North Pole 2015: Ulrich Pulls Plug on Arctic Expedition

ulrich jpg

I’m still working to catch up on some of the big news events from the world of outdoor adventure that took place while I was traveling over the past few weeks. One of the stories that we were watching closely this spring involved Swiss polar explorer Thomas Ulrich, who was attempting to ski from the North Pole to Ellesmere Island on the Canadian side of the ice. It was to be the only major expedition in the Arctic this season, but it turns out that it didn’t last very long at all.

After guiding a team of “last degree” skiers to 90ºN in mid-April, Ulrich sent his clients back to the Barneo Ice Camp as planned, and launched his solo effort across the frozen Arctic expanse. His plan was to spend the next month and a half crossing the ice as a training exercise for an attempt to traverse the entire Arctic Ocean from Norway to Canada next year. But this year’s journey lasted just three days, as the explorer began to run into all kinds of challenges immediately. Some of those challenges were deemed far too dangerous for him to continue.

According to reports from his support team, one of Thomas’ brushes with near-disaster occurred while he was sleeping in his tent one evening. A large crack opened in the ice just 1.8 meters (6 feet) away from his tent. Were that crack just a bit closer to his campsite, it could have easily swallowed him up without warning. This incident was a sobering reminder of just how dangerous it is to travel in the Arctic, and with hundreds of miles yet to go, the Swiss adventurer decided it was best to go home.

Ulrich did manage to cover 80 km (49.7 miles) using a combination of skiing and kiting in his three days out on the ice. That is a solid distance for such a short time, and it should be encouraging to him if he decides to proceed with the planned expedition for 2016. It remains to be seen if he’ll proceed with that journey however, as this taste of the Arctic may be enough to dissuade him from trying again.

After calling in to tell his home team that he was abandoning the expedition, Ulrich than proceeded back to Barneo before going home. The base itself closed up shop for the season on April 24, with the last of the support crew and equipment being shipped home. Another temporary base will no doubt be built on the ice next season to once again facilitate exploration, research, and travel in the Arctic.

This pretty much wraps up any North Pole news for the 2015 season. With no teams heading across the Arctic, it has been a quiet one for sure. I expect that this will become the norm in years ahead, as it is becoming increasingly clear just how difficult and dangerous it is to travel in the Arctic. It is without a doubt one of the most challenging environments on the planet, and it is becoming more and more difficult for anyone to endure the difficulties involved with an expedition to the top of the world.

Kraig Becker