate by judging wind direction in relation to our bearing.
Speaking of which, our declination is now 92 degrees west. Which makes traveling north seem a bit odd as the red 'north' end of our Brunton compasses points a few degrees south of west.
We are still having daily battles with pressured ice. A few small lines slowed us down mid-day. Conversely, the morning was all water. We split between two of the largest leads that we've ever seen. The one veering to the west was so vast we couldn't see the opposite side. Both of us had close encounters with ice water as our skis slipped backward while trying to span large cracks.
Realistically, we are excited about this first day of summer. We want our first-ever expedition to be a wake up call to everyone around the world, but especially the United States. We have had to paddle our sled-canoes five different times today. Global warming is real and it's happening now. We are seeing its dramatic effects firsthand.
Since we are a little short on gift wrap, balloons, confetti and other celebratory accutrements, we honored the day by singing several 'summer' songs like: there ain't no cure for the summertime blues, hot town summer in the city, those summer days, California dreaming...
June 20, 2006 / Our New Friend
overcast, 30.7 F, 8 nautical miles
Day 51. We encountered quite a bit of pressured ice today. Unusual. As you know, we have been expecting the ice to flatten out a bit. It seems that we're close enough to the Pole so that if we were to stand on our tippy toes, we might be able see it. Not so with today's ice.
Fortunately, we could get through all the rough spots fairly easily by searching out a smattering of periodically spaced small flat pans. The ice itself was very interesting today as well. Any geometry teacher would have a year's worth of shapes to proof: triangle, square, pentagon, and everything in between. A small area of 30-foot-wide slabbed shapes heaved only slightly garnered a few extra comments.
Also unexpectedly today, were several large leads, three of which we catamaraned to get across. A Harp seal was very intrigued with our presence and watched us intently from a few yards away. It would lift its body further and further out of the water trying to get a better view.
When we left the first lead and pulled a 1/4 mile across an ice floe, we encountered our new same seal friend there too. It had followed the sounds of our skis and canoe-sleds under the ice to the next lead. A while later at a third lead, it was again poking its head curiously up.
To continue with the math lesson open water plus seals equals... That's right, polar bears, and upon pulling our sled-canoes up and out of the first lead, we immediately skied over a pair of huge tracks. You could even see the large claw marks in some of them. The trail led to a spot only 2 feet away from where we had just 'landed'. Not having a sled-canoe handy, these two bears, it appears, jumped in and swam across.
For us to get across that lead easily took 15 minutes. For the bears, two - maybe. They are perfectly adapted to this environment. They have evolved into efficient swimmers - uniquely among bears, they have developed some webbing between their toes and their necks are longer than other bears, the better for them to keep their heads above water while swimming. Yet despite all these physical advantages, polar bear drownings are becoming more common - especially off the north coast of Alaska where sea ice is receding quickly.
Polar bears rule supreme in the Arctic. Today's tracks, the seals and all this open water surrounding us have put us on our guard. Once again, we are placing the Hilleberg Hotel on heightened alert.
Despite our nervousness, we also feel lucky to be able to experience these chance encounters. Our hope is that we can all work to stop global warming and save the polar bear.
Lastly, you haven't heard us mention them in a while, but we're still getting our daily dose of Clif bars. Three a day per person (more math?) times two people times seven days in a week times... Well, let us know what that comes out to. Eric's favorite: peanut butter chocolate chip crunch. Lonnie's: apple cranberry.
June 19, 2006 / R & R
overcast, 31 F, 0 nautical miles
Day 50. With absolutely no wind whatsoever, we have remained nearly stationary overnight. This fact has helped us make the decision to take a full rest day. The past days of hard toil have taken a toll on both of us. Lonnie is especially stretched as the pain in his back is preventing him from sleeping soundly at night.
Hanging out inside the Hilleberg Hotel and snuggling deeply in our Integral Design sleeping bags, makes all that hardship seem to dissappear. In fact, when we did emerge and go outside, it was with renewed vigor. What an amazing place we are in. We feel very lucky to be here.
50 straight days on the Arctic Ocean have not dulled our senses, either. Each subtle change catches our attention. The texture of snow at 30 degrees versus 31, the sound of dead calm, the bluest possible ice chunk, the endlessness of a whiteout... This is the Arctic Ocean, one of the last great wildernesses left on the planet.
