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January 31, 2006 / The strange weather continues
We put 10 km behind us today, but unfortunately we're going to lose some of that due to the southward drift.
The wind is turning into a northwesterly, the worst thinkable direction. Everything seems to be the opposite of what it should be, what it usually is. And usually there is minimal wind, it's colder, and the Arctic ice floes are drifting northeast. We don't understand what is going on, really, and it's very strange that conditions are like this. The southerly drift is particularly frustrating, because it cancels out much of our progress and costs us valuable time. We're managing to walk the distance we should, our form is good and our equipment works well. We strive on, determined not to give up.
Our position this evening is N81°50'6.3”, E103°53'6.2”.
January 30, 2006 / Challenged by dense snowfall
Mike and I walked 12 km today. The westerly wind is pushing us slightly south again, unfortunately, approximately 10° southward and 90° eastweard. We'll probably drift back a little during the night. The drift made today's distance somewhat less than we expected, because the ice has actually been pretty good. But we've had to make our way through many snowdrifts.
The position of tonight's camp is N81°46'02” and E102°39'23”, with 919 km left to the North Pole. That's all for today. Oh, yes, we did swim across one ice-covered lead …
January 29, 2006 / Onward on thicker ice
All day it has been snowing densely. Yesterday too. It's heavy to pull the pulk through so much loose snow. On the other hand, the snow helps us by filling in gaps in the screw ice, making it easier to cross.
It really works out well with these two pulks that move like a little train through the screw ice. One of the great advantages with the North Pole, where all ice is floating on the sea, is that their are no crevasses – in Antarctica and Patagonia I always had to be on the lookout for that, unless I risk falling into oblivion. So we're not so handicapped by having our view reduced by darkness and snowfall. We just walk straight ahead, and in the light from our high beams glimpsing features that are at most 200 m ahead, dealing with each challenge as it comes. When we see screw ice, we just have to choose a route. When we come to an open lead that can't be crossed any other way, we don our suits and swim across. And even in the darkness, it has been fairly easy to navigate – although sometimes we feel that we're skiing to the North Pole inside a tunnel.
Our life now consists of two parts: tucked in the sleeping bag or out on the ice skiing northwards. The first thing we do in the evening, after pitching our tent, is to melt snow, fill our hot water bottles, and crawl into our sleeping bags. Well, actually we're each lying inside a huge plastic bag. That takes some getting used to, it's really clammy. But we're adapting to that, too, carefully drying them out each morning, making sure no moisture accumulates. That is, in fact, vitally important. So each evening we painstakingly brush all ice from our clothing. There is no possibility of drying out anything up her.
We're sleeping a bit better now, since we started rigging tripwire to a signal gun and ski pole in front of the tent entrance. And when we pitch camp during the evening, we create an enclosure using rope and pulks. A polar bear usually moves upwind to investigate. If it hits the tripwire, it will hopefully release a signal flare and be frightened enough to run off. I have to admit that I miss the tripwire system that I set around my camps when I was doing solo expeditions. It's psychologically comforting to be able to make such a protective enclosure. Mentally it gives you a great advantage. We haven't seen any bear tracks for two days now, and even though we know that there is little risk of unpleasant surprises, there is always a chance of meeting a bear – all the way to the North Pole.
January 28th, 2006 / Imitating the polar bears
It's been a good day, especially taking into account that we had to spend a fair bit of time crossing open leads along the way. We swam three times today. When we reach a lead, we first search for a way across. If we don't see one reasonably quickly, we find the narrowest point with good ice on both sides, then don our waterproof suits. Most of these leads are between 10 and 50 metres wide. We swim it all in one go, pulling the pulks with us. If there is a thin layer of sea ice on the lead, then I swim first with one of the largest pulks, using it as an icebreaker – and Mike follows with the rest of the pulks in the channel that I've opened up.
Today I almost had an accident. We were passing across a wide snow-covered lead, and couldn't really see clearly what was below the snow. Suddenly the ice must have been thinner, because it collapsed underneath me. I turned like lightning and managed to make it back. It all happened so quickly – and I'm grateful that I reacted fast enough.
