Saturday, April 24, 2010

This is SOOO... special it deserves to go up on my Blog! From pupils in a class at a school in Brooks, Alberta, Canada; Here goes.....

A Tribute to Howard

If you are very adventursome this is actually written to be sung as a rap song...have fun with it!

A Tribute to Howard

There was a guy who had a crazy dream
To be cold and frozen with his four man team
They walked and skied through the northern extreme
They did it all under their own steam.

They had a few mishaps along the way
The ice cracked apart and caused a delay
A polar bear print made for a nervous day
The drop from the airplane broke your sleigh.

Food was plentiful but not always fresh
The pemmican was sour and not at its best.
The kerosene leak contaminated most of the rest
Thank goodness there was still something to digest

April 14th arrived at long last
Unfortunately with a very cold blast
You have finally made it, the top of your class
An experience that may never be surpassed.
Yay, Team North Pole

Friday, April 16, 2010

From the North Pole...!

Indinda and I at the end of the journey...The North Pole!

I know the news is out...We made it! 9h05 EST, 14 April 2010! (Sorry, PDA started playing up after my swim, and also a shortage of sleep, has delayed this communication, but hopefully not its significance!)

Somehow, the PDA is working again, and I write this as I sit on the Russian jet that took off from the ice at the North Pole (Barneo station) to take us back to the real world of Longyerbyen, Svalbard. Gee, what an amazing birthday... Due to the bad weather the helicopter couldn't come out to pick us up yesterday, so we camped out at 'The Pole' and waited till 3pm for the pickup. (Drifting 8 miles from the Pole as we waited!) As the helicopter came into view, on a perfect arctic day, it was very emotional packing up the tent for the last time. Then for the most amazing surprise birthday present... Ruth stepped out of the big helicopter and I was just blown away...!! With me doing the expedition and her adventurous personality, she had decided to join a 6-10 day, 2 person 'Last degree' expedition and then meet me at The Pole. With our, much earlier than planned, arrival, I had accepted we would miss each other, and I would wait in Svalbard till around 22 April, when she finished, but here she was at the Pole on my birthday... The stuff dreams are made of...! I have to thank Victor, in charge of the Russian Barneo operation for his wonderful birthday present in 'bringing her to me'. Our time together was short but packed with emotions, as Ruth's expedition flew out to 89 degrees an hour after our helicopter touched down at Barneo'! I'll see her again in 7-10 days!

The Team in front of the Russian helicopter that came to pick us up at The Pole...emotional stuff!

Thank you ALL for the amazing support and birthday wishes, it's been truly overwhelming, and I'll deal with each personally over the next week.

The last two days of the expedition were REAL difficult, and the last session of 9 miles was as per a classic Polar adventure / expedition drama... 45 knot blizzard, whiteout and 4 crazy 'explorers' barely visible fighting the conditions to reach the highly prized, 'nowhere'... nobody to meet you, no obvious landmark, no special compass, clock behaviour etc, 'Just' knowing it's the top of the world and whichever way you walk you go south! I thought I might even get dizzy, because for the 1st time in my 52 years and 364 days of life I was stationary and not spinning around the world! But, hey it felt just the same...! (Many times in the lead up to my decision to do this expedition I had thought through this, but now it was actual reality, and the thinking turned to the great explorers who were driven to 'find out' what was there. Having Richard right in front of me also made me think of the enormity of what him and Mikhail did... I couldn't imagine, turning around soon, and marching all the way back to Canada, and unsupported!

Interestingly, in the last day when things were real tough, I started questioning why I was needing to get to this 'nowhere' and concluded I didn't 'anymore', I had experienced more than I could have ever imagined, on the 41 days, that the relevance of the journey made the specific end point fade into insignificance, other than its delivery of the relief of the unavoidable and necessary suffering involved. As we reached the end point, emotions hit break point and we each turned to each other one by one and shook hands, exchanged individually intimate 'one liners' of our own relevance and appreciation of the team effort to 'get us here'. The specialness of Richard leadership and the Tessum's, Father / Son achievement, was something special to witness... Tears flowed in a way that's hard to describe.

