We have covered close to a thousand expeditions in 2007. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2007.
Today number 6: Thomas and Borge - In Nansen's footsteps, North Pole
Vikings sailed and rowed to Greenland, and probably America, in tiny ships long before Columbus. Fridtjof Nansen continued the Viking legacy in 1882 by crossing to Greenland waters in a sealing ship, before embarking on his biggest voyage: In 1893 he sailed Fram (the ship later used by Amundsen to Antarctica) to the Arctic. Fram was allowed to freeze and drift north through the sea ice.
Nansen wanted the North Pole, but one year into the trip it became clear that Fram wouldn't make it there. At 84° 4´ Nansen and his friend Hjalmar Johansen therefore left the ship and continued north on foot.
The two men started out on March 14, 1895 with three sleds, two kayaks and a bunch of dogs. They reached 86° 14´ N one month later and then turned back, expecting to find land at 83°N. No such luck though, and that's when the kayaks came handy for it took open water crossings until July 24, when they finally found some islands.
They over wintered there, building a hut of local rock and moss and hunting walrus and polar bears.
In a dispatch headlined "An incredible moment" and posted 28th of June, 2007, on day 59 since they started out from the North Pole Borge Ousland and Thomas Ulrich dispatched:
"Finally we have reached the winter hut of Nansen and Johansen! We didnt have to round Cape Norway but went through the mountains and used our kayaks only for the last half an hour. It was an incredible moment when we reached the ruins of the winter hut of the two pioneers standing 20 m from the shoreline: Rests of its walls built with stones are still there, then we discovered the huge wooden roof ridge over which they had tightened walrus skins."
"We found polar bear and walrus bones around; the two ate a lot of meat. Thats the place where they wintered for seven months, its incredible to see it and to realize they hadnt lost courage and didnt get mad here! A very impressive place."
A bold idea
Borge Ousland and Thomas Ulrich had done polar icecap crossings together before, in Patagonia. But the polar veteran and the climber split up for their North Pole quests last year. Borge was hired by a South African adventurer for a winter crossing attempt; Thomas would try a solo to he pole.
Both got their hands full. Borge made the NP but missed winter by only a few days, slowed by his rookie client. Thomas in turn was stranded in an ice floe when trying to reach firm ice from the Arctic coast in Russia. Borge was on the sat phone with him while Vicaar organized a fast emergency rescue.
This year, the two were back together again, to start from the North Pole and retrace Nansen's historic journey. It was a bold idea, considering they would have to cross the breaking ice close to land at the height of summer. Moreover, when they started out on May 1st from the North Pole with skis, kayaks and sleds (after been flown out by helicopter there), they still didn't have a permit to enter the Russian territory.
The first goal was 86° 4' of northern latitude the point most to the north which had been touched by Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen on March 14th 1895.
Each pulling about 170 kg, Borge and Thomas had attached a smaller sled loaded with fuel at the end of the kayaks, in order not to have to pull all the load in one attempt over the rough ice.
Swim suits ready, the even, big surfaces soon turned into pressure ice hard to pass with the heavy kayaks. It was -10 to -15 degrees warm though, "spring seems to have reached this place too, although there are no trees flowering up here ... they dispatched.
Still, the ice was decent and covered with snow, with few open leads. Borge and Thomas guys even flew their kites a couple of times. May 5th the first polar bear arrived, (at 89 degrees north!) prompting the two skiers to set up their electrical bear fence in camps.
The ice roughed up and whiteout blanketed the area. Thomas began to daydream about the house he had bought just before the expedition.
The sails came handy as the skiers learned to navigate them over the rough ice. Gaining ground fast, June 12th - only 40 days after starting out from the pole - the men were just 15 km away from the coast. For the first time, Thomas and Borge sighted land: A strange line above the horizon, a kind of lenticular cloud above the pack ice turned out the first island of Franz Josef Land!
Sailors celebrate this sighting, Thomas and Borg "hopped around like kids, shouting with joy!"
"Finally we even managed to see the two rocky noses on the island which Nansen mentions in his book. Were totally motivated and convinced to reach land tomorrow, they wrote.
Already the next day, the conditions fast got worse. "The ice was terrible, totally rotten and broken up, the leads filled with polished chunks of ice; furthermore, we suffered a strong drift to the North after six hours of hard work with our kayaks bent together to form a catamaran, we had moved just 500 meters in the right direction! Its scary to be here, everything is moving..." the two skiers, not prone to exaggerations, now dispatched in horror.
