Thursday, December 19, 2013

North Pole 2014: Dark Ice Project Cancelled

Well that didn't take long.

Just two days ago I wrote a piece about the impending launch of the Dark Ice Project, an ambitious expedition that was set to send four explorers to the North Pole during the winter on a round-trip trek that would take six months. At the time, the team was preparing to set out, possibly as early as this weekend. But today we get the word that the mission has been scrubbed completely.

In a blog post that appeared on the expedition website early today, team leader Alex Hibbert shared the reasoning behind the cancellation – or at least postponement - of their journey. Essentially, a survey of the ice north of Greenland, where he and teammates James Wheeldon, Anastasia Kim and Anders Rasmussen, would be doing the bulk of their traveling caused the change in plans. That ice is not forming quickly or substantially this winter and as a result, the conditions are not right for travel. There are large sections of open water where the ice hasn't formed and parts of the Kennedy Channel, which is along their intended route, are in "exceptionally poor condition."

Last year, Alex and crew traveled across the region setting supply depots that they would use on their journey this year. During that time, they observed the ice to be perfect for travel and were optimistic that the same thing would happen this year. That hasn't proven to be the case and now it appears that it simply isn't safe to make this kind of extended trek this year.


There is another reason for them to cancel the trek as well. The lack of ice has also reduced the size of the habitat for polar bears, which live in large numbers in the region as well. That means that they were more likely to encounter those bears on their travels north, and it was also likely that they would possibly have a violent encounter with the animals. The bears will be competing with one another for food this year and when they are in an environment that is reduced in size, they will be more aggressive and hungry. On top of that, polar bears show little fear of humans and have been known to stalk skiers on their way to the North Pole. The entire situation was ripe for disaster.

Alex noted that he respects the Inuit people who live in and around Qaanaaq, where they are currently stationed. Those hardy indigenous people have also warned him about the dangers of proceeding north this year, and no one knows the dangers better than they do. With that in mind, he feels it is best to pull the plug on the bigger expedition, at least for now.

But, the team is not coming home. They are in good physical condition, getting along great, and they have plenty of supplies at their disposal. They plan to spend the next four months traveling throughout the region, visiting remote Inuit settlements and still exploring the Arctic during the winter. They also say that they have another plan in mind, but they're not ready to reveal details just yet, although it does involve recruiting two large sled dog teams. So, while the epic six month long Dark Ice Project may be on hold, there are other goals in mind.

Sadly, this falls in line with what I wrote about a few days back. Clearly it is becoming more difficult and dangerous to attempt North Pole expeditions. The ice is just too unstable these days, and as I've mentioned in the past, I believe in a few more years it may be impossible to make a full ski journey to the North Pole. Climate change is just having too much of an impact on the region and it may be sometime before that begins to revert back in the other direction.

Stay tuned for more news on the Dark Ice Project and the North Pole in the days ahead.

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