Horn and Ousland Have an Exit Strategy, But It Isn’t Going to be Easy

Over the past few months we’ve been following Mike Horn and Borg Ousland’s incredibly difficult journey across the Arctic very closely. Even before they set foot on the ice, I’ve been posting updates on their progress. Recently, those updates have come with more frequency as the near the end of their journey at long last. But, the dispatches we’ve gotten from the two men have also become increasingly desperate, as they struggle to make headway in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Now, they’re nearing the end of the trek and have a plan to get picked up from the ice, but the final push to the finish line isn’t going to be easy and will require all of the strength they have left.

The crux of the challenge is this: Horn and Ousland have now been on the ice for nearly 85 days and the] deadline for them reaching the end was December 1. That means they’re getting low on food and fuel, not to mention physical and mental energy. The original plan was for Mike’s ship, the Pangaea to pick them up from the ice at around 80ºN or so, just as the ship had dropped them off on the far side of the ice north of Alaska before the Arctic traverse began. Pangaea isn’t able to safely make its way to the extraction point however, so a new ship — named Lance — has made its way north and is waiting for them. In order to reach that ship before their supplies have completely dwindled however, they’ll need to cover about 70 km (43 miles) in two days.

The details of this final push were laid out in a Facebook update that was posted yesterday, with a follow-up dispatch to Instagram today. Originally, the duo had to cover an extra 20 km (12.4 miles) over night, which they were able to do. That puts them on track to get to where they want to be, although the travel is slow and the dangers are increasing as the ice gets thinner near the edge. Additionally, two other Norwegian polar explorers — Aleksander Gamme and Bengt Romo — are now heading out to meet Horn and Ousland, bringing extra supplies — including fuel and food — with them. The worry now is that the Lance could get stuck in the ice on its way to the pick-up point, which would cause further delays in the extraction. The ship has already gotten stuck once while en route to their rendezvous.

The challenges that Horn and Ousland have faced on this trek have been many, including horrible weather conditions, much thinner ice than expected, negative drift working against them most of the time, as well as a few unexpected setbacks. For instance, a few days back they shared the news that Borge’s sled had broken and they were forced to make repairs in the field. Those repairs have worked, but the sled can’t carry as much weight as it could before the failure, which isn’t helping their progress any.

To make matters worse, the weather report indicates that extremely high winds are heading their way over the next few days. That could make it very dangerous for travel, so they may be forced to stay in their tent for while and wait out the storm. That will provide some extra rest that could see them through to the end, but it could delay the resupply that is en route too. Either way, the next 24-48 hours are going to be critical, with two of the most experienced polar explorers in the world struggling against the elements and their own exhaustion.

As I said in my previous post, this is some real tip-of-the-spear exploration here. Mike and Borge aren’t on some guided journey to the Pole, but are instead pushing the boundaries of what we know is possible, in a place that has become increasingly more difficult to travel through in recent years. I’ll continue to share updates on their progress, and fingers crossed they’ll be safely off the ice by the end of the week.

Kraig Becker