"In front of the island we saw the usual dark cloud which indicates open water; in the last 43 days, weve always tried to avoid such leads, but now were holding directly towards it in order to reach the land paddling through open water.
June 14, on the 45th day, "we knew," the said, "this was going to be D-Day!"
Waking up in the morning, the men found they had drifted back North to the position of the day before. "After ten hours in terrible ice we managed to get to the lead, where we started to paddle with our kayaks over a huge, broad channel."
"Finally, on the other side, we met good ice connected to the land. So, after 25 hours we had been on the move day and night , we reached the little Eva Liv Island. Unfortunately, we couldnt really get on it because of its steep, glaciated shoreline. But at least we found a spot below the cliffs where to build up our first camp on land.
Not over, at all
Just in time, after 45 days of crossing there from the NP, they got the permit to traverse the big archipelago with its 191 islands thanks to Viktor Boyarsky, "the Russian agent of Thomas and Børge, has worked extremely hard for it and managed to overcome all obstacles," said the home team.
Ahead: another 45 days - to traverse Franz Josef Land in Nansen and Johansen's tracks towards Cape Flora in the Southwest.
An island hopping commenced over a mix of ice and land. On June 19th, the two ended up in horrible ice which convinced them to retreat back to land and get a better overview from the top of the island in order to know more about the conditions on the sea which by now was only partly frozen and showed a lot of open water and difficult ice to traverse.
They decided to attempt the traverse again in ski boots and swim suit. "The first 1,5 km or 3 hours were really difficult; we were basically hopping from one piece of ice to the next. All of a sudden, the ice got surprisingly better; we met nicely frozen ice pans and were able to set up camp after 15, 4 km."
A young polar bear male came by, "he was only 20 m away, we were ready to greet him with pepper spray, rubber bullets and signal flares. But he stopped and then followed us for about half an hour, trotting 200 to 300 m behind us, before he simply got bored and left.
Ghost motel; rooms filled with snow
The days continued with the men hopping from one ice floe to the next, shooting for anything to get off the rotten ice.
June 22nd, Thomas and Børge managed to accomplish the last bit of the long passage on the ocean between Freeden and Hoffmann Island. For the first time during this expedition we found soil beneath our skis, real firm ground, not only glacier, ice or water. We also saw the first human tracks: an old abandoned polar station of the 1960s an inhospitable place, all the rooms filled with snow and everything totally broken!
The guys had some help navigating by their home team reading satellite images to them over satellite phone. This allowed them to move on firm ice 200 away from the scary pressure ice zone they'd passed earlier. "Nansen didnt even know where he and Johansen were exactly, its incredibly impressive to see what they accomplished up here without help and without losing courage!"
June 24th they reached the tiny Houen Island, its cliffs covered with green moss and thousands of birds nesting - this was where Nansen and Johansen put their feet on firm ground for the first time since leaving Fram.
Sailing black sea among walruses
Ahead; open water and time to use the kayaks as small sailing boats. "After eight, nine kilometers we got our kayaks ready for paddling and along a 30 m high glacier cliff to a next cape. In the West we saw huge surfaces of black, open seawater; the same as Nansen had experienced it a very different landscape. We went on solid land bound ice; we had got a little bit scared of the open water because of the many walruses in there."
Paddling and skiing the men passed tall, moss covered basaltic cliffs, a group of narwhales, a polar bear mother with two cubs sniffing at the sledges.
But they were at the end of their rope, taking increasingly longer to get ready in the mornings, "I think we wouldnt make it anymore with 170 kg sleds, Borge said.
June, 28 on day 59 Borge and Thomas finally reached the winter hut of Nansen and Johansen, posting the dispatch that began this award story.
The Russian archipelago has been a restricted area for decades. In 2005 VICAAR managed to wrestle a permit out of two presidents and a deputy speaker (incl Putin!) for the FJC expedition which set out to explore the wilderness in the footsteps of the 1874 discoverers, K. Weyprecht and J. V. Payer. The expedition was 'guided' by the infamous dog "Nanuk" who made a bad rep for himself for being chased around the camp by polar bears and hitching rides on the expedition sleds.
