16th of February 2000, Torry Larsen and Rune Gjeldnes started on their epic First and Only unsupported crossing of the Arctic Ocean. Starting point, Cape Arctichesky, 81 degree North. The most Northern Point of Russia. With 400 kilos divided into four especially designed sleds, ready for their “war” or as Rune likes to say, play with the nature. When they reached the Geographical North Pole after 74 days, they where halfway there. After 109 days they landed on Cape Discovery in Northern Canada with no food left, 1 liters of water left, totally exhausted and weighing 53,2 kilos less than when they started out. But they made it!
After four years of planning and preparation, inclusive two North Pole expeditions with David Hempelman- Adams to gain the experience of what the Arctic Ocean is about, and lots of help from 100 – 150 people, we were at the starting-point of the finale mission. With pressure of all our promises to sponsors and all good helpers, for success!? We were very excited, but also kind of self-confident in some ways. We had done a good preparation for our mission to cross the Arctic Ocean.
We got very good support from the Norwegian Navy and Defence. One of the main goals for them, during the expedition, was to gain research on physical changes during longterm extreme- physical stress and cold weather conditions, pluss the mental aspect of an expedition enduring more than 100 days in the freezing cold. Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and US. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) was head of this. Team was tested three times, each 5 days testing. Before and two times after the expedition.
The North Pole Expeditions in ´97 and ´98 from Canada, with David, coldest ever by fare, had given such amount of experience which made the expedition strong. The problem with the Arctic Ocean is that you never know the next 10 minutes. And everyone tell you it is the worst year ever…every year! However, we had a good feeling. We had done some good preparation and we knew we where a good team. A dream team!
Early February the team departed from Norway heading for Siberia, via Moscow. Reaching Khatanga, were the last preparation had to be done. Everything had to be repacked and tested. Lots of administration and logistical problems appeared again, but solved by Cerpolex, the expeditions logistical partner in Russia. The camera team with, Arve Follesø, Kolbjørn Larsen, Harald Nordbakken and Helge Høybråten were helping with the preparation and certainly did their job.
Between all preparation we got in good contact with the locals, who was curious on what was going on. One day we were invited out on the Taiga. Two locals had set fishing net under the ice. Fantastic to see how they did this fishing, and we had a great lunch with frozen salmon and vodka. A Siberian receipt.
16 of Februar (From Torry´s diary) We’re on our way. Its been a good day. Left Schredney with everything we need. Rune was up front with the pilot when wee arrived at the Cape. It looked pretty bad, but the big lead we´d seen on the satellite photos wasn’t there today. Good. Landed 10 km south-east off the Cape, which wasn’t as planned. Farther to go, but right off the Cape the ice was especially poor and too unsafe. While we were packing the sleds, the helicopter crew had prepared a proper “last meal” for us. Before taking off, they invited us back on board and served us tasty Russian bread and reindeer soup, with much vodka toasting throughout. We were quite cheery by the time we were back outside, where the border patrol soldiers had made preparations for a great shooting match. We fired off AK 47 Kalasnikov automatic rifles fully loaded with trace and all. Fabulous fireworks and much cheering. We laughed so hard we cried. Russian!:-)
We were lucky to be placed by the helicopter crew further South than planned, and me (Rune) had adjusted the declination wrong on the compass as well, the first two days. We went east. This ended with good distance East, and we turned around the unsafe ice around the Cape with out understanding it. Our plan was to start slow with 6 hours days to get in shape and get used to the environment. Also using four sleds took some physical stress of us the first three weeks, when we were ferrying the sleds. Wich meant we pulled forward one sled. Went back and picked up the other one, which meant we were walking the first degree or 111 km three times. But, this was one of the key of success on the expedition.
4th of March
We were planning to use four sleds up to 30 days before leaving two of four. But, we felt we were too slow walking the distance three times and decided to leave two sleds after three weeks. That ended in Hell. Both of us suddenly had 150 kg to pull through rubled ice. We where nervous of braking mussels, because of the weight and strength. One of the good thing replaying has been the walk backwards without nothing and enjoying the scenery and the light. Just walking alongside and talk about anything and everything. And enjoying the Arctic Ocean!
