Horn and Ousland Cross 88ºN, Fight to Stay There

Now more than a month into their Arctic adventure, explorers Mike Horn and Borge Ousland have reached another milestone on their attempt to ski across the polar icecap via the North Pole. But as with everything in the cold regions of our planet, getting there hasn’t been easy, nor will maintaining their position in the days ahead. A phenomenon known as “negative drift” threatens to push them back south, giving up precious ground that they aren’t willing to concede. But if they can get through the next few days, traveling conditions should improve somewhat moving forward.

Horn posted an update to Facebook yesterday sharing the news that he and Ousland had crossed the 88th degree. That puts them just two degrees off the North Pole, although making progress over the next few days is going to be a challenge. Mike says that the forecast calls for plenty of negative drift, which means they’ll be fighting to stay above 88ºN. Negative drift is the bane of an Arctic explorer’s existence as the ice he or she is walking on floats south with the currents even as they are trying to move north. As a result, it is not uncommon to ski all day long just to make a minimal amount of progress, then camp for the night and actually move further away from your goal while you sleep.

Negative drift hasn’t been the only challenge they’ve been dealing with. In previous updates they indicated how many open leads of water they’ve had to cross on their way to the top of the world. The Arctic Ocean hasn’t frozen solid yet for the winter, so the two men are forced to either ski around these leads or don dry suits, inflate rafts, and cross them directly. Worse yet, light snow has started to cover those open leads, making them difficult to spot. One wrong move could send them tumbling into the water, which would make for an extremely dangerous situation.

Speaking of snow, Horn also reports that recent snowfall has given way to slightly warmer temperatures, which has turned the snow to slush. That slush makes it extremely difficult to pull their heavy sleds behind them, as the surface isn’t as smooth and conducive to gliding along. As a result, the boys had their most difficult day to date, so at this point they’re actually hoping for a bit of colder weather.

From the sounds of things, they’ll be getting plenty of that soon. In the update, Horn noted that they are eating about 5000-5500 calories per day, which has been enough to sustain them so far. But, they anticipate that within the next 12 days they’ll be hitting much colder temperatures, which will require more food to keep them warm. He anticipates adding another 1000 calories per day to their diet in the near future.

Having crossed the 88th degree, they’ve inched one step closer to the North Pole, although it is still a significant distance until they get to that point on the map. That’s not the finish line however, as from there they’ll turn south and head back to the edge of the ice, having completed a full traverse that began in Alaska and will end in Norway. The original plan was to wrap that journey up by December 1, but so far they’ve been moving a bit slower than expected, so it could end up taking longer. With colder weather ahead, the open leads should start to freeze shut, which will hopefully increase speed and safety. For the next few days though, they’ll be fighting just to maintain their current position.

Kraig Becker