On February 28, Belgians Alain Hubert and Dixie Dansercoer will step off the Siberian mainland and onto the (hopefully) frozen Arctic Ocean in an attempt to complete the longest ever crossing of the Arctic basin.
Over the next 110 days, they will ski, stomp, and sail—aided by giant kites—to the southern tip of Greenland, more than 2,500 miles (4,020 kilometers) away. In 1998, the pair completed a world record-setting 2,438-mile (3,924-kilometer) Antarctic crossing, but this trek poses much different challenges.
By summer the Arctic Ocean's 10-foot-thick (3-meter) overlay of ice begins to fissure, as Hubert, 53 and a Rolex Ambassador, and teammate Dansercoer, 44, well know. They were forced to abandon a similar traverse, in 2002, because of the thawing ice. Adventure
caught up with Hubert—explorer and co-founder of the International Polar Foundation (IPF)—one day before his departure to find out how this expedition will be different, and, with any luck, successful.
This expedition is one of many timed for the International Polar Year,
a two-year research campaign that launches on March 1, 2007, to examine the physical, biological, and social issues confronting Arctic and Antarctic regions.Ten years ago you and Dixie Dansercoer set the record for the longest crossing of Antarctica by foot and ski. How will crossing the Arctic compare to crossing Antarctica? Hubert:
Much of the [Arctic] traverse will be on sea ice, which is always moving. It's impossible to know what will happen in the coming hours. But as soon as we get to the ice cap on Greenland we expect to sail [across the ice] quite a lot. You quite often get bad weather, but it's good because then you get the wind. Greenland is a paradise for kites because the snow is a bit soft. In Antarctica you have sastrugis
—this is a Russian word with no translation. It's like an icy wave, as hard as concrete, which makes it impossible to sail. You attempted a similar Arctic traverse in 2002, but had to call it off. Why? Hubert:
It was not exactly the same. We started 370 miles [600 kilometers] further south. It was the first warmer winter in the Arctic, which gave us lots of problems. We were too slow to reach the other side of the ocean before summer, so we had to turn back. That's why you're starting this expedition in February, to beat the melt? Hubert:
Exactly. Strategically, for the second half of the expedition at the beginning of summer we will be on the ice cap. Even if it's warmer we can get through. First we will travel over 1,100 miles [1,800 kilometers] on [frozen] sea. Nobody has ever tried this way so we have no idea, especially with global warming. You've climbed some of the highest peaks in the world—Everest, Cho Oyu, and Gasherbrum I and II, just to name a few. Did you train differently for this expedition than you would for a climb? Hubert:
It's a bit different because we will have to pull an eight-foot (2.4-meter) sledge, which is quite heavy. We have long distance training—mostly running and cross-country skiing. In addition to that, we worked with a trainer to help optimize our movements and form—motions that we are going to repeat thousands of times during the expedition. How did you get interested in polar exploration? Hubert:
Because of reading certain books when I was young, one of my dreams was to go to the polar regions. When I was about 38, I said to myself, Why don't you try to live your dream? So then I decided to go to the North Pole; then the South Pole. One day I was crossing the street in the center of Brussels and I saw two young kids playing like two young explorers right there in the street. One of them said to the other, "Hey, Alain, pull your sledge!" I was totally impressed. On this particular day, I decided to do more. This expedition has certain educational and scientific goals. Hubert:
We are working for the European Space Agency, which is the equivalent of NASA in the U.S. Every 20 miles [30 kilometers], we will take a measurement of the snow thickness. But we are also sportsmen and would like to complete the longest crossing of the Arctic basin. The IPF [International Polar Foundation] focuses on awareness and education, but also demonstration. I think it's important to make people dream about the Poles because this planet is changing much faster than before. We need young people, new adventurers, new explorers, new scientists going to these areas. Climate change is a fantastic problem. It's very difficult to face, but it's also very interesting because, for the first time in human history, one question concerns all of humanity. Rolex is an official sponsor of the Arctic Arc expedition.Follow the team's progress at www.arcticarc.org.
Learn about the differences and similarities of the Earth's polar extremes in the Arctic and Antarctic regions >>
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