The 2014 Arctic expedition season officially got underway this past weekend when this year’s crop of explorers were dropped off at their respective starting points out on the ice. They’ll now spend upwards of two months in the harshest environment on the planet as they attempt to complete one of the most difficult and demanding journeys known to man – travel on foot across the frozen Arctic Ocean to reach the North Pole.
There are three teams of adventurers attempting to reach the North Pole this season. They include the Irish team of Mike O’ Shea and Clare O’Leary, American squad made up of Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters, and Japanese explorer Yasunaga Ogita, who is traveling solo on his expedition. All the teams are starting from Cape Discovery on remote Ellesmere Island in Canada. Ogita and the two Irish skiers were dropped off last Friday and have already started working their way north. The Americans are still stranded in Resolute Bay due to inclement weather however. They hope to fly to their starting point in the next day or two.
Once there, they’ll face a number of very difficult challenges that are unique to the Arctic itself. For instance, because the polar ice cap floats on top of an ocean, as opposed to solid ground like at the South Pole, it tends to routinely break-up. This create massive blocks of ice and rubble fields that must be navigated through. That isn’t exactly easy when the explorers are pulling heavy sleds filled with all of their gear and supplies behind them at all times. Sometimes the ice will break up revealing the water underneath as well, forcing the teams to either find a way to ski around, or don drysuits and swim across.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing the teams will deal with is the phenomenon known as negative drift. This is the result of the ice that they camp on moving south, away from the Pole, while they rest each night. It is possible for the explorers to ski 15 miles in a single day, for instance, then stop for the night and give up 3 or 4 of those miles due to ice slab drifting south. When they begin again the next day, they’ll have to cross those lot miles a second time as they continue their journey to the North Pole.
Unlike their Antarctic counterparts, Arctic explorers also face the real threat of polar bears. The animals can be found just about anywhere in the Arctic, and have been known to stalk humans when looking for food. For that reason alone, most of the teams will carry a gun with them, which usually serves the purpose of scaring the creatures off. Bear attacks are a relatively rare occurrences, but travelers in the Arctic need to be vigilant for them none the less.
You can follow the progress of Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters through their expedition website. Eric is a Wenger Ambassador and we wish him the best of luck as he sets out on this very difficult adventure.