I think we tire more easily because of the darkness. All day we're straining to see what surrounds us, searching for the best path ahead. We're rather exhausted at the end of the day. Today we walked 9 hours, yesterday 9.5 – Mike and I have been putting in long hours to make it through the most difficult areas as quickly as possible. Now it looks like our conditions have improved. Let us hope that it stays that way, allowing us to make good progress toward our goal. We're concentrating on one degree of latitude at a time. The first goal is N82° – and now we're halfway there.
January 28, 2006 / Good news!
January 27, 2006 / Grateful for our handpainted skis!
We take pleasure in little things. It's been a gorgeous Polar night with northern lights and stars. Almost no wind – we're navigating partly by the stars. Usually the wind direction is a key reference.
From now on, it can only get better. In the meantime things are rough, and every good thought helps.
January 26, 2006 / Five days, four kilometres
It's been a hard day with very difficult conditions. I really can't remember ever encountering ice up here that was so broken up. We have crossed 15 leads today, where we've been forced to cross water, slushy sea ice, screw ice and smaller ice. And that is what we have to manoeuvre through. It's been heavy and slow going. The largest ice floe has been no more than 500 metres long. All day we have been moving forward on poor, thin ice.
So all day has been like that. We just called it a day. It took us 9 hours to walk 7 km – and believe me, that is very good under these conditions. And when I say 7 km, I'm only counting from our position this morning, not the GPS of where we set up camp last night. We're still drifting southwards at a pace of six or seven kilometres every 24 hours. That means we are 970 km from the North Pole.
… so mild. Temperatures have been –5 to –10°C. And that is really bizarre. It's strange that it hasn't been 40 below. The sea won't freeze when it is this warm. With an acceptable temperature, say minus 20–25 Centigrade, things would have frozen during the night. But that's not happening now. And so there is a lot of open water, and that really takes time – that's all there is to it. We need a little better ice.
January 25, 2006 / Back to “zero” – and satisfied
Our position is N81°16'25”, Ø98°00'10. We're back to zero – level with Cape Arktichesky. Today we have put 12 kilometres behind, which is really pretty good if you take into account the heavy pulks and drifting ice.
The ice was quite good the first half of the day, later we encountered a fair amount of screw ice. But I think we have moved so far east that we have escaped the chaos of currents and shifting ice outside Cape Arktichesky. The ice is now more compact and stable. The only thing we need is for the wind to change and for the ice to drift in the opposite direction. The southeastward ice movement seems to apply to the entire ice cap over the Pole – this is not just a local phenomenon. It's normal for the ice to drift northwest, but everything seems turned this year. And it's only 10–15°C. So the weather conditions really are a bit of a mystery.
Today has been an encouraging day. All is well. Twice we spotted tracks that reminded us the polar bears are not far away. The darkness is filled with drifting snow, but earlier today we got a glimpse of stars.
As I mentioned yesterday, our pulks are really working out well. Two hinged pulks are clearly an excellent idea, and they're flowing smoothly through the screw ice. Sure, it's hard work to pull such a load, but we're making smooth progress even in the worst screw ice. If there is a need, we give each other a hand.
January 24, 2006 / Conditions are slowly improving
This morning we woke up 988 km from the North Pole, much further south than when we pitched camp. We have walked 5 km today. The wind is coming from the west, pushing us far eastward. That's good, really, because near Cape Arktichesky there are powerful currents and really turbulent ice. But we're still drifting southward as well, and I expect that in the course of the night we'll drift back the distance we've progressed.
The ice is drifting less than yesterday and the day before. Our current position is N81°12'01”, Ø98°11'42”. As you can see, that is much further east – but again that is good, because the ice to the east is usually better.
Actually the ice has been pretty good today. We're on thin ice here …well, if you could call it that when it's half a metre thick. But it's very broken up. After just a few hundred metres, we have to jump across to a nearby ice floe or cross areas where the ice is really broken up. Mike and I have developed a pretty good technique of attaching a rope to the pulk, running across, and then pulling the pulk across. We've only had to swim once today.