After 50 days we also feel lost when our routine is changed. This is especially true on rest days. The mornings aren't so bad as we sleep in, but take away our end of the day rituals and we start getting a bit cranky. We just like things the way we like them.
Find a flat piece of ice, align our sled-canoes with the wind, set up the tent, ground pads in first, then personal gear, grab a dinner and breakfast, set up the solar panel, cut snow blocks for cooking and drinks, take off gaitors to dry outside, crawl in the tent, boots off and to the side, insoles pulled out, we could easily extend this play by play till the moment we stop traveling in 23.5 hours and find a flat piece of ice.
Happy father's day to our dads, Jim Dupre and Andy Larsen. You are always with us in spirit.
We also wanted to extend a special birthday wish to Elisabeth Harincar. We met Elisabeth through her husband Tim who runs www.x-journal.com - an amazing program for updating web sites and blogs from your own computer or the most remote corners of the world. We swear by it.
We also received a note that the www.projecthinice.org web site has a new video posted on it. It features a trip to Boulder and the NSIDC (national snow and ice data center) with narration by Kieran Mulvaney. If you're wondering why the clip is so easy to follow and understand, its because Kieran wrote the script as well. Way to go mate! (we're told its an English expression).
June 18, 2006 / title
overcast, 31.7 F, 10 nautical miles
Day 49. Seal at 88:30?!? Small but rotund, it was sunning on the ice until the red coats came. We tried to sneak up and shoot some video, but we had no polar bear stealth and it dove through an open hole it had maintained in the ice. It is amazing to realize that life exists under all this ice at the top of the world. This place is much more than just ice and snow.
We hit 'Pay Dirt' - at least ice wise. Today was by far the best we have had since leaving land (whenever that was). For once in a long, long while, we are allowing ourselves to be optimistic. We're anticipating more of the same in the days ahead. Hopefully.
We are also traveling mostly on old multi-year floes. This thicker ice is identified by its rounded and sometimes dirty tops. We are also seeing a lot of dark material (soot) covering some of the flatter ice as well. Anywhere there is soot, the snow is melting away faster than the surrounding areas. We are collecting snow samples for Dr. Tom Grenfell at the University of Washington so he can study this same interaction.
We have decided to take at least a half day's rest tomorrow due to the rough going we've had the past three days. The tough ups and downs have put enough strain on Lonnie's back that, even with prescription medication, it is difficult to get decent sleep and rest. This makes the next day somewhat less rewarding, to say the least.
We had a short discussion about the past three days. Were they more mentally or physically challenging? We decided it was equal.
In moments of forgetfulness, we made two foolish moves. First, Eric packed his Lendal paddle inside his sled (instead of bungeed to the top and easily accessible). Inevitably, we had to paddle across two big leads today. The second was a comment by Lonnie stating we wouldn't get much fog today. Of course, we had a brief spell of foggy mist. In the future, we have to be more careful of what we do and say.
We've been wearing the same Wintergreen pants and jackets for almost two months straight. Paul Schurke (of North Pole dog sled journey 1986 fame) and his wife Sue make incredible clothing and outerwear that is durable enough for the Arctic Ocean, but still wearable around town. Check out http://www.oneworldexpedition.com to learn more about our sponsor of the week, Wintergreen.
June 17, 2006 / Nine Hard-Won Miles
overcast, partly sunny, 31.5 F, 9 nautical miles
Day 48. All of our previous experience with sea ice, our attempt last year off the coast of Russia, all of our knowledge accumulated over the past month and a half, all of the information gleaned from previous expeditions did little, if anything, to prepare us for the ice today.
A brisk wind cooled the surface snow enough where we could both use skis; however, the second skier had more snow stick to the bottom of his skis than the lead - the opposite of yesterday.
Too soon, we were in a confusion of broken ice. Leads were everywhere. Normally, we would look for pressured corners, but they were now split apart. We've mentioned this situation before, but today was different. It was impossible to judge where there was water and where there wasn't. Because of the flatness of the ice, the edges of the pans disguised the character of each lead.
Too many times we would interpret a lead crossable to the left, but once closer, the gap was too wide to span with skis, or filled with impassable brash ice. Then, we'd backtrack to the right. Several times, we traveled three or four pans into a dead end and had to backtrack that same agonizing distance.
