Friday, April 11, 2014

North Pole 2014: Greenland Circumnav Underway, Tough Conditions Continue Up North

Explorers in the Arctic continue to face very difficult conditions, even as the season stretches on. Those traveling on foot to the North Pole still face what in my opinion is the toughest challenge in the world of adventure today. And while those teams have now been out on the ice for a month, other Arctic expeditions are just getting underway, including a ski journey that began at the North Pole, and an epic attempt to circumnavigate Greenland by kite-ski.

We'll begin with those heading north today. Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters have truly hit the part of the expedition that could best be described as "the grind." Each day is a real challenge, and they're never quite sure what is going to come next. Pressure ridges continue to cause delays, and rough is nags them, even 28 days into the expedition. Even though they are exhausted from their journey, they continue to pick up speed. Yesterday was their best day yet, covering 9.73 nautical miles (18 km), which must have felt good after days of struggle. They are still 353 miles (568 km) from the Pole however, and have now gone through half of their supplies. That is an awful lot of ground to cover before they are done, and while they have improved their speed in recent days, they'll now have to average roughly 13 miles (21 km) per day to reach 90ºN before they run out of food and fuel. That is going to be a tall order, but both men seem as determined as ever to finish what they've started.

Meanwhile, Japanese solo-skier Yasu Ogita is pressing forward as well, although the stress of the expedition has worn on him some. His home team tells ExWeb that he is doing fine physically, but is disappointed with the distances that he has been able to cover on a regular basis. Yasu continues to lug his kayak with him over the ice, although he has found few open leads where he has needed to use it. He has been considering abandoning the kayak for a number of days now, but has elected to keep it with him – at least for now. Yasu has been out on the ice the longest of anyone so far this season, having departed from Cape Discovery a full week ahead of Eric and Ryan. He has crossed the 85th degree, but continues to struggle for progress.

Veteran polar explorers Eric Philips, Bernice Notenboom and Marten Hartley have launched their efforts to ski from the North Pole to Canada, which is in the exact opposite direction of the two expeditions mentioned above. They've found much better conditions on their end of the ice, and have the benefit of having positive drift working in their favor. They teams calls their project Expedition Hope, and it is meant to raise awareness of the Plant-for-the-Planet organization, which is encouraging kids to battle global warming by planting trees. The journey started at 90ºN on April 2, and will now cover some 600 miles (965 km) over approximately 50 days.

Over in Greenland, Dixie Dansercoer and Eric McNair-Landry have finally been able to launch their Greenland Ice Expedition. Poor weather had delayed the launch, but they were able to fly out to their starting point yesterday, and have now begun kite-skiing across the ice that surrounds the country. Their route is expected to cover more than 5000 km (3106 miles) and take up to 80 days to complete. If successful, they'll become the first to circumnavigate Greenland in this fashion.

Way up north in the Barneo Ice Camp, the Polar Marathon took place yesterday. American Mika Wardian took top honors amongst the men, completing the race in 4 hours and 4 mins, nearly a full hour ahead of the next closest competitor. Anne-Marie Flammerfeld claimed victory amongst the ladies, clocking in at 4 hours, 52 minutes. Her next closest competitor was more than three hours back. All of the competitors have already flown back to Longyearbyen and are now on their way home.

Barneo will continue to serve as a base of operations for polar activities through April 22. During that time, a number of teams of researchers and travelers will come and go. Once the end date arrives, the Russian team that maintains the camp will clean up shop, and head out for another year.

That's it for today. Hopefully we'll have better news on the progress of the North Pole teams in the days ahead. They are all very weary, but also aware that they only have so much time to wrap up their expeditions.

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