First four week was maybe the hardest of the expedition? Maybe, the end of it? However, you think every day is hardest even it is not. First week (week four) with 150 kg sleds was terrible, but then we got into it, and got used to it. No complain. Then the sun rises above the horizon and minus 40 C became very cold. Sun rise means more wind and wind is more worse than the cold…in combination. From that day it was really cold.
During the first four weeks we came slowly into good routines and the environment. During this periode we also experienced most of the “accidents”. Broken tentpoles, 5 liters of fuel leakage into the sled and poisoned quite a lot of food. We experienced the worst rubble ice area on the whole expedition, working eight hours, and moved only 180 meters further North. Had our first and only meeting with the King of the Arctic Ocean. A huge Polarbear late in the evening 15 meters from the tent. For sure, the biggest on the Arctic Ocean that year!!! However quick of us both and we made some terrible noice and he slowly went away.
We used 19 days to cover the first degree, and after four weeks we had covered approximately 250 km towards North. All routines are good, and we feel fitter than at the starting point as we had planned. However we feel colder than at the beginning. Why we do not know. One of the coldest days on the expedition was 24th of March. Rune wrote in his diary: “LIFE IS WONDERFUL! Another icy cold day is over! Its only -32C, but with the chill of a 14 knot wind from northeast, its more than cold enough.
And he continued: Its bloody cold. My fingers, especially. We´ve been working on fingers and toes the whole day but never manage to get good and warm. We haven’t been using our skiing poles at all but kept doing hand exercises in order to get warm blood flowing to the tips of our fingers, keeping our hands low to get the best possible circulation. It helps a little bit.
We kept steady pace, and we did not have too big accidents, and we had our rest days. Our goal was to be in better shape at the Northpole than at the starting point. We carefully chose to have several rest days on our way towards the Pole. And we tried to put them on bad weather days. Awful to be out, and big risk for accidents. So we had maybe 7 rest days on our way to the Pole. And it made a big difference on the result! And we put on working hours along the route. Throughout the days we did not talk much expect from practical discussion. 50 minutes walk and then 5-10 minutes break to drink and eat something, and got cold every time. Using the first 10 minutes to heat up again.
Report 5th of April, day 50 by Torry: Its been another painful day on the Arctic Ocean. Shooting pains after two-three hours, which was bad enough to warrant a in couple of painkillers to help me make it through the day, resulting in stomach cramps because I haven’t`had enough to eat. But to look on the bright side: If I we’re a horse, for instance, in this kind of shape, I´d have been knackered. And to keep looking on the bright side: We managed 15 km today, in varying terrain. There’s been quite a bit of rubbel, we´ve been in a pressure ice zone with very bad skiing conditions. We´ve passed 86th degrees. The 85th was a long and hard one, and now we’ve started on another!
11th of April. Rune: Happy Birthday, Torry. 29 years. You’re finally becoming a grown-up. This is actually the third time we’re celebrating your birthday on thee ice. I feel bad about not having brought him something special, but I did make an effort. Saved up some goodies. 25 Davidoff cigars, two bars of New Energy chocolate added to todays´s chocolate ration. Just a little something, not a lot. Torry has finally awoken and we have celebrated both our birthdays.
Waiting until 20 May, which is mine, would have been silly. Well bee on shore by then! And Torry had made preparations, too! 200 cigarets and a book of poems: “Words about silence”. Great gift. Where else in the world should you been when reading others peoples thoughts about silence, than up here? We’re living in silence. At times its so quiet, it really gets to you.
Above daily report on the Iridiumphone to TV2; Ronald Toppe (jour). From 19th of April 2000. Only in Norwegian.
One an a half year before we started on the expedition, we made a time schedule for the whole expedition. That’s very hard to schedule an expedition on the Arctic Ocean, anyway. However you have to do it. The schedule ended up in 74 days to the Pole, from Russia. Hoping for better! However, after 74 days we finally made it to the Pole. And time for a rest day, which we have been focusing on all the way up.
30th of April: We took a restday at the Pole. Time for it and a great day with in and outside activity and lots of phone calls both serious and kidding! It was a great day, until we checked the provision several times. In the sled we just had food for 30 days left! At that moment we did not understand why. Years after we understood the fuel leakage early on the expedition was the reason. David and Rune used 55 days on the same distance two years earlier, and with support! Record speed to the Pole from Canada was 44 days, with support. The mood in the tent dropped to the bottom line. However, we had to continue.
