Arctic 2020: Week Four Roundup

Arctic Endurance Skiing
A refrozen lead in Lake Baikal. Photo: Oli France

While new arctic expeditions have all been scrubbed because of COVID-19 — in Canada, northern communities do not want visitors from the south — the ongoing projects continue in their virus-free, socially isolated environments. This week, another adventurer crossed Lake Baikal, leaving just two men out on the ice. In Lapland, a sledding expedition has come to an early end, and a French pair still battle, with lengthening odds of success, across the Canadian Arctic.

Lake Baikal

Charlie Smith (GBR) has completed his Lake Baikal ski. It took the novice cold-weather expeditioner 17 days to cover the 639km. He summed the journey up as “17 days of total bliss with a dash of suffering to keep yourself honest”.

Charlie Smith at the north end of Lake Baikal. Photo: Charlie Smith

Oli France (GBR) is 14 days into his crossing, and the end is in sight. He has traveled around 580km, but his journey has not been easy.  Everything had been going well, at about a marathon a day pace over bare ice. Then with 160km ago, he hit snow, which slowed his pace and taxed different muscles. Already suffering from swollen ankles, bruised feet and throbbing knees and hips, it took him four hours to cover just 6.5km on the morning of day 13. The afternoon brought slightly easier conditions, and today he skied 40km over a markedly better surface. He can now see the distant lights of his endpoint.

The end is in sight for Oli France. Photo: Oli France

Roland Banas (France) reached the halfway point of his journey on March 12, seven days after setting off.  The weather has changed constantly on him. He battled fierce winds for hours, completely bundled up. Then blistering sunshine forced him to strip almost to his skivvies. After pulling his sled for over 12 hours a day on hard ice, his “feet are begging for mercy”, but he has now covered 560km, and the finish line is not far off.

Roland Banas. Photo: Roland Banas

Across Lapland

Rachel Bandieri calls time on her Lapland crossing after nearly 700km. Photo: Rachel Bandieri

After two weeks of solid progress, Rachel Bandieri (Switzerland) reached the halfway point of her 1,000km journey and was resting in Inari before beginning the 500km return leg.  She changed her route to avoid the worst of the deep snow but still struggled through a soft surface. By March 13, she was physically and mentally exhausted. She stopped in Pokka and accepted shelter in the village. She decided to continue the following day, but on March 15, after nearly 700km, a troublesome ski binding broke again, and she wasn’t able to jury-rig a repair. She decided to stop.

Rachel Bandieri’s broken ski binding. Photo: Rachel Bandieri

Denali via the Canadian Arctic

Matthieu Bélanger and Loury Lag battle on through the Canadian Arctic as they try to complete this second stage of their Icarus project. Since starting in Repulse Bay, their progress has been much slower than they anticipated, covering just 160km in 19 days. Storms, cold, frostbite and equipment breakage have all taken their toll. The French pair have now made the slightly risky decision not to resupply at the next village. With 22 days of food on board, they have decided to head north over the sea ice to the further hamlet of Taloyoak.

Word came down today that Matthieu Belanger seems to have become snowblind. They haven’t moved for a couple of days, and Belanger writes, “I am now in the tent blindfolded, treating my eyes with vitamin A balm, and waiting to recover before we can go again.”

About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Aspiring sports and travel journalist based in the UK.

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