After over wintering at the hut, Nansen and Johansen continued to Cape Flora, where they met Brit Frederick Jackson. The Long Riders' Guild described the historic meeting: "Securely berthed in a tidy cabin at Cape Flora, in the remote Franz Josef Land, was one of the forgotten heroes of Arctic exploration, Frederick George Jackson. The English polar explorer was living there with four companions, all of whom were involved in a three year scientific investigation of this still uncharted part of the world."
"Thus when the Norwegians stumbled onto Jacksons 'forward camp,' they not only met one of the most remarkable characters in Polar exploration history, they then became involved in one of the most startling, and now forgotten, episodes of geographic chivalry ever recorded." Jackson took care of the two explorers until a ship arrived, and helped Nansen to map the area, offering him even to name some of the spots. Nansen took his offer only on one spot, naming it "Jackson Island."
The final crossing to Cape Flora and the Nansen/Jackson meeting point took the last of Borge and Thomas.
July 20, what was supposed to be an end of their expedition, turned into forced rest with polar bears rattling at their fence. But July 24, on day 85 of their expedition; Thomas Ulrich and Børge Ousland reached Cape Flora and the memorial tablet marking the British and Norwegian pioneers' meeting on June 17th, 1896.
Thomas and Børge had covered a distance of more than 1400 kilometers, in 85 days. Entirely self-sufficient, they had not met a single soul. 112 years after, Borge and Thomas retraced the steps of the Gentlemen explorers Nansen and Johansen, and brought some well-deserved attention to a little known British Gentleman explorer named Frederik Jackson.
Thomas and Borge stay in our memory for their courage, self reliance, ingenuity, pioneering and determination.
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Previous in the countdown:
7. Dodo Kopold - 3, 8000ers in 4 months, Himalaya
8. Hannah McKeand - The fastest trek, South Pole
Jannu West Ridge First Ascent: Valery Babanov and Sergey Kofanov
Torres del Paine Base Jump: Valery Rozov
In the hoofsteps of Genghis Khan: Tim Cope
NW Passage in ice catamaran: Sebastien Roubinet
Lhotse Shar, G2 NF & Jasemba, Lhotse south near-winter ascent
More about Thomas and Borge: Norwegian Borge and Swiss Thomas departed the North Pole on May 1, 2007. On July 24 they reached Cape Flora, the southernmost point on Siberia's Franz Josef Land by skis and kayaks. The two explorers were brought back to the North Cape by a sailing vessel. From there, Børge pedaled a bike to Oslo, while Thomas flew home to Switzerland.
Borge Ousland was born in Oslo, Norway in 1962. He was the first to do an unsupported expedition from Russia to the North Pole in 1994 - beating the second runner up team of 8 Russian skiers by two weeks. Among his feats are a solo kite crossing of Antarctica from Berkner Island to McMurdo in 96/97 and an Arctic kite traverse in 2001 (March 3 to April 23, Russia-Canada, one resupply). He has also attempted Everest. In 2006 Ousland, together with Mike Horn, reached the North Pole unsupported from Russia. Departing on January 22, in full Arctic night, the expedition missed to be completed in winter by only two days.
In 2003 Borge Ousland and Thomas Ulrich did an unsupplied, kite-supported crossing of the Patagonian Ice Cap: Borge and Thomas Ulrich completed that expedition at top speed (49 days), but at an earlier exit point than the Chilean pioneers on the route.
Thomas Ulrich was Born in Interlaken, Switzerland in 1967. He has climbed Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, El Capitan, the Eiger north face, and made kayak and climbing expeditions on the east coast of Greenland.
Last year he set off on a solo, unsupported NP crossing trip from Russia. Barely a week into his solo crossing attempt though, Thomas got stuck on a fast drifting ice floe. On the night of March 9 the situation got even worse: Strong winds brought high waves; the ice began to move and the floe on which Thomas was sitting broke into pieces. Most of his equipment was lost. Bad weather prevented rescue helicopters to take off before Saturday at 1pm local. By midnight, they had located the explorer and airlifted him safely back to the Golomyanny weather station.
The archipelago of Franz Josef Land is under Russian military regulations and has been closed for outsiders since early 1930. Very few expeditions have visited the islands. Before this year's expedition; no one had skied from north to south after Nansen. Borge has previously done two expeditions to Franz Josef Land: In 1993 he skied through the islands from east to west and in 2004 he was expedition leader on the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn.
Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat; Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, while Jackson fell into oblivion - until now when his name was brought forward by the efforts of modern historians and explorers such as the Long Riders' Guild.
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