One tired, but happy birthday boy! Inside our tent on 15th April 2010, waiting to be picked up by helicopter...Mission accomplished!

Going back to the last two days:

I know you know I had a REAL swim, as I asked Ruth to post something on the Blog, but because of it's significance on my last day's experience I'd like to share it with you...

Firstly, the last day, wasn't really 'a day' it was a tough 36 hours of hullucination and dealing with excitement, disappointment, patience, suffering, physical discomfort, and an 'un-manageable' mind, then dealing with the reality and significant conflicts of the Pole, I talk about above...!

My last Post was from the morning before these 36 hours and we had 19 miles to go... so from that point...:

A peek out the tent revealed whiteout conditions and a westerly, but slightly stronger wind still blowing… hmm, a sombre atmosphere over breakfast as we all dealt with the harsh realities of the marches ahead. Well, within 2 hours we were presented with a lead that wasn't open water, but newly frozen, and marginal thin ice. (For us snowshoe-ers vs. skiers) Richard tested a crossing on ski's and suggested David and I take our snow shoes off and rather walk on 'just boots', to avoid the snow shoe stressing the thin ice. I was excited by this, and while the skiers changed layers, I pushed Richard to let David and I go ahead and cross. Hmmm, those of you that know me well, will say "typical"! So excitedly I left, leading David and cautiously testing the ice. About 90% across with absolutely no warning, a 'next step', broke the thin ice, and I went down with my backpack on, and sled attached, in the water up to my navel. Hmm... icy cold water, slowly penetrating my warm and absorbent fleece wear! As I tried to get out the ice edge broke more, creating a sizeable pool and the icy water penetrated further... eventually backtracking led me to thicker ice creating a strong ledge which helped me 'help myself' out. I felt disappointed with myself that I had abused Richard's trust in me, and now was for the 1st time on the expedition, at a critical 'record, or no record’ time too. At the same time, I had this 'Ulysses' factor' excitement that said I was truly experiencing the Arctic! From previous discussions with Richard I knew I must roll in snow, as deep as possible, as it soaks up the water, so I did this, and then when he reached me he assisted by forcing fresh snow into my boots to absorb the water...!

Determined to minimize team delay, I urged the expedition on so I could start warming up, and hopefully avoid a total 'bottom half' freeze up. I could feel my boots were 'slushily’, warm, and twice the weight they were, and my polar fleece pants also weighed a lot more… all not good, and a bit scary... new territory! A stop to add another warm top proved critical. Over the next two hours marching after a difficult physical and mental struggle I knew I had gone to the brink of the frostbite line, but won!

A half hour later, I removed the layer that had saved me and was back too feeling like a 'normal' march, team member. Hmm, until felt short of my normal speed capacity, and realized I was short on calories, as the swim and cold had drained me. Few chocolate bars, and I felt 100% to the point where I took some fuel load from the slowest team member's sled to try and optimize our overall speed. This went amazingly well, and the team was now at full potential towards the goal, The Pole! At breaks or when we stopped, I did realize my boots were a fragile balance between being 'slushily' warm, and a dangerous encased ice prison,... I needed to keep moving, but what would happen for the relatively inactive hour at the end of the marching day, when we build our home? Meantime, the wind had strengthened, and we were back in full 'whiteout', with increasing -ve ice drift, as we edge northwards. Fatigue and disillusionment with the fact that the 19 miles would take us a lot longer than 'we' had wished, we conclude that the Pole would not be possible without us having a rest. Rest means, setting up and taking down camp, and all that goes with that... A minimum of 5 hours, including only 2 for sleep, with 0.5 knot backward ice drift as we rest! This is part of the very intriguing game of an arctic expedition like ours, it's a continuous struggle to 'beat the arctic’, and that game has drawn Richard back, and I can see what a master at it, he is. So a decision was made to rest at '9 miles to go', for two hours sleep, and then set off for that 'final' set of marches! With this interim goal the team motivation was high, and the 'nine miles to go' milestone came up at about 18h30 (EST) on the 13th. The wind was up to at least 40 knots, and the arctic had this 'dry ice' look with the blown surface snow looking subliming carbon dioxide, in the now dull sunlight.

