Today calls for a celebration. If we had a bottle of champagne, we’d definitely have a toast. The occasion is simple and yet profound – Land Ahoy! Victor was the first one to spot the sight. He, as usual, was up ahead scouting the route, when suddenly he came to a stop. He was standing still for a while looking straight ahead. I began to suspect another polar bear when he turned around and started waving at me excitedly. I climbed up the three meter tall hummock to join him. My friend silently put his hand around my shoulders and pointed at the horizon. There, a crisp silhouette of Ellesmere Island was rising from the Arctic Ocean. It looked dark. It looked solid. We stood still for a moment; each one of us immersed in our own thoughts. We’ve been crossing the ever so moving and unpredictable Arctic Ocean for 41 days now. Our eyes got so used to the same monotonous, although beautiful, landscape of the Arctic. And then to see the land right in front of us, only few days’ worth of running was exhilarating. Our excitement was contagious. The dogs picked up on that and run extremely well for the rest of the day.
The end result is 25 km. To top it off, we crossed the 84? of North Latitude, and said hello to the 83rd degree. This degree marks the end of the Arctic Ocean and the beginning of the land.
The situation begs the obvious question: why would we see the coast Canadian territory rather than Greenland? It deserves an explanation.
According to the initial plan, we were supposed to cross the Arctic Ocean and ascend the Greenland ice sheet, in order to cross this frozen archipelago from north to south. The Mother Nature added some major corrections to our plan. For the last few weeks, we were facing an increasing amount of open water every single time we tried to head south-east. The luck of solid ice would force us to turn back west, and we had no other choice but to continue running along the open water, moving away from our course on Greenland Fjord Victoria. Once there, we would receive another air help with the provision, a second sled and two teams of 12 dogs each. Due to the fast approaching Arctic Summer and our running pace there is a huge risk of getting stuck in the ice that is not suitable for dogsledding and skiing. It is also impossible for landing an airplane; cutting off any possibility of an emergency air lift should we get surrounded by impassable hummocky ice or water clearings. A Canadian plane of Ken Borek Air that has already delivered a re-supply on April 30th, would not attempt another trip since the company rules clearly state that any landing on drifting ice is prohibitive after May 8th.
The situation in the south-east of the Arctic is such that it calls for a plan B. Here is a plan B in a nutshell: 1) Change the course to Canadian island Ward Hunt which lies off the north coast of Ellesmere Island. We then will reach Denmark Sirius Patrol hut which has a well-marked landing strip. This setting is familiar to the pilots of Norlandair company. They are the ones who are bringing our provision, a second sled and the new dogs. The Russian dogs that ran with us across the Arctic Ocean will fly home. 2) The same plane will fly our team to the northern coast of Greenland. 3) We will then continue on with our expedition. The ultimate goal is the crossing of Greenland from the northern tip to the utmost south of this second largest ice body in the world.
The decision to initiate plan B was not easy. However, it was the right one and will not undermine the overall goal of our expedition. And just because we are turning to Canada now, it doesn’t mean the rest of the way will be a breeze. Today we received information from Canadian Ice Service that to our right, only five kilometers away, a huge polynya (one kilometer wide) spread out from west to east. We were told that the satellite images are clear and there is no mistake that we must somehow navigate around this open water. At this moment we don’t have a clear plan how to cross this “river”. Tomorrow is another day. We are hoping for some good news. May be we should postpone popping open that proverbial bottle of champagne.
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