We stretched the limits of safety. Both of us had near misses with ice breaking underneath our full weight. Only luck and last minute lunges kept us dry. Any other skis than our trusty Asnes skis would have broken in two by now. We bridge nearly four foot gaps with them.
When our spirits were at their lowest, when we didn't think we could go through any more, when even getting to 89 degrees seemed impossible, the ice changed. It got better. Flatter. The sun came out. It was a break we will not soon forget.
So many times we fall. We slip and get frustrated. Or just plain tired. Sometimes one of us is close enough to lend a hand. Many times we are all alone. 'Why even get up,' we often think. But we do get up, we take one step and then another, then one more. Minute by minute, hour by hour, we whittle away at all this impossibility to move forward. That simple fact gives us hope. These, we are just beginning to realize, are not just lessons for polar explorers.
Just so you know, your efforts are not going unnoticed, the federal government received over 200,000 comments in support of listing the bear under the Endangered Species Act. Wow! Thanks to all of you who made an extra effort to help save the polar bear.
We're too tired to write another poem. Our mood would better fit a Russian tome. But now it's to sleep. Where new energy will seep. But not before our dreams take us away to roam.
Today's picture: Our solar power plant. There is enough light (even during a complete blizzard) to charge all of our electronic equipment. And the best part, no greenhouse gas emissions.
June 16, 2006 / Energy Conservation
sunny, overcast, sunny, 32.5 F, 7 nautical miles Day 47. The icescape is softening with each day over 32F. The sharp edges of ice and snowdrifts are now rounded. A curved blanket of white has folded into the abrupt corners of each drift. On the down side, our ski tips are starting to submarine periodically under the snow, creating additional effort for our legs as we have to stop, put the leg in reverse, then lift the ski back up to the surface.
We are all about conservation of energy more so now than ever. With two difficult days in a row anything we can do to be more efficient in our forward progress is immediately implemented.
For example, we are still having a serious problem with the snow sticking the bottoms of our ski skins. Solution #1: The lead man snowshoes (instead of skiing), breaking trail as the second person, now with a groomed track, skis with considerably less effort. Solution #2: We are trying an experiment on a pair of skis by reducing the width and length of skins to make them glide better with less sticking. Of course, we only have so much to work with.
We are taking fewer and fewer detours, too. A section of brash ice is now a bridge, wide gaps are spanned with skis or jumped on snowshoes, ice chunks become ferries. One might argue that we are taking more risks; however, it is simply that we better understand the consequence of each movement.
We participated (via satellite phone) in a press conference the other day to help promote an off shore wind farm near Long Island. It was an honor to be able to talk about our experiences and how reducing our dependency on oil will help stop global warming and save the polar bear. Groups like Renewable Energy Long Island (RELI) and Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) are taking positive steps to meet our energy needs and protect our environment.
The sun was out for nearly two-thirds of the day - more than enough to recharge our depleted vitamin D stores. When you are deprived of so many things a little goes a long way. It was nice to see the route ahead, clouds above and the terrain beneath our skis and snowshoes.
Today was important for another reason. We figured out what our super powers would be should we ever leave polar exploration to fight crime. Eric would use the Larsen Long Line - unhooking the two pull ropes and reattaching just one end. Lonnie has now perfected the Lonnie Lever - a method of pulling a sled-canoe up a ledge by leaning back and using his the momentum of his body falling back to leverage the weight. We're not exactly sure how these skills will translate into actually being able to catch crooks, but we've got some time for that.
Finally, it's not too late to help get the polar bear listed as a threatened species. Be sure to Take Action today!
Today's picture: The ice chunk that Lonnie used to cross this lead toppled over and fell apart in pieces too small to stand. Luckily, there was a small ice chunk nearby to use as a ferry. Eric is holding a rope while Lonnie pulls him over.
June 15, 2006 / Not Easy
overcast, whiteout, snowing, 31.5 F, 6.75 nautical miles
Day 46. We'll give you the most important information first, then, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. On June 16th the public comment period on getting the polar bear listed as a threatened species ends. There is still time for you to help save the polar bear. Take Action: http://members.greenpeace.org/action/start/84/thin_ice
Page 2. In a related news story, we saw a set of polar bear tracks ambling off to the west. They were older tracks judging by how drifted they were; however, with all this open water around us one must be near. We have placed our camp on orange alert as a result of the sighting. In other wildlife happenings, a pair of ivory gulls circled our camp a few times last night. They are beautiful birds, completely white (go figure) with black beaks.
