(ThePoles.com) Bob and I finished retracing Frederick Cook's route from his winter den on Devon Island, covering the 600 rough kilometers in 45 days, reports Jerry Kobalenko. We did everything except for the last 50km from Ellesmere to Greenland: There was simply no ice bridge this year, nothing we could do. Had Cook attempted the route this year, he would have perished, either on the Ellesmere side of starvation or trying to cross to Greenland in these conditions."
When he started out in March this year, Canadian Jerry Kobalenko knew what to expect: He has backpacked, man-hauled his sledge and kayaked through the Arctic regions for years. Jerry refuses to take sides in the old controversy about the first man to reach the North Pole; for according to Jerry, both Peary and Cook cheated. On this trip though, Jerry and American Bob Cochran decided to retrace one of Frederick Cooks journeys - one that Cook did for real.
Jerry expected lots of water; starting out one month later than Cook, he hoped enough ice would form. The men had a raft for short open-water sections and were prepared to cross glaciers, but could not afford too big sections of open ice. "The open water & porridge ice extended up all the way to the north tip of Ellesmere Island," Jerry reports in his debrief. "Maybe its global warming, maybe just a terrible ice year. As it was, we covered the same distance as Cook, since we had to make an immediate 70km detour west from his winter den around open water between Devon and Ellesmere Islands.
All other expeditions using dogsleds, Jerry and Bob were the first to ski the east coast of Ellesmere since Cook - a route Jerry had wanted to do for years. "It's a hard route because of the open water, the funny ice, the soft snow and polar bears. I've covered about 5,000km on Ellesmere Island, but this may be the most difficult route I've done" he told ExWeb before the expedition, adding that he wouldn't shoot polar bears until they practically kissed him on the head. So how did it go? Here is Jerry's full report:
Scaring Bears off with a Boo!
A difficult route, as predicted, with open water, rough ice and polar bears. Twice, bears broke into our sleds as we slept. One pair of two-year old bears still traveling together tried to run away with one of my sealskin boots. When we came out of the tent, they ran at us, but we fired a flare at them and they ran away, dropping the boot, which I was able to repair. Though they were big enough to kill us, their behavior seemed quite immature, and the whole incident felt almost like spaniels trying to run off with your favorite slipper. Another bear stalked us as we sledded but when it came close we scared it away with a loud, Boo!.
Twice we had to cross glaciers to circumvent open water, and once we managed to slip past along the ice foot, which was barely wider than our sleds.
The Arctic always calls the shots
We ran into a lot of multiyear ice -- those old rounded hummocks -- plus many sections of ice blocks that drifted down with the currents and stuck in place during freeze-up. Bumpy going."
"We fell way behind schedule at the beginning: The storms during the first half of April were terrible, including one with 50-knot winds lasting two days and which almost buried us with drifting snow. After the storm ended, it took us 16 nonstop hours to dig out the tent stakes and our sleds from under six feet of hard snow."
"But it snowed very little after that, and the hard snow helped make up for the rough ice. We began to catch up, and by the time we reached our end point at Pim Island -- the typical crossing point to Greenland -- we still had more than a week's food left. In any other year, we would have reached Annoatok.
Although we were sorry not to reach Greenland -- it loomed so close from Pim Island -- the Arctic always calls the shots. We worked hard, did our job and further progress was impossible, so no regrets. And although lots of explorers dog-sledded the east coast of Ellesmere, no one has ever trekked it successfully before, except Cook and his Inuit partners.
Starting in March, 2007 Canadian Jerry Kobalenko and American Bob Cochran skied 600 km in 45 days from Canada to Pim Island, following Frederick Cook's 1909 route from his winter den on Devon Island. The original goal was to reach the abandoned hunting site of Annoatok in northwest Greenland but lack of ice forced the skiers to finish the trip at Pim Island, 50 km away from Greenland.
This was Jerry Kobalenko's 15th sledding expedition actually his 30th self-propelled arctic journey -- including kayaking, canoeing, and backpacking. Jerrys expedition partner LA resident Bob Cochran kayaked in Alexandra Fiord in the summers of 2001 and 2003 on pilgrimages to the Greely sites on Pim Island. Jerry and Bob first teamed up for a major sledding trip around the Southwest corner of Ellesmere in May, 2005.
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