|Daily Expedition Data|
|Location:||80°24' N, 088°51' W|
The past few days have felt timeless in many ways. We now travel from 9:00 p.m. ‘till about 4:00 a.m. every day. The transition to night travel has been seamless thankfully and lacking in the typical jet lag, so we’re happy about that.
Nighttime travel means that we have the sun at our backs as we ski south. Since the sun is low in the northern sky, it casts a gentle off light that is just so special to experience. It’s kind of hard to describe, it’s sort of like the light that you see before the sun starts to set. It just lights up mountain peaks and the ice in a really, really nice way. Night travel also plays with our minds, so we lose sense of our typical chronological reference points. Sometimes we lose track of where we are on the clock and the calendar and feel kind of lost, not in a bad way, but it’s just a funny feeling.
The land up here, it feels like a place that time has forgotten in some ways. People rarely travel in a lot of these parts and it is largely an animal world, and in the past 48 hours we’ve been experiencing that. We’ve seen 3 wolves very close to camp, a huge herd of musk ox that included 31 animals, including 8 calves. So that was super cool, we saw that today. And we’ve also seen at least 41 Arctic hares in the past 48 hours, including one huge group of 23. We have seen wolves so many times that sightings seem almost commonplace and the fact that they look like really big dogs also adds to that effect.
Temperatures are pushing up closer to freezing point, but so far snow has held out and the skiing is very good. Today we skied through a whiteout of fog all day, and that can be numbing to the mind, but can also be enjoyable if you’re patient and in a good mood as we were today. And so now it’s about 7:15 in the morning, we’re having our dinner shortly, and then we’ll go right to sleep. Our goal these days is to keep the tent as cool as possible when the sun is high in the sky which is when we’re sleeping. OK, thanks for listening everybody, more to come soon.
|Daily Expedition Data|
|Location:||80°37' N, 90°00' W|
Brother in the Back – 05/21/13
Hi, everyone, Kyle here from our red tent in the wilderness on Ellesmere Island. Today’s blog is about the dog that I have been skijoring with for most of the trip. His name is Axel.
Axel, or Schmaxel as I refer to him, is one of the brothers in the back. Our brothers in the back are Axel and Larry, and Larry skijors with Hugh, and Hugh and I are generally at the back of our queue. The Brothers in the Back is also the hit single, which was written by John Huston, and if you ask him, I’m sure he will sing you Brothers in the Back on his return.
Axel’s real ambition in life however is to be at the front of the queue. He is incredibly, incredibly strong. It’s an amazing thing with these dogs how strong they are. It’s difficult to actually put into words until you experience the raw power of an Inuit sled dog really digging down and pulling you. It’s an amazing, amazing thing, so I basically abuse Axel for his strength and in return at lunch breaks, he comes and sticks his head on my knee for a piece of bacon, and so it’s a pretty even relationship.
One of my main tasks out here is to film the expedition and it’s quite tricky when there are four people with their dogs and eight sleds between us and very rough ice. And one has to maneuver with your dog and the dogs all want to be together. So pulling one dog out of the equation changes things. It means that first if you’re in front, all the other dogs want to run straight to the dog that is sitting with you while you film. So it’s a bit of a process, but over the course Axel has learned to very patiently, and against his nature, to sit under my tripod while I film. And he then follows me back and put on my skis and we follow everyone. He’s a really sweet dog and doesn’t know how strong he is. He’s probably pulled me off balance while I was filming about ten times and I fall flat on my back much to everyone’s amusement. So that’s Axel and we’ll be updating you on some of the other dogs as well.
We’re currently camped under the magnificent White Mountain on Axel Heiberg. Tomorrow we plan to climb to the top and to look over the vast area that Sverdrup mapped. It’s a really great place to do that and the weather report looks good.
Everyone is doing really, really well. We’re currently having our dinner, but it is 5:30 in the morning. So we are a little turned around from traveling at night and can’t believe that we only have two weeks left of what’s been a really incredible adventure so far. So more soon and greetings from everyone.
|Daily Expedition Data|
|Location:||80°45' N, 91°05' W|
Cruising South – 05/19/13
Some of you may be wondering if we’ve been using our ski sails.
Well, we decided not to use the ski sails because the effectiveness of our wonderful skijor dogs has far exceeded our expectations when we planned the trip so much so that we are a few days ahead of schedule and have ample time for a walks on the land and for filming.
