Horn and Ousland Suffer Another Setback on Polar Traverse

Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse for Mike Horn and Borge Ousland the two polar explorers have suffered another significant setback in their attempt to traverse the Arctic icecap via the North Pole. The duo have now spent more than 80 days out on the ice and are on rations as they near the end of their grueling expedition, but over the weekend they announced that even as they near the finish line at long last, they hare still facing unexpected challenges. In addition to dealing with extreme cold, high winds, total darkness, and dangerously thin ice, they now have a broken sled that will likely slow them down too.

In a dispatch shared on Instagram, Horn revealed that Ousland’s sled suffered a serious malfunction, with the entire front breaking off apparently. Horn revealed that his was something they hadn’t prepared for and speculates the constant jostling and pulling over very difficult terrain and in extremely cold temperatures, led to the equipment failure. The fact that they started with extremely heavy loads, although they are quite light at this point, probably didn’t help matters either.

The two explorers immediately stopped and set-up camp when the structural failure occurred and made an attempt to repair the sled. They only have a few limited tools with this to attempt to put it back together, but were using some crude sewing methods to try to make it work. Without a second sled, they would be forced to put all of their remaining supplies and gear into one sled as they push towards the edge of the ice where Horn’s ship the Pangaea is waiting for them. Even if they are able to make adequate repairs, Ousland’s sled is compromised and will likely have to carry less gear no matter what.

On the bright side, the bulk of their food and supplies have been used so they are pulling much less weight than they were at the beginning of the expeditio. That is about the extent of the good news however, as they are also mentally and physically exhausted from their long journey across the ice. On top of that, they’re now past their December 1 deadline for finishing up the traverse, which means they’re on limited food rations too. In other words, they’re taking in fewer calories, even as they’re still burning a ton on their way to the extraction point.

Horn also pointed out that the sled will no longer float if they accidentally fall into an open lead of water. The broken frame will allow water in, which will pull it, and everything the sled is carrying, down into the water. That means they have to be extra careful with what they put in it and where they ski moving forward. One wrong move could really take this situation from bad to worse.

The men have now moved below 84ºN and should be nearing the edge of the ice where the ship is waiting for them. But, as that ice gets thinner, and they get more desperate for supplies, it is possible that they will call for a helicopter to come pick them up. Neither of them wants to do that, but the situation could deteriorate to the point where that is their only choice. They are close to the finish line, but they are moving slowly, the positive drift has slowed as well, and the conditions are extremely dangerous. The end to this project is anything but certain, even at this late stage of the game.

This is true, modern exploration at the tip of the spear that we’re witnessing here. The safety of Mike and Borge is hardly a foregone conclusion at this point and they are getting more desperate by the day. If there are two men who can push through this situation and make it to the end, it is probably these guys. But they are far from out of the woods yet.