North Pole 2014: Bad Weather And Negative Drift


While any expedition to the North Pole is fraught with challenges, the past few days have been especially trying for the teams heading to the top of the world. Bad weather kept them tent bound for longer than they would have liked, and that resulted in negative drift pushing them in the wrong direction. It can be frustrating to run the polar treadmill, but sometimes that is the task at hand. Still, they are picking up speed and making solid progress. The question now is whether or not there is enough time still on the clock for them to complete their journeys.

A few days back, Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters were praying for some wind to help harden the newly fallen snow. The fresh powder was making it hard for them to pick up speed, and they found themselves working very hard to gain traction. The winds arrived with a vengeance however, blowing in at around 45 mph (72 km/h). At that speed, it is tough to just stand up on skis, let alone push forward. At one point, they covered just 100 meters in an hour of travel, which should give you an indication of just how trying the conditions actually were. Things have improved somewhat since then, and Ryan and Eric have managed to hit their best distance yet, covering 11.5 nautical miles (21.3 km).

Unfortunately, negative drift has begun to impact the expedition, due in no small part to the winds. One night while they slept in their tent, they drifted 5 miles (8 km) to the north-northeast, which is not the direction they want to be moving. They’ll have to make up that distance on their way to the Pole, and I’m sure they are happy that they weren’t drifting south. For those who don’t know about negative drift, it is the phenomenon in which polar ice, floating on the Arctic Ocean, moves due to currents and the wind. Generally it is away from the North Pole, which can cause explorers to lose ground while they rest. It is not uncommon for instance, for skiers to cover 10 miles in a day, only to lose 3 or 4 miles while sleeping at night. The further north they travel, the more stable the ice gets however, so hopefully it’ll be non-factor in the days ahead.

Eric and Ryan crossed 85ºN last week, and in the process they came across the tracks of another polar explorer, Japanese solo-skier Yasu Ogita. According to ExWeb, Yasu continues to press forward on his own, and is in good physical condition, although the long days out on the ice have occasionally taken their toll on his spirits. To help lighten his load, Yasu has abandoned this kayak, which he had brought along to help cross open leads, but had little cause to use it over the course of his more than five weeks out on the ice. The hope was that he could pick up speed by dropping the excess weight, and so far that has proven to be true, as he is routinely hitting about 20 km (12.4 miles) per day. But negative drift has had an impact on his travels as well. While stuck in his tent during a blizzard, Yasu actually gave up 22 km (13.6 miles), while he waited to get underway once again.

The Expedition Hope team is traveling in the opposite direction of Ryan, Eric and Yasu. They began their journey at the North Pole and are skiing south to Cape Discovery in Canada. While that will be an easier route to take, it is still incredibly tough and demanding. The three-person squad consists of Eric Philips, Bernice Notenboom and  Martin Hartley, all polar veterans with past experience in the Arctic. They have experienced negative drift as well, causing them to veer substantially off their intended course, and giving up some mileage as they float to the northeast too. But so far, they are making solid progress, particularly now that the winds have died down some, and the blizzard has passed.

Jumping over to Greenland, where the weather improved just long enough for Dixie Dansercoer and Eric McNair-Landry to hop a flight out to the starting point of their attempt to circumnavigate that country by kite-ski. Since they got underway late last week, things have not exactly gone their way. A succession of storms have kept them tent bound for more days than they’d like, although when they have been able to use their kites, they’ve made solid progress. In five days they have managed to cover 206.9 km (128.5 miles), which will give you an indication of just how different it is to use a kite, versus just skiing on your own. Still, with more than 5000 km (3106 miles) to go on this expedition, they’d rather be skiing, than sitting in a tent waiting out the weather. Unfortunately, another bad storm was due to hit their region today, so they are likely back in the tent, waiting for things to improve.

That’s all for today. I’ll keep a close eye on these expeditions as they proceed. The teams heading to the North Pole are starting to run low on days, so it’ll be very interesting to see if they can actually reach 90ºN before they call for extraction. It is going to be an incredibly tough challenge to do that.

Kraig Becker