Yesterday was the 17th of May, Norwegian National Day, and we celebrated and helped Toby celebrate with a very special feast of six courses, and here they are:
• Course Number One – John’s maple chipotle bacon without the maple
• Course Number Two – Some candied wild British Columbian salmon that was vacuum-sealed for us by a friend and was excellent
• Course Number Three – We had some Asian rice chips
• Course Number Four – Toby’s famous greasy bacon pasta casserole that has become our favorite trail meal. Toby is an excellent cook and he has a very nice beard too.
• Number Five was the special famous chocolate bars brought from Norway by Toby, some Freia chocolate with the fruit and nuts included inside.
• And the Sixth Course was some coffee to wash it all down. I had a cup of decaf.
And we really enjoyed that. We enjoyed relaxing, just a few skis on the land. And today we headed south into what is increasingly, increasingly becoming springtime, and up here that means temperatures that are hovering just below freezing and lots of sunshine.
About an hour into the first march today we spotted a herd of musk oxen up on a nearby hill. And so Kyle, Toby and I skied over to investigate while Hugh watched the dogs. And there were 16 total musk oxen in the herd, and we were able to get pretty close and get some awesome photos and video over the next two hours or so, so that was super fun. And then took a relatively short travel day after that, and made a decision to start traveling at night which will begin around 11:00 tonight and end around 6:00 in the morning tomorrow. So, if the weather holds, we’ll be traveling while you’re sleeping, so we get cooler weather for the dogs and we don’t get as sweaty ourselves. All right everybody, thanks for listening and hope your spring is going well.
|Daily Expedition Data|
|Location:||80°59' N, 91°33' W|
Cairn Revisited – 05/19/13
We now have more information about the cairn near Lands Lokk. We prematurely concluded that the cairn might have been built by Otto Sverdrup.
According to Jerry Kobalenko and Graeme Magor, two Canadians who visited the cairn together in 1997, the cairn was built by American Robert Peary in 1906, four years after Otto Sverdrup first visited Lands Lokk. And in 1930, Hans Krueger, a German, opened the cairn. We thought the cairn could have been built by Otto Sverdrup in May of 1902 because its size and location fit well with the descriptions of the Lands Lokk cairn in Sverdrup’s book New Land and his personal expedition journal. When Krueger opened the cairn in 1930, he found a note from Peary dated 1906. In 1954 Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith and Robert Christie, two geologists, opened the cairn and found a note from Krueger and a copy of Peary’s note that Krueger had made as was the custom in those days.
The fate of the three-man Krueger expedition is unknown. They left Lands Lokk and continued southwest to Axel Heiberg Island and were never seen again. Approaching Krueger Island and Kleybolte Peninsula on our way to Lands Lokk, we had both the Krueger and Peary Expeditions on our minds and we thank Graeme and Jerry for connecting their stories to the cairn we visited. So, the mystery of Otto Sverdrup’s missing Lands Lokk cairn lives on. It is this sort of tangible and living history that makes Ellesmere Island a fascinating place to travel and to read about.
Over the past few days we have crossed Nansen Sound again and are now camped by a big iceberg just off the east coast of Axel Heiberg Island. Two days ago we skied across a huge piece of ice that appeared to be a broken off ice shelf. It took us almost an hour to ski across it. Temperatures are starting to warm up, but the winds are keeping things cool; the dogs are happy about that. Today, May 17th, is Norwegian National Day, so Kyle, myself, and Hugh are doing our very best to help Toby celebrate that very important day. And we’ve taken the day off to help those efforts. OK, thanks for listening everybody. Talk to you soon.
|Daily Expedition Data|
|Location:||81°10' N, 91°49' W|
Old & New Ice – 05/16/13
Hello, this is Toby calling in from the ice. We are now about midway in the big Nansen Sound and we are camping directly tonight on the sea ice. And I thought in this blog that I would talk a little bit about the sea ice as we’ve spent so much time on up here.
The sea ice very roughly can be divided up in two types: there is yearly ice, that is ice from the winter that we’re in, and then there is the multiyear ice, that is ice that can be anywhere from about 2 years old to up to 6, 7, or maybe 8 years old. A lot of the ice that we’ve traveled on so far on this trip has been year ice, that’s ice from this year, and in the fjords and sounds of Ellesmere displayed almost flat like the ice on a lake in the interior in the winter. The multiyear ice, it’s a lot thicker and it’s also a bit wavy. And it has sort of like small valleys that are remnants of meltdowns from the year before.