As predicted, tent building provided a challenge to my soaked boots, and on entering the tent and removing my boots / socks, my frozen frost bitten toes were discovered! I was severely disappointed with myself, that I had largely managed the cold up to the last day, and now a silly mistake had delivered this blow. This news and the wet condition of all my gear changed the focus of the rest stop, to one where it was almost all about getting me back into condition to be able to complete the last 9 miles (plus drift as we camped). My team mates were amazing, David 'lending' me his warm armpits to thaw my frost bitten toes (the right foot big toe was the worst) As thawing started and blood circulation returned, the pain was horrendous, but no time for crying now! Richard helped pull my boots apart, so they could be dried above the stoves. This was a huge job as the 3 layers were completely frozen as one. Those that know me well will know I find it difficult to accept help, and this 'injured, needy, patient' position I was in was something I hate! The amazing friendship and unselfish help I received from my team mates was a humbling experience, and a huge human relationship, 'teaching moment' for me. Given his leadership role and draining whiteout, navigation activity on the marches Richard was particularly tired and needing off a nap, but instead helped me. Eventually my 3 team mates did manage a catnap, as I continued to de-ice and dry my gear.

At around 21h30 (EST) we were all packed up and back marching for our final assault on The Pole. Well the next 12 hours are close to..., if not THE hardest 12 hours I have EVER had to manage in my life! Weather conditions were shocking, the worst to date, true blizzard, and south drift peaked at 0.5 knots, discounting our forward efforts, my frostbitten toes were paining, and for some strange reason relating to their icing up, my trusted boots now created huge heal blisters from a new chafe. At one of the march breaks I even stripped down to bare feet to add vaseline at -40 deg C... hmm, not fun! Eventually, I succumbed to painkillers, the 1st time on the trip for me! Through all this, I have to admire Richard's leadership and navigation ability, as mile by painful mile we reeled in the Pole.

Almost 12 hours of marching brought The Pole, and the end of a TRULY amazing journey. The rest is history, but in the next week or so, I'll probably put out one last 'Reflections' Post!

Saying goodbye to The Pole, the Arctic and Barneo...about to climb into the Russian jet and leave the ice for Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

I am confident that I will have a full recovery from the frosbite, but a visit to the doctor in Svalbard will hopefully confirm that! At the moment it's very swollen and painful, but at least not black!

Now for indulging in the normal comforts and re-entering 'normal life'...

Thanks again, for all your support, I enjoyed having you along!

The South African flag at the Pole (Thanks Martin and Jean)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Position: 90 Degrees North!

Howard arrived at the North Pole at approximately 1500 GMT today, 14 April 2010! Probably the first South African and the oldest ever (at 52 years, 364 days) on this route.

The journey over the last 24 hours has not been easy, and perhaps the MOST challenging. In the last 24 hours Howard fell, fully clothed and without drysuit, through the thin ice and was more or less fully submerged. With some difficulty extracting himself over the thin ice, he got out, rolled in the snow to dry himself as much as possible, put on all his spare clothes and got moving to warm himself. He eventually got comfortable, but when they stopped to put up the tent, the very strong wind chilled him and has created frostbite damage on his toes. This was the condition he was in when after 2 hours sleep they set off for their final 10nm to bag the North Pole. As I talked to him when he called with the good news, he drifted off to sleep!

The team is now awaiting evacuation by helicopter to Barneo, the Russian ice base at around 89 Degrees North, expected in the morning (GMT time) where they will board an Antonov-74 for the 2.5 hour flight to Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Norway. There, Howard will have his frostbite seen to and begin the recovery process.

Happy Birthday Howard! I know all bloggers will join me in sending love, congratulations, fast recovery and thanks for sharing and taking us with you on yet another amazing and special journey.


ps Howard will be updating the blog in his own words as soon as he's able, so stand by!

Still struggling to the pole in very challenging conditions

A report from Howard this morning, they are 89.5 N 48 E and drift and bad stormy conditions are challenging their final steps to the pole. Howard reports some frostbite on his feet and is hoping for a quick evacuation on arrival to the pole.

Strong winds may delay this.

