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The Arctic Polar Expedition / Season Spring 2006


The North Pole in Winter (Borge Ousland & Mike Horn)



From their website

January 31, 2006 / The strange weather continues
It has been a demanding day. Conditions are difficult, with thin ice, lots of screw ice and small leads slowing our pace. But we have also been lucky. Thanks to the cold temperatures, we were able to cross a lead that had been two kilometres wide, because the sea ice had just frozen thick enough to support us. We did swim once today, even though it wasn't temping in this miserable weather. There is a harsh westerly wind, 10–12 metres per second. The snowdrifts that form must be a couple of metres thick. It's cold, too, with temperatures at –20° last night.

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”.

A “bear trap” is rigged outside the opening of our tent – with a signal gun, ski pole and tripwire. It helps us sleep more soundly at night.
Here are the ice conditions that challenge Børge and Mike. Fortunately, these three ice floes were pressed close enough to ski across.

January 30, 2006 / Challenged by dense snowfall
We're in our tent once again after an exhausting day. A strong westerly wind, 27 metres per second, made things a bit miserable. We pressed on all day for 9.5 hours. It's only –10°C, and in this mild weather the pulks glide better. So it's good, in that sense, with the mild temperatures early on in the expedition. As we lighten them of food and fuel, they glide more easily regardless of conditions. But when they're this heavy, our current temperature is an advantage.

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.
There are only really two problems in this weather. First of all, it's difficult to choose the right clothing, because it's miserable without really being cold. And the second is that visibility is even further reduced – snow is blowing everywhere. It covers the half-frozen leads in a nice, even blanket, creating conditions that can be spooky and traps that are very dangerous. Things almost went wrong a couple of times. Only the slightest shade or nuance enables to distinguish good ice from bad ice. It iss really difficult. When the snow falls on a lead covered by thin ice, it may look perfectly fine – then suddenly you step through.

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
Our position is now N81°39'20”, E101°52'49”, after walking 14 km today. In addition we drifted 2–3 km last night, which leaves us 932 km from the North Pole. Today a westerly wind has been pushing us eastward. Regrettably, it's slowly turning, so we're soon going to be losing some terrain.
The ice is thicker now, 70–80 cm. This is the first day we haven't encountered any open leads, nor have we been slowed by any walls of screw ice. Thicker ice usually means more stable conditions and less movement.

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.
We take turns leading, putting in an hour and twenty minutes before taking a ten-minute break and switching. It's far easier to walk behind, so we're both saving a lot of energy in this way. We saw a lot of screw ice today – it isn't the loose snow that cuts our distance a bit short, just 14 km since this morning, after putting in a good 9.5 hours. That's a bit of a long day this early in the expedition, but we're managing ok.

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
We have reached N81°30'25” and E101°27'38” after having had a very good day.
Ice conditions change very quickly up here, this time for the better. One hour after starting our day, we passed through a wall of screw ice unto a long, snow-covered plain. It felt just wonderful to ski on this huge ice floe! Things were a bit more challenging toward the end of the day, but that wasn't so bad. It looks like we're through the most difficult areas. And as I mentioned to you this morning, we're drifting northward – 2 km last night and probably a bit during the day as well. We walked 17 km and have pitched our tent 19 km north of last night's camp. There is 949 km to go before we reach the North Pole.

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.
After we're safely on the other side, we do as the polar bears do – roll in the snow so it absorbs the seawater. That way our suits are dry almost immediately. All in all, depending on the width and difficulty, it takes us 15–30 minutes to cross the lead and be ready to go again. We've got the routine down pat, so there is really no problem swimming, but it is a bit tiresome.

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.
The nightmare above all nightmares is to fall through the ice. That can be deadly this far north.
It's been snowing all day. I must tell you that it's a strange experience to cross these leads in the darkness, with only our headlights while the snow is falling. Pretty exciting, really, but very strange. And when we're skiing, I feel like I'm in a tunnel. There is only this cone of light ahead of us, and this ghostlike landscape. It's a harsh and wild landscape, but incredibly beautiful. I feel we're on a very special adventure, and each day we get to see and experience something new.

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!
Børge called at 01.45am – that's 07.45 their time. Good news! The wind has turned. In the course of the night their camp drifted 2 km northeast. They hope this hasn't disturbed the ice too much, but are happy that they're finally drifting in the right direction.