Now when we’re on the sea ice, obviously we also need to drink and we usually have two options to get water: one is to collect snow that is in drifts on the ice, and the other is to find old sea ice where we can chop up the top layer and melt this ice. And it is beautiful, it’s full of air and it’s a very effective way for us to get water. One of the big changes on the polar ocean and in the Arctic over the last 20 years is that the multiyear ice, this old generational sea ice, has been very, very much reduced. So about from 1980 until today, about two-thirds of this old ice has disappeared, with obvious consequences.
We are now on our way to Axel Heiberg Island, that’s a Norwegian island. And we look very much forward to a national day that we’re going to celebrate on May 17th. I’m sure you’ll hear much more about that. On a smaller note, John’s beard is getting longer even than it was the last time I did a blog. We’re all still very happy about that and impressed about the progress on that front. OK, that’s all from ice today. I look forward to calling again. OK, bye.
|Daily Expedition Data|
Found Otto’s Cairn – 05/13/13
Based on our resources, which include Otto Sverdrup’s book New Land and his personal journal from the second Fram expedition, we believe that we have found the cairn he built in May of 1902 near Lands Lokk.
Toby first sighted the cairn last night around midnight as he and Kyle went for one last look around the area before we headed back south. We think the exact location of this cairn has been unknown for a long time. It appears the cairn is very old and well built and that it has been previously opened. When we opened it today, we found nothing inside.
Cairns were built for purposes of surveying and as a means of communication. Explorers sometimes left notes indicating their travel plans or even mail to be sent home. This cairn marks the northern end point of the second Fram expedition, the expedition responsible for the largest mapping and the largest geological survey of polar territory before the use of airplanes and satellites. The cairn is located at N 81 degrees, 39.16 minutes, W 91 degrees. 52.58 minutes.
We are super excited about the find. We thought it was a very slim chance that we would locate it when we started the expedition and planning for the expedition two years ago. We’re camped just a bit south of it on the sea ice. The wind is blowing a bit from the southeast. And we are celebrating in the tent with a little scotch. Thanks for listening everybody. More to come soon.
|Daily Expedition Data|
|Location:||81°36' N, 91°57' W|
Lands Lokk Reached – 05/12/13
It is Day 41 of the expedition and we have arrived at our northern most destination Lands Lokk, which is Otto Sverdrup’s furthest north which he obtained on May 6, 1902, so just a few days before we arrived.
And we arrived in very similar conditions to him with a bunch of humidity blowing in off the Arctic Ocean from the north and poor visibility and kind of mystic, mysterious cloud and light formations. So that was a bit windy in the face, but kind of fun as well.
We’re camped close to where we think that he and his travel companion Per Schei camped. And we’ll take tomorrow off; we’re going to give the dogs a day of rest and a bunch of food. We’re going to spend time searching for a cairn that Sverdrup erected that has never been found.
Now this cairn, just for the people that don’t know, is more or less a pile of rocks, typically but not always, with a bottle inside that contains a note stating information about the people who made the cairn, route information, and other information. So if someone else found the cairn, they could kind of have a trail to locate in case the original party went missing, or there was some information to convey. Sverdrup also used cairns to help him make maps and for navigational purposes as well. So two other capable expedition parties have spent some time up here looking for this cairn, so we think our chances are fairly low. But it’s going to be pretty fun to hunt for it and to walk around the beautiful mountains and hills right outside our campsite here.
So everyone’s doing very well right now. Kyle’s appetite has gone up. Toby’s beard is still a very big beard; it’s got a lot of white sunscreen pressed into it that doesn’t ever seem to go away. Next to him is a picture of his hero in the tent, Otto Sverdrup, that was just hung on the wall. And Hugh, I think he has a bigger beard than Toby and he’s still taller than Toby. So everybody’s doing well; we’re happy for a day of rest.
We’d also like to thank our two main sponsors of the expedition, Bergans of Norway, makers of technical outdoor equipment and clothing since 1908, and Devold, maker of wool underwear and sweaters, a Norwegian company founded in 1853. So thank you for the support. And we’d also like to thank our dogs for their wonderful support, Elle, Axel, Larry, and Napu. We’re happy to be here, we’re thrilled the expedition is going so well, and we hope you have a very nice weekend.
|Daily Expedition Data|
Towards Land’s Lokk – 05/10/13
Hello, this is Toby calling in. It’s the 7th of May today; it’s the 38th day of our expedition. And we are now less than 30 nautical miles from our big goal, our big mission, which is Land’s Lokk.