Last night, we drifted two miles south (and of course a bit east) - an inauspicous start to a day that, now finished, ranks as one of the most physically and mentally difficult of our expedition to date. It was an Arctic cornucopia of the worst possible travel conditions. The day started nice enough, the wind had shifted, cooling things a bit and firming up the snow. But like so many of the other 'good' conditions we experienced, it didn't last.
The light soon went flat and we were once again stumbling blindly forward. It started to snow too, and hard. We wondered if another blizzard was on its way, but it just kept falling at the same steady rate all day. The new snow stuck thickly to the bottom of our skis, made them heavy with no glide. Stopping to scrape the snow and ice off only helped for a few minutes. We switched to snowshoes.
When we put on our MSR snowshoes, it's like putting a truck into four-wheel drive. We are able to pull the sled-canoes up and around ice that would be impossible with skis. On the down side, our travel slows and we expend extra energy lifting (instead of sliding with skis) each step. Still, without snowshoes, we would still be on the ice post-holing our way to madness or worse.
The only really good part of today was that we were able to laugh about it once it was over. For over six hours, we snowshoed. The sled-canoes seemed like a pallet of bricks and stopped dead at even the slightest pause in forward momentum. The ice was worse - small pans, pressured together in random ways, lots of open water leads filled with compressed snow and some brash ice. We had to veer so much east and west that at times, we thought we might be going in circles.
It's hard to convey the feelings we have during a day like today. Several times we were near temper tantrum level when a sled-canoe got stuck or a piece of ice disintegrated underneath us. There's intense fear when facing a tenuous brash ice crossing or relief like when three car-sized chunks of ice heeled over just after (not while) we had hopped across them. Frustration and despair as we scout the route and see more bad ice. Physical exhaustion as we try to pace our efforts. Hunger. Desire to stop and quit. Drive to keep moving forward.
When we finally reached a big flat piece of ice with 15 minutes left in the travel day, we didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
It is equally hard to describe our emotions now that today is nearly complete. Before today we had hoped for good ice to the Pole, now we expect bad.
Today's picture: Lonnie shows the 3 inches of snow sticking to the bottom of his Asnes skis (Thanks Gary at Neptune Mountaineering).
June 14, 2006 / Chess and Chocolate
overcast, whiteout, 33.5 F, 0 nautical miles
Day 45. We took a full day's rest instead of our normal half day due to the tough slogging we had between 87 and 88 degrees north. It gave the Norwegian and French (you have to guess) contingencies of the team time to re-energize sore muscles and heal any strains.
The older and more distinguished of the two 'has-beens' has been experiencing serious back pain from a strain during the first week and a half of the expedition.
We've have been trying to stay on top of the problem with anti-inflammatory drugs, stretching, tweaking the pull harness and adjusting weight in the canoe-sleds.
We want to thank Dr. John Wood for helping us put the expedition's medical kit together, along with advice for handling this situation. Also would like to extend our appreciation to Kathy Horak for showing some relevant yoga stretches for lower back. Last but not least, thanks to Kim and Shem for whipping up some fabulous dehydrated salsa that helps us choke down our dried egg/potato/bean breakfasts.
We also received an important polar bear update from Melanie at Greenpeace that the U.S. Senate has passed legislation to enforce the Polar Bear Treaty that Russia and the United States reached almost six years ago. The bill now moves to the House. On a related note, you still have until the end of this week to tell the federal government to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Be sure you take action if you haven't already. Thanks!
Most of the morning was spent transcribing the snow depth and density and ice thickness data we've collected over the past month. This in turn will be sent to Kert Davies at Greenpeace who will further transcribe the information, whereupon it will reach its penultimate destination, Walt Meier at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The data will be presented by Dr. Meier and Dr. Ted Scambos in August. Hopefully, this information will prove critical to understanding the current state of Arctic sea ice.
We would also like to thank Jennifer Bohlander and Ted Scambos at NSIDC who have been graciously monitoring and processing MODIS satellite photo data on the rare occasion that clear skies have been available.