January 27, 2006 / Grateful for our handpainted skis!
It has been a really exhausting day. Extremely difficult conditions, alternating between crossing old sea ice, open leads and challenging screw ice. And we're well aware that at least one more day of similar conditions awaits us in this area. Today we progressed 6 km in 9.5 hours – painfully slowly. When things are like this, you almost have to keep your eye on the tips of your skis and not think too far ahead. It doesn't do you any good. Fortunately, both of us have beautiful skis! Mine are handpainted by Max, while Mike's are decorated by his two daughters.

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.
There are things we can enjoy. But it is heavy and exhausting to pull the pulks through this hellish screw ice. I think these are simply some of the worst conditions I have encountered. What is really depressing, is that half our progress is cancelled by the ice drift. No doubt about it: Our expedition has seen a very, very difficult start.

From now on, it can only get better. In the meantime things are rough, and every good thought helps.
Oh yes! We swam twice today across partially frozen leads. I used a pulk as an ice-breaker when I swam, and Mike followed in the channel behind me pulling the other three pulks. It was hard going. Fortunately we were able to walk around or cross all the other leads. Right now it is minus 20°C here, which means the temperature has dropped. And that's good.

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.
We are just 4 km north compared to our first camp at Cape Arktichesky – and we have used five days to cover that ground. Five hard days and… (poor connection) …recipe is to carry on, continue as we have, work our way through it all. There is no other solution.
Hans Ambuehl is interpreting satellite photos, telling us what the conditions are up ahead. They're pretty coarse and it's difficult to interpret exactly what is there, but the sequence of photographs confirms our eastward and somewhat southern drift. The weather report is good, and the wind the wind will prob… (broken connection, new call)

… 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.
Other than that, we're doing fine. The two of us are working well together, taking turns leading, shining a headlight into the darkness to find a route. That's how our days pass. We're starting to get into a routine, but it's only after a fortnight or so that the rhythm flows… (dissolved connection)

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.
We haven't had to swim today, even though we have encountered many leads. They've been fairly narrow, allowing us to find away across or around them. And that's good. Well, now we're back to “zero” after walking 12 km northwards today – but we did have to make up for last night's drift. There is 974 kilometres left to the North Pole. That's our status.

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.
All in all today was much better than yesterday and the day before. At least the ice conditions have allowed us to progress, and …
We're pressing on, and we hope the wind … The system of pulling two hinged pulks is working very well …

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.
Hopefully the wind will change soon and push us northwards instead of backwards, which is a little bit depressing. Sooner or later it will change. Today has been a difficult day with difficult conditions. But our spirits are high and we're doing our best to push northwards.

January 22, 2006 / Onto the drifting ice
There is excitement in Børge Ousland's voice as he makes his first satellite call from the drifting ice beyond Cape Arktichesky : Hi, we're finally on the move again. Our current position is N81°17'39?, E95°51'09?. Even though we're drifting rapidly towards southeast, we decided to start today while the ice was in contact with land. According to the GPS, we've only progressed 2 km northwards, but I'm sure we have walked and paddled 10 km more than that.

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.
Where we are now, conditions are pretty good. Even though it is very dark – pitch black and snowing – we're managing to navigate well. But we can't see very far ahead. We're staying alert, constantly scanning our surroundings. It's very easy to be surprised by a polar bear wandering around in the screw ice.

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.
I'm sure we'll drift even further southward when we call it a night, as well as during the first part of tomorrow. Then the forecast is for a shift to a southwesterly wind, which will push us northwards. Time to carry on!

January 21, 2006 / Tracks during the night
Ice conditions are very difficult, with a lot of slush ice that isn't freezing properly. It would be very difficult to make much progress. But the main reason we're staying put, is that the ice is drifting rapidly southeast.
If we tried to go out onto the ice now, we would just drift backwards. The guy in charge of analysing satellite photos tells us the ice moved 15 km south and 18 km east yesterday. So Mike and I are maintaining our camp here until the wind abates. As soon as the ice stops drifting so much, we can make real progress.

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.
We are camped just 20 m from the point, in a spot that hasn't proved opportune. Apparently all the polar bears that are wandering along the shore seem to be passing through. Last night, after our first visit, another polar bear came and ripped a gash in one of the rubber dinghies. With the strong wind, it took a while before we heard the bear and could scare it off with a new signal flare.

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.
We've placed the rubber dinghies right up against the tent, so we can hear the bears if they try again.
Naturally we're not sleeping much with the polar bears nearby, but I think that will be less of a problem as we proceed.

January 20, 2006 / Surprised by a polar bear!
After 700 metres, Børge and Mike realised it was unwise to continue. The ice was unstable, slushy, and moving too fast. They returned safely to land and set up camp on the Cape .