Land’s Lokk was the northern most position that the second Fram expedition reached in 1902. And on the 8th of May 1902, Otto Sverdrup and the young geologist of the expedition, Per Schei, reached this destination. Land’s Lokk is on the north coast of Ellesmere Island, and is therefore facing the polar ocean. We have noticed over the last couple of days that we’re in a new or different climate; there’s a lot more moisture in the air and today was a really cold day. We had temperatures minus 20 degrees Celsius, but the moisture in the air and the wind made it one of the coldest days of our expedition so far.
We’re all very excited that we’re getting close to our big final goal. And when we get there, we will spend a couple of days looking for, among other things, a cairn that Sverdrup built up there that has not been found as of yet. So, we’ll spend a few times. I’ve done a lot of research in Sverdrup’s personal diaries, and all available other resources that we have access to, and it will be very exciting to see whether we will find something up there or not.
After we’ve been to Land’s Lokk, our expedition will again face southward and we are hoping to walk into the Arctic spring and different weather. We will then most likely travel down the east coast of Axel Heiberg Island, which is known for its incredible wildlife and natural beauty.
Everyone is doing very well. The dogs are working really hard in the conditions that we have right now. And John is growing a really nice beard at the moment, which we’re all very excited about. So we’re going to be really excited to call you from Land’s Lokk in a couple of days or maybe as many as four depending on the ice conditions. And I’ll be sure to call in, to be blogging in very soon, to let you know how our search for the lost cairn has gone. Until next time, hope you guys are enjoying the spring in the south.
|Daily Expedition Data|
Little Larry – 05/06/13
Larry is a dog. He is not little. Larry is 90 plus pounds of muscle and fur. These days he is skijoring with Hugh, but I spent two weeks with him earlier in the trip.
He is a pulling machine who loves to pull so much that he barks and hammers his harness when he’s stopped. He and his brother Axel are our workhorses and pull the heaviest loads in the back of our caravan. Larry has so much fur around his neck that sometimes it’s hard to find his collar. He also has a huge head, a huge mouth, one of the biggest mouths ever seen on a dog, and an equally large tongue. So he takes that fur, he takes his big old head, and it all combines to kind of give him a lion-esque regal presence. So he is often sitting there lying in ways that make him look like a very comfortable and contented lion who is never ever cold.
Every day these days, he seems to reveal more of his playful personality. Sometimes he paws at the legs of his skijor companion or other times he’ll roll over on his back and scratch his back on our ski tips. It’s these sort of hardworking and endearing qualities that have caused a lot of people to fall in love with sled dogs as we have done so with ours. They’re a huge part of trip and we really, really love working with them. So, good job, Larry; you’re a good boy.
We’re on Nansen Sound right now. We just finished another dinner, which never ever has trouble going down. Kyle’s appetite is increasing; he’s now munching on one of our 630 calorie fudge bars as a dessert. Toby’s brushing his teeth and Hugh is cleaning his glasses with his underwear. Good job, Hugh. We don’t have a lot of things to clean glasses with around here.
OK, thanks for listening. Things are going really smoothly. No wind right now, and we’re headed to Land’s Lokk and we’re going to tell you more about that pretty soon.
|Daily Expedition Data|
Halfway Facts – 05/05/13
We’re about halfway through the expedition now, so it’s time for another installment of fun expedition stats and facts. But first a quick wrap up of what’s taken place over the last 2 days.
We’ve kind of been on the border of spring really popping on this expedition and it’s been very warm. Sometimes we’re skiing only in our long underwear tops and with our pants fully unzipped and ventilated on the side zips. But yesterday afternoon we got hammered by a good storm; we haven’t had a big blow like that on the trip. Visibility dropped to basically zero; we had a lot of trouble seeing in front of us. And winds picked up to 15 to 20 knots from the northwest, so we called it a day right after the first march, and took our time carefully putting up the tents and staking out the dogs, making sure nothing blew away. So, it was a loud night in the tent because it was getting battered by winds, but it all was safe. It gets your adrenaline up a little bit when you’re working in conditions like that.