We manage to convince ourself that North Pole evening, that it was possible to reach Canada in 30 days. Distance was shorter. Just 800 km. It was mentally downhill. Temperatures higher and better glide. Everything was lighter. And we were a dream team! 1st of May we left the North Pole in very optimistic mood. Three days later we were in the cellar again. The pace was fare to low to reach Canada. And this continued for days. Really struggling with our self and the dream about Canada was becoming totally impossible in our minds without talking about it.
From then on, in the mental cellar, we struggled to come on the positive side. Hard work, and also try to find a hope of success or a solution. Even though, it took us several days to figure out what to be done, too succeed! We had to gamble!
We started to figure out what was wrong, and ended up with the conclusion we could not speed up with our perfect, but big sleds in this conditions. The gambling solution was our 95 liters Bergans of Norway backpacks, special made for pulling the sleds. Limited space, we had to wait until 14 days out of the Pole. Just most life necessary could be given the chance to continue with us. We wished to bring everything with us!
20th of May; Rune. Happy 29th Birthday, Rune. good thing you’re finally growing up. Well, I slept well last night and feel quite rested. Seveen hours of sleep work wonders. I want good icee and good distances for my birthday, and no counter drift. Southwards is the ticket. I’m going home. and I will make a call to someone special tonight. She always seems to cheer me up. Which will give me something to think about tomorrow too.
And I have a lot of thoughts about food these days. Torry and I have decided to become amateur chefs when we get home. A fantastic hobby! Evening: The catastrophe we feared became reality today. Real ebb tide! Torry broke one of his skis, walking on flat ice. A typical material fatigue problem, and it looks as if the other three skis are in equally bad shape. This is a lot more worrisome than the problem of provisions. We can make it for a few days without food, but without skis we won’t make it another metre in this deep snow. Luckily we have a spare ski and will take along thee broken one too. Its possible to move the binding forward so that it can still be used, but it would only be about a metre long. A real “jet-ski”. “
We talked about having worries last night: We have plenty this days. But our talk was clarifying and in a positive spirit. Its good and important to talk thing over and say what we are feeling and thinking. Don`t want´s to keep things to ourselves. But have to be careful to choose the right moment and thee right words when there’s something on your mind up here. No big celebration of my birthday. We have much more important things to concentrate on than a birthday!
30th of May, Runes diary: The day has come and it is only 04:00 hours. We’re starting our last march towards Canada. We have already made one emergency decision on this trip: to get rid of the sleds. That wasn’t enough to make sure we get there on time. The food was supposed to last us until today but with the rationing we´ve been doing lately, there is still a little to go. Today we seen out on our very last stint for success. Our final chance – if it works, it works. 130 km to go across ice which starting to break up. The last leg will be done without sleep and not a lot of rest. Food will be very short too, but it has to be enough. We are both very excited. Have no clue how many days it will take us. Some long, hard kilometers are awaiting us, and it has to work out. Work, work and keep fingers crossed.
THE LAST MEAL, AND AFTER:
Dinner of thin soup piquantly spiced with the dash of fine fuel. We have one last chance to melt water, if wee could make the stove burn air. Wee´ve really run out of everything. Our body strengt is tarting to diminish as well. We’re tired, which isn’t so strange after four days without sleep. A good thing that its light out all the the time. Ha it beeen dark, I would have fallen asleep on the spot. No Kidding! This was the last time we put up our tent on this trip. We’ve done it 108 times. Next time we stop we won’t have thee time, and it isn’t all that important, because we won´t be able to melt water. If we manage to produce a few drops I´ll be happy. There really isn’t much water. 45 km left to freedom. Have to reach shore in less than 24 hours, or else…”It is no or never. Yep! Step on it!”
And we pushed on and on, and did not know that the pickup-team was on their way up 12 hours before we reach shore. The plan was to reach shore and then call for pick-up. Ward Hunt Island was the origin landing point. But, because of the strong ocean current and drifting ice, we were pushed West everyday from the North Pole. Final destination became Cape Discovery in the end. Which is 50 km further West on the Canadian coast. Last phone call was 13 hours before we reach shore, and much happened back at the support team. And they decided to start the pick-up flight. In the end everything was perfect planning from them and Pilote Carl and his team at First Air!