We got flown off the ice just in the nick of time. A new weather system was approaching us and if Troy the pilot didn’t land we would have been stuck another week before they were able to get to us. The pick up it self was nail biting. It took many attempts to put the skis on the surface, test it and then take off again, come back and do it again. No place was great to land and they were searching hard to make it work in low visibility and bumps.
We landed at Cape Discovery for a refuel – at least I got to see the fast ice and the mountains of Ellesmere Island – before we headed to Eureka where we spend the night.
Next day off to Resolute Bay, repack our sleds, washed clothes, did email and took long showers. A new much stronger weather system was approaching, this one now spreading all the way from Alaska to Siberia with the low sitting right over the Arctic. A report of the Canadian Ice Survey called for 95 km/hr southwest winds by next week. The drift and leads would so challenging that we couldn’t possibly out ski the drift or pass the leads that would be enormous. So is it a mixed blessing to have to leave?That is the challenge with expeditions; safety planning and covering yourself for “the what if” scenarios, especially if you don’t know what they might be and then make a responsible decision based on that. I am still grasping it all, processing my experience, mending my frostbites and painful fingers, and feel utterly tired and drained. But the media can’t wait for it to settle on my time frame. After spending 24 hours in airplanes (just in Canada), a three hour drive home to Fernie and a 3 hour sleep, journalists were haunting me via skype and phone the next morning to know one thing: “Was it all worth it?”
The Arctic is an amazing place, as hostile and violent as it seems with the relentless storms we faced, we also experienced incredible beauty and serenity. Martin captured this is his photographs and film and that is what we need to show to our audience. This place is worth it. The film project continues, the next step is a scientific underlay of our experience with the reality of climate change and how this will impact the North Pole in the near future. Who are the players and what is at stake if we don’t act soon? Stay tuned.
A cloud bank engulfed us an hour before the plane banked over us. We thought we were condemned to the ice for another week as the forecast was for continued bad weather and watched from a pressure ridge as Troy the pilot made at least ten passes in the distance before finally landing. We packed quickly and skied 45 minutes to the plane. Bengt was on board, collected at 88 degrees after abandoning his attempt to ski to Canada. The flight over the frozen ocean is always so captivating, pondering how we could ever live on it, travel over it, abide by it. And of course the final sector, that of the Canadian coastline with its colossal pressure ridges, is a bitter-sweet pill to swallow.
We stopped at Cape Discovery for refuelling and I now send this from my room at the Eureka weather station on Ellesmere Island. Canada! Land! Shower! People! Food! Beer! It can only but herald the end of another journey, and perhaps the start of another.
Pic of us on the plane.
A photo I took a few weeks ago to remind you exactly how beautiful, pure & unique this most delicate place is
I promised to not send another pic of someone in a white blanket but if I can’t escape it then why should you :))))
Yes, we have been forced to make the decision to abandon our attempt to reach Canada. Ken Borek Air’s deadline of latest landing on the sea ice has arrived, May 12, and we cannot guarantee reaching Canada with our remaining food, which means in effect we would be stranded if we didn’t make it to land. The distance remaining, average daily distance to date and food in reserve just doesn’t add up. From my respect as a polar guide it’s an easy decision to make, and Martin too who has been here many times before. In fact the decision was made for us. But for Bernice it’s a dream crushed. This was her baby and she is feeling the hopelessness acutely. But we continue to ski south as we await better weather for a plane to land. With the pressure off we are enjoying these unfettered days immensely, seeing the polar sea with new eyes, despite our 11th consecutive day of poor visibility. Today we skied 6km in poor light but no wind.
Pic of my goggle-eyed perspective of the route ahead.
Team Expedition Hope were faced with a difficult decision on Friday. The weather and conditions had made progress extremely difficult and several teams had already been rescued from the ice. Until now Expedition Hope had managed to defy the weather and conditions and were hopeful of reaching Cape Discovery. In fact only one other person remained on the ice.
However, after the resupply, apart from a couple of good days, the team’s daily progress was down to only a few kilometers per day and most of this was quickly lost by the negative drift the team had been experiencing. The blizzards and currents were simply pushing the ice away from Canada – and team Expedition Hope with it. One reason for this is thought to be that because the ice is much thinner this year, the currents and winds have an easier job moving the ice. It was an untimely reminder of just how fragile the arctic is. The team hoped to reach Canada by 22 May and had enough supplies to last several days more. However based on their current progress, they might need weeks not days to reach Canada, if the team were able to reach it at all.
