Ousland and Horn Reach Pole

Arctic Poles
Borge Ousland (left) and Mike Horn toil away on the Arctic Ocean. Photo: Mike Horn

Article Updated on 23/10/19

Mike Horn and Borge Ousland have reached the North Pole despite feeling the strain of dragging their crushingly heavy 180kg sleds over the poor ice of the Arctic Ocean. The experienced duo set off in Horn’s boat, Pangaea, from Nome, Alaska and disembarked onto frozen ocean last month at around 85 degrees. They passed the North Pole sometime in the last week.

Before reaching the Pole, Horn said “we are not making as much progress as we would like because of the open water and drifting ice.” They have also encountered large leads, thin ice and mazes of broken ice mixed with water.

Thin sea ice is unlike familiar, brittle freshwater ice. It oscillates underfoot like a waterbed; ski tips sometimes send out little bow ripples. Salt water also seeps into the snow cover, making the surface like glue and forcing the pair to shuttle their sleds one at a time. Ousland has called it a “battle for Inches.” Temperatures as mild as -6°C exacerbate the poor conditions.

“So many times, I look back at my sled and wish it wasn’t so heavy. I have stopped doing that now. Now I just wish I was stronger.” Photo: Mike Horn

On ice-covered snow, the polar veterans also have trouble distinguishing between light and dark nilas, or new sea ice– light nilas is opaque and safe to walk on, while dark nilas (less than 5cm thick) is transparent, showing the dark ocean just beneath, and is often too fragile even to ski on. Crossing a snow-covered lead can end up in an unscheduled dip.

Negotiating a lead. Photo: Mike Horn

As well as difficult ice, the pair now face continual darkness. While the drop in temperature will eventually improve the ice, it also makes life much harder.

Although they’ve spotted many bear tracks, no bears have turned up yet. “In the past, it was uncommon to find bear tracks so far north,” Horn notes. “But now, the increasing open water down south forces the bears north to survive.”

A seal breathing hole. Photo: Mike Horn

Now at 89°N as of October 22, the Norwegian and South African plan to push on toward Svalbard and the edge of the frozen ocean. Here, at about 80°N, they will reunite with the crew of Pangaea.

In a recent voice update, Horn sounded monotone and despondent, but suggested that spirits were good and resolve was strong.

“The leads are so big that we might start on solid ice, but towards the middle, it can be thin and weak. If the ice breaks and you fall in, there is no chance to get out of the water before you freeze.” Photo: Borge Ousland


Relevant Links/Information
There appears to be a significant delay in Horn and Ousland’s social media updates. Their Speedcast GPS tracker shows the most recent location.

About the Author

Ash Routen

Ash Routen

Ash is a postdoctoral scientist, globally published outdoor writer and arctic traveller. Ash's next expedition is a 700km trek along the coast of Baffin Island in 2020.

Read more at www.ashrouten.com

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3 Comments on "Ousland and Horn Reach Pole"

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mijares
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They already passed the north pole a few days a go, after 36 days of hard work.
Their social media updates are outdated

Trish
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Thank you for the update on Ousland and Horn. The conditions sound iffy with the sea ice and open water. Hopefully the farther they press the better it will get.
Again, thank you for the update especially regarding their progress.