Stay tuned for further updates!

20 Miles to go. What a day!

When I wrote my last Post, I didn't think it could get more difficult, but today was VERY challenging. It's now 1am 13th April as I write this: We are just having a well deserved dinner and relaxation after a tough 14 marching day, which wasn't as productive as we would have liked… only 12 miles north achieved, but a lot of work done!
The lead we had to cross 1st thing this morning turned out to almost be the easiest thing of the day! The Arctic decided to help and did it's work for us overnight....In 8 hours a 200 metre wide and 'endless east / west extent 100% open water lead froze over, and then wind forced the two sides together just near our tent, creating a nature made bridge for us of smashed up ice blocks. So all our planning on how we would wake up and swim the 200m was not needed, and we were back in the hunt for the record. The wind continued to blow west / south west at 20 - 30 knots the whole day...not fun! Within 2 hours of starting we hit another wider open water lead....hmmm, now I know why I can't see that pole at The Pole I mentioned in yesterday's Post, it's a buoy too low in tye water! Gee, we saw lo6s of cracks and water today! We had to don drysuits once for an 80 metre real swim. Fortunately my sled has no cracks and is the only one still watertight and usable for water crossings. We shuttled all the stuff with the one, which took time and we all got really cold in the process, but at least made the only 'escape' crossing.'

An hour later produced another big lead, which forced a large detour and another 'swim'.....well we used the now named 'H' bridge....after me, as I designed it the day before. Basically we used the insulating mattresses laid out on very thin ice, and we 'leopard crawl' across the mattresses which spread our weight. This saved using the dreaded drysuits, which take lots of time. Needless to say the designer had to bee the first to cross, in case it didn't work! All went safely, but it was like crawling on a dry liquid screen!

Rest of the day was whiteout and wind until the last hour when a midnight sun appeared....directly ahead 30 degrees up from the horizon and directly north.

Gee, I am exhausted....'

Pole by Wednesday, and probably no Record, but we get up in 3 hours and march 'till we drop'....

Monday, April 12, 2010

30 Miles to go, but the Arctic still challenges and teases us...

It's 8am EST, on Day 41, and we are at 89 29.1N and 75 0.0W, the closest I have ever been to The Pole. In fact if there was a 'pole; at The Pole I would be almost bee able to see it from here!

Yesterday we had a huge 14 hour march day (including breaks), and made 17 miles north mileage. It was a miserable, tough day, with poor visibility, a bitterly cold, 25-30 knot, SW wind, two difficult to cross thin ice, leads, and one requiring drysuits. Tessum as the 'guinea pig' once again fell through the thin ice on skis. I cautiously leopard crawled across the short 60 metres in my drysuit, without breaking the ice. It was bitterly cold with the wind chill, and one of the guys had serious face frostbite, which miraculously didn't turn out into more serious facial damage. I struggled with the cold and recovering body heat after the march breaks. Finally with me leading the last 90 min march, which was supposed to end at midnight, at 23h30 I was presented with a wide, total open water lead crossing our path to the Pole. A serious obstacle, with no apparent solution other than a 200m swim ahead.

Got to bed at 3 am, up 7am, and now having breakfast, before setting out to deal with the lead crossing, which could dash our record hopes!

I am feeling ABSOLUTELY exhausted, and leading the march last night took all I had in me, and I had to dig REAL deep! A sleep and breakfast restores a lot, but we all just want it to end now! This is the difficult mind management time, I have been here before, but it's not nice or easy....I guess nothing of value comes easy!

Today we will do another 14 hours, and at the end of the day (24 hours daylight!) we should be in the 'teens' of miles to go!

Let’s see what the Arctic allows us to do today....

Day 39

Sunday morning 8 am EST, and we are just 49 miles to the Pole!

We only just 'escaped' from our floating island of two days ago, with Tessum having a Dry suit swim after falling through thin ice with his ski's on! I managed to 'leopard crawl' in my drysuit the 25 metres of slush! In the process my drysuit leaked sea water onto my camera which is now not working.

Tessum taking the last step escaping from out floating island... Now called Tessum's island... He found the escape route and then swam to the next island he is stepping onto!!