There was some talk of a brief snowshoe outing in the afternoon, but it never materialized. Instead, we splurged and ate an extra candy bar with lunch. Our intentions were noble, we swear!
We also decided to do our own science project. This morning our ski poles had melted into the snow and fallen over. We wanted to know how different objects affected the melting of ice, so we placed a snowshoe, some orange rope and a bungee out on the snow. After three hours, they had already melted down an inch.
This experiment is a good example of how more water can accelerate the melting of the Arctic ice pack.
The only other big event of the day was the much-touted chess match. A huge crowd of drying socks and gear gathered in giddy anticipation. In the end, the grudge match was won by Eric, so we played another game which Lonnie won. So we're back to hyping another big game.
A note about today's picture: Eric is weighing snow to determine its density.
June 13, 2006 / It's all at 88
overcast, whiteout, 33 F, 8 nautical miles
Day 44. Hey folks, Lonnie and Eric here. Are you looking for pressure ridges? How about a total whiteout? Fog? Maybe you're the type that likes soft sticky snow. No? You're interested in semi-frozen brash ice, then.
It doesn't matter what your particular Arctic tastes may be, because at the corner of 88 degrees north and 71 and a half west, you can have it all. That's right folks, come on up to Lonnie and Eric's ice extravaganza where we will thrill you, chill you and, well, that's about it we guess.
We made it to 88 degrees north, but just barely. Today, the temperature at snow level was exactly the same at 6 feet (it's usually several degrees cooler). The thermometer read a balmy snow-melting, mush-making, ski-slowing, sled-sticking 33 degrees.
On a positive note, the snow is now 'packing' snow, and since we're camped close to several leads, we thought we might need an extra polar bear look-out (see picture). Well, there must have been some magic in an extra hat we found stored in a Granite Gear stuff sack 'cause when we placed it on his head he...you know the rest.
Another interesting part of our day found us skiing in a wet fog whiteout. We were paralleling a large lead when the wind pushed all the fog our way. We could not see a thing and just stumbled forward. So ridiculous are conditions like these when they arise, that the only thing we can do is laugh.
We are ecstatic to be at 88. The past 60 miles have completely worn us out and we plan on taking a full rest day tomorrow as long as we don't drift too far backward or east. That also makes us smile as we have big plans. Plus, the chess grudge match awaits.
We also wanted to introduce our renewable energy partner. In May 1998, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) became Long Island's primary electric service provider. LIPA's Clean Energy Initiative is one of the most ambitious programs of its kind in the nation. The Initiative is a 10-year, $355-million commitment to promote clean new electric generation technologies. Operating as a non-profit entity, LIPA has continued to serve the Island's growing population with a consistent commitment to cost-containment, efficiency and service reliability. With the demand for electricity growing at a record-breaking pace, priorities at LIPA continue to focus on the customer -- upgrading and enhancing the electric system, advancing energy efficiency, and developing and expanding alternative energy. You can learn more about LIPA in the sponsor page of www.oneworldexpedition.com.
June 12, 2006 / Still Pressured Ice?
overcast, whiteout, 31.5 F, 10 nautical miles
Day 43. One of the subjects of conversations during our sit down breaks (we take two during the day) is, obviously, ice. Ice we've seen, ice we can see and the ice that might be just up ahead. We are surprised by the amount of pressured ice this far north.
We had assumed that by 87 degrees north, the conditions would flatten out and the pressure and small broken slab ice would diminish. Instead, we are seeing worse and worse conditions. We theorized today that global warming was the cause. Thinner ice, more storms, more pressure. We also wondered about the future of polar exploration. Unsettling.
We spend most of our waking hours moving forward on the ice. We figure the only ones spending more time on the ice than us are polar bears. They'll perch themselves at a seal's breathing hole for hours, even days, waiting for the seal to come up for air so that they can pounce. If we sit for more than 15 minutes, we are chilled to the bone, whereas the polar bear can sit for hours, not making a move, lying in wait. They are so perfectly adapted to this environment.
We are seeing more and more algae growing in the cracks and just under thin ice that is around 2 feet thick. This algae is a critical component of an Arctic food chain that supports small shrimp and tiny codfish.
