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Frostbite Chomps Arctic Ocean 2007 Expedition
Adventure talks with polar explorer Liv Arnesen about what went wrong with Arctic Ocean 2007, what frostbite feels like, and what's next.

Text by George Quraishi   Photograph courtesy Bancroft Arnesen Explore

Photo: Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen

ICE BATH: Arctic explorers Ann Bancroft (left) and Liv Arnesen (right) test Helly Hansen drysuits near Bekestus, Norway, for their 2005 expedition. 

Friday, April 13, 2007

In 2005, a Russian business dispute thwarted explorers Liv Arnesen, 53, and Ann Bancroft, 51, in their attempt to reach the North Pole. This time around, they found themselves encumbered by something decidedly smaller—a toe.

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On March 12, the team was forced to abandon Arctic Ocean 2007, a 530-mile (853-kilometer) unsupported slog to the North Pole. Bancroft and Arnesen hoped to use their expedition to teach children around the world about climate change, but spring temperatures weren't cooperating.

It was cold. So cold, in fact, that not even a week into the expedition, Arnesen pulled off her snowshoe and noticed that the big toe on her left foot was as black—and as sensitive—as a nugget of coal.

Arnesen first learned to yield to her body's limits during the summer of 1996, the deadliest in Everest's history. Just two camps from the summit, the Norwegian was coughing up blood and reluctantly decided to descend. She turned back from a second attempt several days later with cerebral edema.

The Arnesen and Bancroft duo, who met one another more than ten years ago, have enjoyed notable success. In 2001 they became the first women to ski across Antarctica.

A former high school teacher, Arnesen's primary motivation for exploring the Poles is to educate about global warming. She spoke with Adventure from Bancroft's home in Minnesota about what went wrong with Arctic Ocean 2007, what frostbite feels like, and what's next.

NGA: How are your feet?
Arnesen: The big toe of my left foot is black and I don't have any feeling. The next two have a lesser degree of frostbite. They'll be fine, but I don't know yet how the big toe will go. It's a really important part of your body—you need it for balance, for cross-country skiing and running. I'm walking, I'm supposed to take it easy. It's such a bummer. But the body has an extraordinary way of healing itself, so I'm positive. Both Ann and I are thinking, "What's next?" But right now I just have to heal.

NGA: Have you had frostbite before?
Arnesen: I had a little on my thumb many years ago. It wasn't as serious. This time was strange because I didn't get any warning. Usually you feel uncomfortable when you get frostbite. I had to repair a binding on my snowshoe, which was damaged when some of our equipment was hit by an out-of-control airplane before leaving Ward Hunt Island. So I had to make a strap around my left foot; it was probably too tight.

NGA: How does one evacuate herself from an Arctic expedition?
Arnesen: We walked. We were on pack ice when we discovered that something was wrong, so we decided to go back to Ward Hunt Island where we knew a plane could land. It took only a day and a half to walk back. If we had continued for a week to see how it turned out, it would have been impossible to get a pickup.

NGA: When you were in the Arctic it was very cold, an anomaly in the trend toward rising temperatures. Do you find it ironic that you had to abandon the expedition because of frostbite, in such frigid conditions?
Arnesen: It's not a surprise that it's so cold. It's as cold as it used to be in the old days—minus 60 degrees Celsius [minus 140 Fahrenheit]. That's cold. I think the thickness of the ice is what shows global warming, and that's enormously thinner year-by-year. The purpose of our expedition was to teach kids about global warming and we'll continue to do that.

NGA: Is it difficult to capture the attention of children who live far away from the Polar regions where, it seems, most of the change is actually occurring?
Arnesen: No, because they see it in their countries, too. In Malaysia they can see the signs in their forests. In the Himalaya they can see their glaciers are melting. There are other signs of global warming besides the ones we observe in the Polar regions. So that's the challenge for scientists from their countries, to help us communicate what's going on in places other than the Arctic and Antarctica.

NGA: You spend a lot of time in the Arctic. What do you do for vacations?
Arnesen: My husband and I guide ski expeditions on the glaciers in Norway. I call it a paid vacation. I really love skiing in the summertime—the temperature is nice, there is sun 24 hours a day. It's such a beautiful place.

NGA: Do you ever just go to the beach?
Arnesen: Never!

Update: After meeting with her doctor, Arneson learned that she would lose the tip of her frostbitten big toe.

Learn more about Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen's expeditions at

Cover: Adventure magazine

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