A team of explorers who had been preparing for an epic six-month long journey to the North Pole abruptly canceled those plans yesterday just a few days before their scheduled departure. The expedition had been more than two years in planning, but poor ice conditions in the Arctic have made it incredibly dangerous to travel there. Worse yet, they fear dangerous encounters with polar bears who have seen their habitat greatly reduced due to changing environmental conditions.
Alex Hibbert, James Wheeldon, Anastasia Kim and Anders Rasmussen, the four members of the Dark Ice Project team, had been hoping to embark on what would have been a historic and record breaking expedition within the next few days. Their journey was to have started in Qaanaaq, Greenland, from which they would have traveled north into the Nares Strait, across the frozen expanse of the Arctic Ocean all the way to Ellesmere Island. From there, the route would have continue all the way to the top of the world, eventually reaching the North Pole itself, before making a return trip back to where they started. That plan would have taken them to the Pole in the dead of winter, where they would have faced not only extreme cold, but also complete darkness for 24-hours a day.
Earlier in the week the team made a supply run to a depot that they intended to collect once they had gotten underway. That trip gave them the opportunity to examine the ice they’d be moving over in the weeks ahead, which brought serious cause for concern. They discovered that conditions were far more dangerous than they had been anticipating. In fact, the ice was not forming as rapidly, or solidly, as they would have hoped, which meant an already treacherous journey has become nearly impossible. The general loss of ice in the Arctic has been an ongoing issue in recent years, and it has become a major problem for any explorers planning on heading to the North Pole in 2014.
As if that wasn’t enough to of a threat, the lack of ice has also diminished the size of the habitat for the numerous polar bears that live in the region. That has forced them all into a much smaller area, where they are aggressively hunting for food even at this early stage of the winter. Those bears don’t tend to exhibit any fear or shyness around man, and have been known to stalk humans in the past. With such a high concentration of them in one area, the Dark Ice team felt like they were just asking for trouble by attempting to travel through the bears’ hunting ground.
Despite these set backs, the team says they still plan to try to salvage the expedition in some way. They are all fit and ready to go. They have plenty of food and other supplies, and morale is high despite the fact that they are no longer going to the North Pole. What they have in mind has yet to be revealed, but they will continue to explore the Arctic during the winter in some capacity. Hibbert, who is the team leader, says that they are currently recruiting dog sled teams to assist them on whatever they plan to do next.
It sounds like they’re going to try to make the best out of the situation. With two years of planning behind the Dark Ice Project, there is no doubt a level of disappointment amongst the four teammates. Hopefully they’ll get some serious experience in the Arctic this year for a possible second attempt at the North Pole next year.