Tuesday, December 17, 2013

North Pole 2014: The Dark Ice Project Ready To Launch

While most of the attention for polar exploration is currently focused on the Antarctic, one team is already preparing for what promises to be an epic journey north instead. Typically the North Pole season doesn't start for a couple of months yet, but this particular expedition is going to require more than six months of travel time, much of which will be spent completely without sunlight.

I first told you about Alex Hibbert's Dark Ice Project more than a year ago.  The plan is for Alex, along with teammates James Wheeldon, Anastasia Kim and Anders Rasmussen to trek from the village of Qaanaaq in Greenland up the the Nares Strait to Ellesmere Island, then onto the frozen Arctic Ocean all the way to the North Pole. They'll be traveling the entire way during the Arctic winter, which is the coldest, harshest time of the year in the Arctic. If all goes well, they hope to reach the Pole in March and if conditions permit, they'll make the return journey back to their starting point. If they succeed, it'll be the first time that anyone has completed such an expedition.

The team believes that it will take roughly 210 days to finish the entire trip. That means they expect to reach the finish line sometime in June or July of next year. That is an incredibly long time to be out on the ice, and such a demanding expedition will no doubt take its toll on this team. In preparation for the challenge that await them, Alex and his crew have spent some time over the past year dropping supply depots along their intended route. That will allow them to resupply while en route and keep the weight of their sleds to a minimum. As they are now however, those sleds weigh in the area of 250 kg (550 pounds). That is a lot of weight to be dragging behind you while skiing through one of the most demanding environments on the planet.

Over the past few years we've seen very little success for North Pole skiers. In fact, no one has gone the full distance to the Pole in quite some time. This team will have to overcome some serious obstacles if they hope to break that streak. Climate change has made it more difficult than ever to reach 90ÂșN, and I've said on more than one occasion that I believe it will soon be nearly impossible to complete this kind of journey. Whether or not the Dark Ice team can be successful remains to be seen, but they certainly have an uphill battle ahead of them.

The entire squad is currently in Qaanaaq, where they are sorting their gear and preparing to get underway soon. There is no clear departure date set just yet, but my guess is that they'll wait until Saturday of this week so that they'll officially begin in winter. After that, it's six months of grueling weather, subzero temperatures, unstable pack ice and potential encounters with hungry polar bears. They'll be packing guns just in case they run into bears along the way, but the fifth member of their team, an Inuit dog named Dave, will help keep them alert to those dangers while also keeping any ursine intruders at bay.

This is a seriously epic expedition. I wish Alex and the team the best of luck on this undertaking. I'll certainly be following their expedition closely as they head North and cheering on their progress from a far. It will be one of the most demanding expeditions in recent memory if they succeed, and that alone is enough to hope they make it.  Follow their progress on the team's website and Twitter feed.


M Wakeling said...

mmm...rather them than me for that one !

That's a lot of your life to be spent dragging a heavy weight along in the dark...you can't even admire the view.

Kraig Becker said...

Agreed. Definitely not an expedition for the feint of heart.