January 23, 2006 / Difficult conditions
This is Borge and Mike from the tent. We are on the ice. We have a little bit of difficulty with the conditions here, because the wind and currents are pushing us south. We have drifted to the east side of the Cape and are actually 7 km further south than when we started yesterday morning.
We have used our special drysuits five times today for swimming across open leads, which have been up to 200 m wide. That's about the maximum that we can swim. We've managed ok, but the strong wind makes swimming a bit of strange experience.
We've set up camp near a huge lead where we can't see the ice on the other side. Obviously we can't risk going into the water. As soon as we lose our points of reference, we can get into real problems. Mike and I just have to wait here and check out the conditions in the morning. An alternative is to continue walking along the edge of this east-west lead.
We no longer have our inflatable boat. The dinghy weighed 30–40 kg. We left it at our last camp when we mistakenly thought we had passed the worst areas of water and shifting ice. Well, most Arctic expeditions proceed without the benefit of boats or dry suits.
January 22, 2006 / Onto the drifting ice
Some time tomorrow, the wind is expected to turn and increase in strength – rewarding today's efforts. We've put behind us some rather rough areas of difficult ice and open leads, and five or six times today paddled the dinghy across open water.
I must admit that it's exciting to be moving in this shifting landscape with only our headlights. Very exciting! So far we have been on the move for seven hours, and all is well.
January 21, 2006 / Tracks during the night
The weather forecast calls for colder weather Monday and Tuesday, which will freeze the open leads between the ice sheets, making it possible to cross between them. Right now we can neither paddle the dinghy nor ski in the area.
Since then, they have left us alone. Most of the day we've been busy repairing the dinghy. Seems we've succeeded – the glue is holding. We may not need the dinghy, but it's good insurance in case we need to cross open sea to get to the ice.
January 20, 2006 / Surprised by a polar bear!
The two of them had just settled into their tent when they received an unexpected visitor – a polar bear! He broke the zipper with his foot trying to enter the tent, before turning around to explore their pulks. A surprised Børge and Mike got out of their tent as the polar bear was walking away with a packet of their food. As they reacted quickly and lit a flare gun, the bear dropped the food and ran onto the sea ice.
The warm westerly wind is blowing hard. A cold northerly wind or windstill would be far preferable, as it would provide better ice contitions. For now, all they can do is wait patiently. The position of their first camp is N81°16'29?, E95°39'54?.
They're on the ice! Børge and Mike are on the move! We just received confirmation that their helicopter was able to lift off from Sredny this morning. Børge and Mike landed on the western side of Cape Arktichesky , just 1 km from its northern point.
January 18, 2006 / Delayed by cloud cover
The next four or five days will truly be some of the most challenging of the entire two-month expedition, with dangerously shifting ice and open leads. It may take 100 km before they have “firm ice” under their feet.
January 16, 2006 / The world's northernmost weather station
January 15, 2006 / The ice is closing
January 14, 2006 / A few days delay
Today we looked for a large RIB boat. We're considering paddling from the Cape to the edge of the ice. This alternative does, however, pose some challenges. There is a lot of ice sludge on the leeward side. In order to meet the challenge, the RIB has to be powerful enough to carry us far into that ice sludge, and big enough that we can spend the night on board while the ice freezes around us, thick enough that we can continue onward on foot.
January 11, 2006 / Norilsk
It's between 35 and 40 degrees below here in Norilsk, so this is a very realistic taste of what awaits us on our voyage north. And so it is in these conditions that we test everything.
January 8, 2006 / Moscow
Now we're sitting in our hotel in Moscow, surrounded by all of our equipment. We worked until 4am last night with last minute preparations and packing. Mike Horn and I are feeling fine, relaxing with our good friends Sebastian and Kjell Ove. Finally we can get a bit of sleep, and tomorrow we have a day off. Our flight doesn't depart for Norilsk until 11pm. The weather forecast tells us it's 40 below Centigrade. It will be a cold shock, but that's just as well. Greetings from Moscow, where all is well with us and our equipment.
January 7, 2006 / To the North Pole in winter
Here you can follow the expedition, as Børge Ousland via satellite telephone shares his daily diary of this amazing adventure.