We skied in just our long underwear tops today. It was warm again and the southerly breeze is really eating up the snow. It's just plain wet and sticky. To make matters worse, the soft snow balled up under our skis, taking away what little glide we sometimes have. We're getting a good tricep workout, however, as our ski poles stick firmly in the snow and we have to yank them out after each step.
In 6 miles we will be at 88 degrees north, only 120 miles from the Pole. Though we are within striking distance, we must not slacken in our drive to get there as the snow may soon not be able to support our weight on skis and find us post-hole, up to our waists, slowing us to a snailier rate than our normal snail's pace.
The end of the day stretched a bit long as five minutes before 'quittin' time' we got mixed up in a small pan-brash ice combo that had us back in snowshoes and long lining every which way. Then a tent pole broke today, most likely during a sled roll-over in the pack ice. That small repair to the Hilleberg Hotel took an additional half hour. It started raining so we crawled quickly inside, out of the weather, and mentally away from the ice.
On a lighter note, we've got a new favorite noodle dish, creamy tomato. We've also managed to discuss what life might be like when it's lived somewhere besides a tent.
Today's picture: We are beginning to see more areas of slushy snow and leads that are widening into small pools.
June 11, 2006 / Soft Snow Slow Go
overcast, whiteout, 31.5 F, 8 nautical miles
Day 42. There have only been a few days when we've ended the travel day early - not by much, just five or ten minutes. Yesterday was one of them. Looking a few hundred yards ahead we saw a flat pan, but first big pressure. Rather than risk making a sore back worse, we set up camp. But you already know this. Still, that one simple decision may have saved us from serious injury or worse.
A quick morning scout revealed the ice pretty much as we had left it - a big pressure ridge (40' wide), then some manageable mess and finally, what seemed like flat ice again just a few hundred yards away.
For the next hour and a half we struggled with all our will and might to cover those few hundred yards. The pressure ridge was fairly straightforward but required our combined effort to heave the sled-canoes up and over chunks of ice almost big as cars.
A five-minute ski later revealed what we couldn't see from the morning's scout: an area of semi-frozen brash ice - the worst by far. Some chunks were large enough to stand on; others were around 2 feet in diameter. All were pushed haphazardly together.
We pulled out every last trick we knew and improvised a few new ones just to get through that small section. Hopping from ice chunk to ice chunk, pushing our sled-canoes in the water and long lining (using the two pull lines as one long rope) them through watery sections, dropping the sled-canoes down off ledges and trying each time to pull them back up to a more stable position.
It's both scary and exhilarating to make it through something like that.
Traversing that route last evening would have been a nightmare. As it is, we're pushing our physical limits to actually move those heavy loads. Exhausted with no place to camp would have put our lives at serious risk.
We spent the last four hours of the day traveling through whiteout conditions, tripping on snowbanks and stumbling down slopes. During days like today it's easy to think the Arctic Ocean is a barren place but really, there is a complex ice ecosystem being supported by the ice that includes distinctive Arctic species such as seals, whales (including the narwhal!), walrus and polar bears.
Even at its most inhospitable, this place surprises us. Today, a lone gull flew in between us then off to the east. Where had it been and where was it going? We'll never know. It didn't seem to be in a hurry so maybe it was enjoying the Arctic just like us.
The warming weather is becoming a bit unnerving as well. At freezing point anything that touches snow gets wet. Our gloves were soaked by the end of the day. A south wind made the snow really soft to boot. Our skis and sled-canoes seemed to have considerably less glide.
Today was also particularly fun as we got to do something we like to call swimming in a 14,000 foot deep ocean. When we encounter a lead with ice too thick to paddle, yet too thin to ski across, one of us will put on a dry suit, get in the water and use his body to break the ice. Once on the other side he will pull the catamaraned sled-canoes across. Fun fun!
June 10, 2006 / Snow and Ice
overcast, 32.5 F, 10 nautical miles
Day 41. They say the Inuit have 200 words to describe snow and ice. The English language isn't quite as colorful, but after five weeks on the Arctic Ocean we can probably find enough adjectives and related nouns to come close.
