While one of the polar explorers decides to pack it in for 2010, another contemplates his own fate after a very slow start. Just another day in the Arctic, a place that conspires against you with every step.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, Ben Saunders, who was attempting a speed record to the North Pole, had to be evacuated from the ice last week thanks to an equipment malfunction. A broken fuel canister contaminated more than 70% of his food supply, prompting a return to Resolute Bay just a few days after he set out. he had hoped to return to the ice, and give his expedition another go, but after a few days back in civilization, Ben has elected to go home for the season, and return in 2011 to make another attempt.
Meanwhile, Italian Michele Portrandolfo seems to be struggling as well. I haven’t written much about Michele, mostly because it is difficult to follow his progress due to the language barrier to his website. But, ExploraPoles.org is reporting that he has been sounding very pessimistic in his latest dispatches due to the slow progress he has been making thus far. As of yesterday, Michele had been out on the ice for more than 24 days and had just reached the 84th parallel. With negative drift working against him, and ice conditions amongst the worst anyone has seen, it seems highly unlikely that he’ll reach the Pole at that pace. I still hold out hope that he can make it, but won’t be surprised if he has to be evacuated either.
Eric Larsen and his crew have become the latest team to come across fresh polar bear tracks in their northward wanderings. Like all the other explorers who have come across the tracks in recent days, they are a bit unnerving to say the least. While polar bears are beautiful, amazing creatures, they are a scary beast to the arctic teams. Not only are they the largest living land carnivores on the planet, they are the only ones that are known to stalk humans. They pretty much see everything as prey, and are happy to get dinner where they can. For Eric, this is a far cry from the South Pole, where getting stalked by penguins seems like it would be kind of fun.
Progress is much better for Dan and Amelia, who crossed another degree today, putting them above 86ºN for the first time. That leaves them just four degrees to go until they’re at the top of the world. The duo report that they started off the day at a blistering pace, covering over 3 nautical miles in the first two and a half hours. But later they ran into plenty of open water, rubble, and a pressure ridge that was more than 25-feet tall. Still, the two Brits seem to be picking up speed now, and I suspect that it won’t be long and they’ll have a clear and clean route to the Pole. There is still plenty of miles to go, and they’re not passed all the challenges yet, but things are looking very good.
Solo female explorer Christina Franco continues to have her ups and downs on the ice. She started the day today with great progress and smooth going, but by afternoon she found a huge lead that stretched in all directions. She described it as being “as wide as the River Thames”. This big lead caused her to walk well out of her way, hoping to find a route around, but that fed her into even more leads, with few options as to proceed forward. For now, she decided to set up camp for the night and tackle the problem tomorrow, but it is clear that she’s either going to have to get wet or backtrack for some time to find a way around.
Finally, Tom Smitheringale is celebrating one month out on the ice, and while it hasn’t been an easy one, he continues to demonstrate those good Aussie spirits and seems as happy as ever to be out there. Tom’s on a solo and unsupported trek to the Pole, and is hoping to become just the third person to accomplish that feat. However, he may be in a bit of trouble once he gets there, as he currently doesn’t have a way to get home! Which is why his team is making a last ditch effort to find a sponsor to help get the adventurous Australian back off the ice when he finishes what he set out to do. The expedition will be greeted at the North Pole by a major Australian television network, which could potentially offer great exposure for someone looking to sponsor Tom’s journey. If you, or someone you know, might be interested in helping out, contact the his home team at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Lets help get Tom back from the North Pole. It’s not a very nice place to stay.