Magnetic North Pole Exp – Day 17
Mike Horn and the team are now back in Resolute, reunited with the rest of the team. Stunning photos and blogs are in. Enjoy finding out about their amazing experiences.
Blog written by Felix 12.05.2011
That sound of packing ice still echoes in my head. The sound of nature that would come along with Mike's voice: "Go back, fast!" The expression on my face would change as fast as the adrenaline could be pumped into my veins. We were standing in the middle of the spectacular show of a thin ice sheet packing, a show not at all meant for man to witness. The terrain would change from one moment to another, resulting in wide open water leads and stacks and stacks of ice sheets piled above each other. Never before have I felt this insignificant, this helpless, this completely wrong in place and time.
Little did I know about what I was going to live through back yesterday when we set off to tackle our last chance of reaching Latitude Eighty, the Magnetic North Pole. The day before, the first group of Young Explorers had already arrived safely back in Resolute, when a snowstorm approached and prevented the Twin Otter from returning to our position to lift the remaining six of us back to base as well. We were stuck in the tent and had the wait for the storm to pass. Soon it became clear that this is not how the end will be written. We've come here onto the Arctic sea ice to learn not how to accept failure, but how to fight for our goals in life. We had sufficient supply and fuel, and we had the ambition and desire to go. In unity we decided yesterday to head off north and to face the challenge of covering 95 kilometres in just three days. We had to give it a try.
We pulled off right away 34 kilometres in 12 hours of skiing, which made the longest day of the expedition. We have witnessed a great variety of terrain, from flat icy plains in the morning to pack ice to open water leads in the evening. The same morning Mike already knew about the possibility of meeting open water due to some scattered dark clouds that lay in front of us. All these details, including reading the snow drifts for navigation and analyzing cloud patterns, have an essential role for the Arctic explorer. I realized very quickly that experience in Arctic exploration is the ultimate key to survival and progress, which might be a reason for why Mike is the expedition leader, and not me.
We set up camp to call it the day just in front of the open water, hoping that during the night it will freeze over so that we could ski over it the next day. Just as we were talking about it, it was already happening! In total contrast to how we had arrived at the campsite, just two hours later an ice wall of two metres height has already formed next to our tents. Nature always holds the biggest surprises ready for us. That night, we slept with our outer shells, ready to move the tent at any time in case of packing ice beneath our tents.
The next day we woke up at 4 AM and set off just about an hour later. We were ready for another long day of skiing in order to reach the Pole within the scheduled time frame of the expedition. But mother nature always has her own plans. Not so long after we headed off north we ran into a big obstacle: Thin ice area, as far as the eye could see. This was exactly what we were afraid of. This was an obstacle that is very well able to force us to abort the expedition, once and for all.
At that stage we were standing on an island of solid ice surrounded by thin ice. Mike unhooked himself from his sled to go ahead to check the situation and me and Dmitry, our expedition photographer, followed him. I wanted to see for myself, and if not absolutely necessary I won't give up easily. The three of us left the island of solid ice and soon I found my skis on top of this sheet of thin ice. I was doing exactly what Mike was doing so I still felt safe and good, but when the moment came the ice beneath our skis started to move, accompanied by the sound of horror and Mike's expression changing instantly, my heart stopped beating. "Back! Back! Fast!"
It's not until this very moment that you realize the danger of the Arctic sea ice. It's the fear of having nothing at all to stand on. The whole packing process is just like the Earth's tectonic movement in a smaller and much faster scale. Any second the thin ice beneath my skis could split apart and welcome me to a deadly bath in the 4000 metres deep Arctic Ocean, or it could pack and crush everything that is in between. I can still hear Mike behind me shouting to get me go faster. If we split apart from the rest of the team at this stage, we would have had to swim back to the solid ice. And as if the situation wasn't intense enough, my left ski got stuck between the pack ice. Luckily that ice didn't pack and crush my ski, and I managed with Dima and Mike to all get back on safe ground. Looking behind us, the thin ice that carried our body weight just few seconds ago was no longer the same.
As I'm right now sitting in the warm and safe tent reflecting back upon the day, I am convinced that we did a wise decision by turning back south. We have reached 79 degrees and 30 minutes North, the furthest north reached by any expedition from Canada this year, and in fact the northernmost point of the entire Pangaea Expedition. We have had the full on Arctic experience in the past two weeks from pack ice and desert plains to open water and thin ice. I learned that when traveling on the Arctic Ocean, it's not only the will but furthermore it's the terrain that decides what distance you can cover. And if nature tells you to stop, you better stop. Just like Mike and Borge Ousland used to say: "The Arctic Ocean is dangerous."
We've got as far up north as we have possibly could, and we have no regrets left on the ice. We are ready to go back whenever the Twin Otter is.