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"I really did not believe that someone walking on the ice could ever see any real effects of global warming. However, I can say that the ice this year and 20 years ago is not the same." In the image Richard Weber (click to enlarge).
"In 2006, the ice is thinner: 4 to 6 feet thick. From Ward Hunt to 89 degress 30, we crossed only 3 big pans. Before 86 degrees, there was no open space that took more than 10 minutes to cross. The pans were crumpled completely. The ice rubble was filled with drifts and loose snow." In the image Richard's mate Conrad progressing on rubble ice (click to enlarge)
Despite bad conditions, Richard and Conrad reached the North Pole from Ward Hunt Island earlier this spring, completely unsupported and wearing snowshoes instead of skies. All images sent live over Contact 4.0 during the expedition, courtesy of Conrad Dickinson / North Pole Classic (click to enlarge).

Richard Weber: This is not the Arctic I saw 20 years ago

Posted: Jun 19, 2006 02:25 pm EDT
(ThePoles.com) Canadian Richard Weber is no stranger to the Arctic. For 20 years, he's been trekking across the frozen region - having accomplished his most remarkable feat in 1995 when he and Misha Malakhov did a roundtrip to the North Pole without resupplies. <cutoff>

<b>To the North Pole and back</b>

In spring 2006, Weber planned another return trip this time with different teams. The first half, from Canada to the North Pole, was a complete success: He and Briton Conrad Dickinson managed the distance unsupported in 52 days and 12 hours.

After reaching the Pole, Richard expected to ski all the way back, accompanying a group launched by his own company, Canadian Arctic Holidays, and led by his wife Josee Auclair. But this time conditions didnt allow them to go further south than 88 deg 52 mins north. There they called the expedition off due to poor ice conditions and a warning from Canadian pilots who said they could no commit to a rescue operation in case of trouble.

Now that he's back home and had time to reflect on the experience, Richard Weber is sure one thing: The Arctic he saw in 2006 is very different than the one he crossed years ago. Here is his report:

<b>Where have the big pans gone?</b>

I made my first expedition to the Pole 20 years ago in 1986. No GPS, no sat phones. I remember the ice during the second half of the expedition as being a series of big open pans separated by big pressure ridges, sometimes over 40 feet high. They were built from huge van size, even house size blocks of ice.

The weather in April was sunny. About April 29 or 30 we had our first white out. We were so unprepared we had not adjusted a single compass and so were not able to travel. We had to wait for the sun to come out to show us the way. Paul Schurke remembers the ice on the edges of the leads being 8 to 12 feet thick.

<b>Now there is just rubble and whiteout</b>

"In 2006, it was a completely different situation."

"The ice is thinner: 4 to 6 feet thick. From Ward Hunt to 89 degrees 30, we crossed only 3 big pans. Before 86 degrees, there was no open space that took more than 10 minutes to cross. The pans were crumpled completely. The ice rubble was filled with drifts and loose snow. There were no big pressure ridges.

From April 2 until April 27 we had 3 sunny days. We could not have found the North Pole without a GPS.

<b> The ice this year and 20 years ago is not the same </b>

I always thought that the yearly variations in weather (probably responsible for all the soft snow this year) would be greater than the effects of global warming. I really did not believe that someone walking on the ice could ever see any real effects of global warming. However, I can say that the ice this year and 20 years ago is not the same. Even the weather was one month in advance. March was like April, April like May.

Josee and I decided to abort our return to Ward Hunt Island because given the ice, snow and weather conditions, we do not believe that we could make it back to Ward Hunt before the ice near Ward Hunt turns to mush. The weather conditions make a re-supply or pickup by twin otter extremely difficult."

"We saw that continuing the trek would put our team in a life threatening situation, as well as causing the twin otter pilots to take unnecessary risks to rescue us if we could not make it. Though it was a difficult decision, we firmly believe it was the correct one: <i>Better a live donkey than a dead lion.</i>"

<i>Canadian Richard Weber and Briton Conrad Dickinson departed from Ward Hunt Island (Canada) in early March, unsupported for the North Pole, 775 Km (482 mile) away. They were loaded with 150 kg sled, and equipped with snowshoes instead of skis. They used no resupplies, no external help, no kites, and lacked dry-suits to swim across open leads. The two men, both 50 years old, achieved their goal at 01:30 GMT on Thursday, April 27 after only 52 days and 12 hours. The two explorers knocked 10 days off the British record for the fastest unsupported 775 km (482 miles) trek from Ward Hunt Island, Canada.

Conrad was a member of the award winning 2004/2005 Kites on Ice Antarctic expedition. Richard Weber's greatest polar feat was accomplished in 1995 when he and Misha Malakhov did a roundtrip to the North Pole without resupplies.

Upon arrival at the Pole, Richard expected to ski all the way back, accompanying a group launched by his own company, Canadian Arctic Holidays, and led by his wife Josee Auclair. The group was forced to abort due to bad ice conditions a few days after. They were picked up at 88 deg 52 mins North.</i>

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