To date we've seen pressured ice, pressure ridges, brash ice, rubble ice, skim ice, grease ice, frazil ice, honeycombed ice, rotten ice, ice flowers, good ice, bad ice, ice chunks, chips and shards, ice pans, ice platelets, pancake ice, slab ice, sugar snow, drifted snow, deep snow (are we there yet?), sastrugi, snow banks, wet snow, dry snow, snow that is good for cutting into blocks, leads, cracks...
We had a good day and managed to get the longest stretch of flat ice (did we mention that in the list?) we've had since leaving Ellesmere Island. It lasted for 8 of the 9.5 hours we traveled. The new snow (rain last night) slowed us down as did some drifted areas but we still eked out 10 miles.
We had some 'puzzle navigation' to contend with at the end of the day and are now camped on a very small pan surrounded by cracks and slabbed pressure. It's a good thing that the moon isn't full or we aren't far enough north for the trans polar drift to push us haphazardly (wait a minute, both of those are true). Unfortunately we have rough ice to contend with tomorrow morning for an uncertain distance. In the meantime, pasta alfredo will soothe our nerves.
And just so you know how amazing polar bears are, here's some interesting facts: Polar bears are supremely adapted to their Arctic environment, a place where ambient temperatures can plummet below -50 degrees Fahrenheit. They have two layers of fur on top of a layer of blubber that can measure 4 ½ inches thick. Polar bears are so well insulated against the cold that they have more problems from overheating when they exert themselves, such as when they run. Check out the rest of www.projectthinice.org for more 'cool' polar bear facts.
You can join us December 5 & 6, 2006 at Pacuare Jungle Lodge in Costa Rica for a presentation about our experiences, teamwork, polar bears and global warming. The place sounds amazing. The lodge grounds are completely surrounded by tropical rainforest. Enormous trees and rainforest inhabitants live in natural harmony alongside the lodge itself. The Pacuare Lodge was designed and constructed to blend with the surrounding environment, effecting minimal impact, and has been recognized by the World Tourism Organization as 1 of only 65 examples throughout the world of good practice in sustainability and ecotourism. You can visit www.oneworldexpedition.com and click on the costa rica button.
Kieran at Greenpeace HQ has mentioned to us that other Greenpeace offices are picking up on our expedition. That's great and is due in large part to the efforts of Mark Warford, Melanie Duchin, Kert Davies and Kieran, just to name a few. Thanks guys. You're awesome!
June 09, 2006 / Six Again and Sun
sunny, 32 F, 6.75 nautical miles
Day 40. We woke up to a sunny and warm morning, 32 degrees when we hit the trail. As far as we're concerned, that's almost too warm for traveling as we overheat and sweat easily. It was so warm in fact, that we could thought we could smell summer.
The sunlight has been so intense the past few days that we have been sleeping halfway out of our Integral Designs sleeping bags. The sun is an amazing force, and it is, unfortunately, easy to see how global warming is affecting sea ice.
The ice itself actually reflects energy back into space. However, water absorbs heat very effectively. That means, the more water, the more heat is absorbed, melting more ice, creating more water, and so on. Scientists call this a positive feedback loop. We can see this happen in other ways too. A ski or snowshoe left on the ice overnight will leave its melted imprint in the morning.
It is unfortunate that we continue to search for oil and gas (the main cause of global warming) when we have clean energies like solar and wind already available. Our energy security lies in renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. They are there for the taking and exist in unlimited supply. It's just a matter of political will.
By mid afternoon, the sun was so intense that we had to give our faces an additional layer of Dermatone's special zinc oxide. At least the bright day allowed us to navigate relatively easily which was of considerable benefit as day 40 stretched long and arduous.
We bit the figurative bullet this morning to try to get through the pressured nastiness that we had spent most of yesterday afternoon in. Instead of veering north-west, we headed straight north into the ugliest of the ice. There was more pressured ice, more traveling from small ice pan to the next (we call this puzzle navigation), more leads, pretty much more of all the conditions that make traveling difficult. We were snowshoeing for nearly three hours.
In the end our gamble paid off (at least for now) and we are camped on the south end of a very nice looking piece of ice. Hopefully, we'll be able to make more than six miles tomorrow.
We are trying to be extra careful as we are traveling outside the range of any support or rescue. Planes from Canada can only fly to 87 degrees N and Russian helicopters can only fly as far south as 88 degrees north. We've got our fingers crossed for extra good luck during the next 35 nautical miles.