The conditions also meant that should the team continue, it would very soon be unsafe for a plane to land on the sea-ice should they need a rescue. In recent years a plane had landed and then fallen through the ice. The pilots were also nervous. A decision had to be made.
Over the weekend the debate raged – should the team continue or not. Would the weather clear? Could they reach land ice for a rescue if necessary? How long would the supplies last? The team desperately wanted to continue. However, concerns about safety won and on Sunday the decision was made: on grounds of safety for the team, Expedition Hope will be taken off of the ice and returned by plane to Canada. They have fought through blizzards, swum and paddled across huge leads, been on the lookout for polar bears and navigated blocks of ice as big as houses. They were agonizingly close to reaching their goal (less than 200km away), but at the end of the day the safety of Bernice, Eric and Martin takes priority. The other remaining person on the ice, a Norwegian, is being picked-up too.
The team might not have reached Canada under their own steam, but the message they have carried with them remains the same:
The Arctic is in trouble.
Now is the time to act.
Now is the time to plant trees.
Stop talking. Start planting.
We never thought it could come to this but we are forced to leave the expedition whenever an airplane from Kenn Borek can get to us. We are currently 194 km from the coast of Canada and have been given a May 12 deadline for an ice pick up. We have tried to get an extension but the answer is no. Where ice pick ups possible in the past few years as late as June 13 now due to unpredictable weather in combination with arctic ice conditions, this date has been set much earlier since it is too risky to land on ice much later in the season. We are currently dealing with challenging conditions, many leads of open water, problematic pressure ridges and add to that a cocktail of zero visibility, accumulative snow, easterly drift again and strong winds as a series of storms have been nailing us during the last 11 days.
The road ahead is too unpredictable to risk without a safety net of a pick up in case of an emergency, an uncrossable lead or pressure ridge. Through the Canadian Ice Survey we have been given updates and know that some more difficult terrain is ahead of us as the ice collides and stacks up vertically against the coast. The storms and relentless southwest winds has mobilized the ice and it is breaking up. You can tally the distances from our last 10 days, and you will see we can’t stick to progress despite committing to long and hard days in adverse weather and ice conditions. We have given it our best effort.
This sadly leaves us to only one conclusion, the hardest one to make, and to take the last flight before Kenn Borek shuts down for the season.
This expedition has never been about a new route, a record or any kind of polar laurels but our aim has always been to simply show and tell how treacherous and spectacular the Arctic is and what is at stake. In these 40 days here, I believe we have given the world the best of our impressions in words and image and soon in film. The Arctic is incredible yet fragile and we desperately need to protect and preserve what remains left of it and I feel we have been successful in this. We are very fortunate to have been part of this expedition and for Plant for the Planet to commit and support to this experience. We dealt with adverse conditions that hindered us in a brutal way but also gave us an opportunity to witness and document what is at stake as we have crossed the various latitudes on our way south. We drifted 175 km to the east, 40 km to the North, had 3 major long lasting blizzards but we still manage to ski over 500 km. We continue skiing and documenting until the airplane lands which at this point is still uncertain because, yes once again, the visibility is zero. I will keep updating this blog until we are in Resolute Bay in Canada. Thank you all for your incredible support, this has meant and still means a lot to us..
Regarding the fauna we have already told you that the soil consistency in the Arctic is quite limited and that it is mainly made out of permafrost soil. It means that the temperature of this soil was lying around or below 0°C for at least 2 years and therefore was constantly frozen.
In some areas of Siberia and Canada the permafrost layer is up to 1.5 km thick. How does that relate to climate change you ask? Up to 1,000 gigatons, 1,000 billion tons, of carbon dioxide are bound in the Arctic permafrost soil. Due to the ongoing climate warming, the permafrost soil could defrost completely if nothing is being done against global warming. It is one cause of the melting but also the soil’s own energy by microbes which process the carbon inside the permafrost is a second engine. Microbes are little creatures which can’t be seen by the eye. They process carbon to CO2 and methane. Inside the permafrost soil their activity however, is strongly restricted or not even existing anymore because it is too cold. When the air temperature rises above 0°C the microbes start with their degradation work. Besides greenhouse gases, also warmth is produced which further defrosts the permafrost ground. If the complete permafrost would melt, ¾ of the locked carbon would be released as greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, just feeding into the global warming cycle.