Today we entered Nansen Sound for the first time, this huge body of water that leads out to the Arctic Ocean and our furthest north point that we’re heading towards called Land’s Lokk, which is also Otto Sverdrup’s furthest north point and a special destination for us. We’ll tell you more about that later. Ski conditions were totally awesome and we are out in the middle of the sound and looking at mountainous cliffs on two horizons to the northeast and to the south.
OK, here come some expedition stats from the first half of the expedition:
• Total distance traveled so far – 284.4 nautical miles
• Number of bears seen – only 2
• Number of wolves – 35, including 12 around Eureka repeatedly
• Number of Arctic foxes we’ve seen – 5
• Number of seals – that would be 8
• Number of musk ox is 31.
• Number of 32-gigabyte memory cards full of video and photo so far – 17. Good job, Kyle.
• Most common water source early on in the trip – snow, preferably very dense snow blocks from wind-packed snow berms
• Most common water source lately is chipped pieces of ice from old sea ice blocks and/or icebergs.
• OK, and what we do with that water, number of liters of water drank per person per day -
-John, myself, I drink about 4 ½ liters. I need a lot of water or I turn into a useless grump.
-Toby, he drinks 2.5 liters per day, but sometimes he drinks only half a liter. I don’t know how he does that.
-Kyle, he drinks 3 liters and Hugh does as well, 3 liters for him, too.
• The biggest eaters lately would be myself and also Hugh. Again the North American stomachs are far outperforming these small European stomachs across the tent here.
• OK, typical dog/skijor arrangement from front to back is Elle, and then Napu, followed by Larry and last in line is Axel. The people kind of shift around, but those dogs more or less stay in the same position.
• The dog who is best at lying on its back with paws up for long periods of time at random points during the day would be Elle.
• The dog with the biggest head is Larry, no contest, and he has a mouth that’s almost as big as his head. We’ll have more about little Larry coming up; he’s a fun, special dog.
• OK, typical hours traveled per day is 7. We take time to film and walk on the land sometimes, and things like that, so that’s why the hours traveled are relatively small compared to other like North Pole or South Pole expeditions.
• Number of liters of fuel used per day for the whole team is about 1.2 liters.
• Hours we run our MSR stoves every day is about 4, plus or minus.
• The current champion of the team quiz is Kyle, and Hugh is a very close second up to this time. We make quizzes for each other that are humorous and entertaining about once every two weeks.
• Most distance covered in a day is 16 nautical miles, on the day we arrived into Eureka with very light sleds, awesome ski conditions.
• Our shortest distance covered in a day is 3.8 nautical miles and that happened yesterday in about 4 hours of travel and the storm hit and we called it a day.
• OK, favorite hand wear, what we were on our hands during the travel day –
-Toby, is the Steger Expedition Mitts.
-Kyle, also the Steger Expedition Mitts.
-Hugh, he likes the Devold Wristlets, which are like sweater wrists that go around the thumb, back of the hand, front of the hand and part of the wrist.
-And myself, John, I like my old cross-country ski gloves that I grabbed as I left town just on a whim, so I’m glad about those.
• Most common outer shell layer worn lately is the Bergan’s Microlight Jacket. It’s very lightweight, it’s got a hood, it breathes super well, and it also blocks some of the wind.
• We like to take hikes on land, whenever we can, to get up high, see the views, see what Sverdrup and his men would have seen and look for animals and that sort of thing. So we’ve done that 13 different times; it’s quite enjoyable.
• As you may know we had a pack of 12 wolves raid camp while we were in Eureka talking to the staff away from camp with our dogs. The casualties of that wolf raid were -
-My lunch bag full of chocolate truffles and nuts and butter and bacon.
-My spoon which was in that lunch bag; I have two, thank goodness.
-Hugh’s Thermarest was stepped on by a wolf and got a puncture, so it had to be replaced by a backup one out of our resupply.
-And here, my lunch bag where it was stored in the tent vestibule, there is now what we call it, a bite mark. So our Bergans Wiglo Tent has been bitten by a wolf, but it’s all right.
• OK, wrapping it up here, number of minutes per march and per ski session is about 90.
• We have about 15 minutes for every break.
• Normal ski conditions lately have been totally awesome, light snow cover, a few softer berms here and there, a few sastrugi to ski over, but very, very good ski conditions. We love it.
• And the number of days until this expedition reaches its completion is only 33. And it seems like it’s going to go very fast for us out here on the ice.
Ok, thanks for listening everybody.