One of the biggest adventure stories of 2019 by far was expedition undertaken by veteran explorers Mike Horn and Borge Ousland. The two men set out back in September from Nome, Alaska, sailing north aboard Horn’s ship the Pangaea. Upon reaching the outer edges of the polar ice cap, they then left the ship and proceeded to travel on foot to the North Pole, dragging heavy sleds filled with their food, fuel, and supplies behind them as they went. Once at the top of the world, they then continued their difficult journey south on the opposite side of the planet from where they started. Their goal was to reach the edge of the frozen Arctic Ocean, where Pangaea would then pick them up for the return trip to Norway, completing a full traverse of the Arctic in the process. But if you followed that journey as it unfolded, you know that isn’t exactly how it went, as the two men found themselves pushed their absolute limits. Then, when they did finally reach the finish line, they still couldn’t leave the frozen north behind, extending an already arduous expedition for several more difficult weeks.
All told, Horn and Ousland spent 86 days traveling across the Arctic with their route taking them past the North Pole. Most of that time was spent in almost complete darkness as they struggled with extreme cold, very thin ice, and large open leads of water. The journey was even more difficult than they had imagined, and near the end they were running dangerously low on supplies, requiring a pair of Norwegian explorers to ski out to meet them with some extra food and fuel. The extended length of their trip also prevented Pangea from reaching them as well, with a ship called Lance coming to pick them up instead. That vessel is better equipped to deal with the ice and was able to navigate to an extraction point much more safely. The problem was, once it stopped to pick up the polar explorers, it found itself locked in ice and unable to escape the grip of the Arctic.
In early December, Horn and Ousland were aboard the Lance, their long and harrowing journey behind them. But, they weren’t able to go home either, as the ship was firmly locked in place. For more than three weeks they found themselves stuck, unable to move forward to the point where it began to look like they may find themselves overwintering in the Arctic. Thankfully however, that wasn’t the case and over the holiday break the Lance broke free at long last and headed for home. The ship arrived back in Tromso, Norway on December 30, allowing the Horn and Ousland to reunite with friends and family for the start of the New Year.
It was a happy ending for an expedition that required ever ounce of experience, strength, and dedication, that they could muster. It was also one of the most impressive accomplishments in exploration history, and could quite possibly be the last great journey across the Arctic. Both Horn and Ousland have indicated that the conditions in the Arctic have deteriorated so completely that it is now an incredibly dangerous place to visit. They saw striking changes from their last polar expedition together back in 2006, with climate change having a profound impact on the region. There is a reason why there are so few expeditions to the North Pole these days, with no successful full-distance journeys since 2014.
I followed this expedition closely from the start and was happy to see the updates over the holidays that indicated that the men were headed for home. Congratulations to not only Mike and Borge for their amazing accomplishment, but also the crew of the Lance who helped bring them back safely too. They had quite an adventure of their own while they were locked in the ice for nearly a month and I’m sure they’re as relieved as anyone that this expedition is over at long last.
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