North Pole 2010: Tracks In The Snow and A New Expedition Begins!

The weekend brought plenty of challenges for the polar explorers who are struggling to make headway with a brutal negative drift working against them and conditions on the ice remaining very difficult. And as those already out on the ice continue to make their way north, a new expedition is set to begin tomorrow.

Just when we thought that all of the arctic teams had set out on their journeys, a new solo expedition prepares to hit the ice tomorrow. British adventurer Ben Saunders is packed and ready to go, and tomorrow a Twin Otters airplane will drop him on the edge of the Arctic Ocean, where he will begin his solo, unassisted, attempt at a speed record to the North Pole. He hopes to complete the expedition in just 30 days, and to do so, he’ll have to be really moving. Saunders attempt this speed record back in 2008, but was forced to abandon his quest when his skis were irreparably broken. Can he make it this time? Stay tuned to find out!

For those already out on the ice, it was an extremely trying weekend. Take for example Tom Smitheringale, who faced negative drift so bad that it effected the ability of his satellite phone to stay connected when he called his home team. One morning he woke up to find that he had slid nearly 3 nautical miles to the south of his position when he went to bed that night. He faced a similar proposition the next night as well. He also is reporting that the cold is starting to get to his fingers, with a couple of them turning black, in what is sure to be an ominous sign at this point of the expedition. Let’s hope they don’t continue to deteriorate. Tom also received a bit of a shock when he came across the tracks of another explorer out in the snow. Seeing the signs of another living person was unexpected and a bit jolting too.

Christina Franco also had a rough weekend, facing similar levels of negative drift and large leads of open water. Fortunately, things got better for her today, as she received a supply drop, and took the day off from pulling her heavy sled in order to re-pack her gear. She reports that she now has a renewed energy, and is prepared to get back on the trail tomorrow in her efforts to become the first woman to go solo to the North Pole.

Continuing the theme of on going misery, Eric Larsen and his team have had an awful few days too. Eric reports that he not only hit bottom, he fell through that false bottom and fell even further, after he pulled three straight shifts as navigator for the team, leaving him out in front, and breaking trail. As you can imagine, this is quite physically demanding, and when Eric hit the tent that night, he felt like he had the flu, with his body weary beyond anything he had experienced before. The next day wasn’t much better, but he continued to trudge forward none the less, although he admits to putting his head into his mittens and letting out a few sobs of frustration over the fact that he felt so terribly weak and tired, and was seemingly making little to no headway thanks to the persistent negative drift. Something that he calls the Polar Treadmill, and the Save The Poles Team aren’t the only ones to use that term in the past few days.

In fact, Amelia Russell and Dan Darley have said the same thing as the negative drift has had them moving in reverse the past few days too. They have been averaging between 7 and 8 nautical miles per day, but have been sliding backwards at a rate of about .1-.2 nm as well. As a result, by the time they climb out of the tent in the morning, they don’t have a lot of positive gains to show for their work. While this has been extremely frustrating for them, they seem to be remaining fairly positive and upbeat in their approaching, redoubling their efforts to work towards gaining ground.

Richard Weber, along with Tessum Weber, David and Howard Fairbank, continue to plod along northward as well, although they had their first swim over the weekend, having to plunge in the ice waters of the Arctic Ocean in order to cross a 150 meter wide lead. That took an hour over come, and they were happy to have that experience behind them. Also, if everything went according to plan, they should have received their first supply drop yesterday, and their once light sleds should now be heavy, and full with gear and supplies once again. They were most in need of fuel and food, and by all accounts they should be good to go for another couple of weeks.

Finally, the Catlin Arctic Survey Team had to batten down the hatches over the weekend as a massive storm moved into where the Ice Base Team is conducting research. The cold front brought -45ºC Temps, and 60 mph winds, making it feel like it was -75ºC out there. Brr! Meanwhile, the Explorer Team has been out for more than a week now, but are making very slow progress thanks to high winds and the same negative drift that has been plaguing the other teams. Still they remain in good spirits and are conducting important research as they go.

Good luck to all the teams out there. Stay the course, remain positive, and you’ll get past this negative drift soon enough and on to solid ice that will let you go north without all the frustrations. Hang in there!

Kraig Becker

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