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.
Børge has already fixed the zipper. Most likely they'll be sleeping by turn tonight. The wind is blowing so hard that it is difficult to hear a bear.

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.
Fortunately, the ice was touching the shore, so they are already walking northward. Ahead of them are leads of open sea, so the next hours and days will be critical. At the moment, it is –5°C in the area, which is probably a “heat” record for January.
We'll give you an update as soon as we receive more news.

January 18, 2006 / Delayed by cloud cover
Late last night an excited Børge Ousland called us from Sredny. We could hear the wind howling in the background, as he stood exposed to the Siberian winter; his satellite phone had no coverage in the warmth of the weather station.
“We hope to leave tomorrow. Cape Arktichesky is waiting.”
According to plan, the helicopter will lift off at 10am , flying the intrepid Norwegian and his South African partner Mike Horn to Russia 's northernmost point. If we know these extreme adventurers right, they did not sleep much last night. Most likely they were making a final evaluation of their equipment, fine-tuning their packing. This was the duo's last chance to do so.

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.
This evening (16.45 local time) Børge called us with a new, brief message: “Visibility was too poor for takeoff today, so we're still in Sredny, where it's snowing and relatively mild. But the problem was the cloud cover. Our departure is delayed until tomorrow, and we're hoping that we can really leave then.”

January 16, 2006 / The world's northernmost weather station
Now we are in Sredny, the northernmost meteorological station in the world. The temperature here is 27 degrees below Centigrade, and that's milder than we want. We were hoping for really cold weather that would reinforce the ice by Cape Arktichesky. Well, it's milder than usual for this time of year, and the Russians are reporting relatively mild temperatures from the North Pole as well. But after this there is a strong cold spell coming, which will thicken the ice and make it safer to proceed from land.
Our plan is to spend tomorrow organizing various details, starting from Cape Arktichesky on Wednesday, 18 January.

January 15, 2006 / The ice is closing
The ice is closing outside Cape Arktichensky. Now there is a super thin ice and relative mild temperatures in the area. But the ice has to be thicker for us to be able to walk on it.
We have purchased two inflatable boats, se we're optimistic about being able to leave at 10.00 tomorrow morning – and finally flying onward to Sredny. It's a four-hour flight by helicopter. There we'll get updated information on ice conditions and our prospects, and decide whether or not to start the expedition proper on Tuesday.

January 14, 2006 / A few days delay
The weather conditions are causing a few days delay. A southerly wind has pushed the ice away from the shore at Cape Arktichesky, where there is now several kilometres of open sea. Well, there is no point in sitting there peering northward and just waiting, so Mike and I have decided to delay the helicopter flight to Sredny until Monday. Here in the city of Norilsk there is better communication and it is far easier to fix practical matters.

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.
Yet another possibility is to wait for the wind to shift, pushing the ice against the shore, so we can continue in the manner originally planned.
Fortunately, these delays are well within the allowed timeframe of our expedition.

January 11, 2006 / Norilsk
Yesterday we came to Norilsk, the northernmost city in Siberia, but these two days have been a bit hectic. We've been working with equipment and fine-tuning our packing. There are a lot of details that have to be taken car of, things we didn't have time for before departure. Sponsor logos have to be sewn on or attached, every piece of equipment large or small has to be controlled, the pulks have to be checked and re-checked. So far we haven't really had any surprises.

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.
The day after tomorrow we leave for Sredny, on the west coast of the Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago. By helicopter it's seven hours from Norilsk, with one brief fuel stop. There is a weather station here at 79°N, but we don't plan on staying much more than 24 hours. And so far everything is proceeding according to plan.

January 8, 2006 / Moscow
Finally we're on the move! For me an expedition like this always starts when I close my front door and realise that I won't be home for several months. We left Oslo for Moscow this morning. A pleasant surprise awaited us at the airport – Aeroflot immediately upgraded us to Business Class and were really helpful with our great quantities of baggage.

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
No one has dared head for the North Pole on skis in the dark of winter – until now. On 15 January, Børge Ousland and Mike Horn will leave Cape Artichesky, the northernmost point of Russia. Ahead of them lies 1000 kilometres of ice-covered wasteland, and temperatures down to minus 50°C – a gruesome challenge to body and spirit. If all goes well, the Norwegian and South African explorers will arrive at the North Pole within 67 days, before 23 March, when the sun rises for the first time in 2006.

Here you can follow the expedition, as Børge Ousland via satellite telephone shares his daily diary of this amazing adventure.