John at 3:00 AM

by John Huston

The past few days have felt timeless in many ways. We now travel from 9:00 p.m. ‘till about 4:00 a.m. every day. The transition to night travel has been seamless thankfully and lacking in the typical jet lag, so we’re happy about that.

Nighttime travel means that we have the sun at our backs as we ski south. Since the sun is low in the northern sky, it casts a gentle off light that is just so special to experience. It’s kind of hard to describe, it’s sort of like the light that you see before the sun starts to set. It just lights up mountain peaks and the ice in a really, really nice way. Night travel also plays with our minds, so we lose sense of our typical chronological reference points. Sometimes we lose track of where we are on the clock and the calendar and feel kind of lost, not in a bad way, but it’s just a funny feeling.

The land up here, it feels like a place that time has forgotten in some ways. People rarely travel in a lot of these parts and it is largely an animal world, and in the past 48 hours we’ve been experiencing that. We’ve seen 3 wolves very close to camp, a huge herd of musk ox that included 31 animals, including 8 calves. So that was super cool, we saw that today. And we’ve also seen at least 41 Arctic hares in the past 48 hours, including one huge group of 23. We have seen wolves so many times that sightings seem almost commonplace and the fact that they look like really big dogs also adds to that effect.

Big bunnies

Temperatures are pushing up closer to freezing point, but so far snow has held out and the skiing is very good. Today we skied through a whiteout of fog all day, and that can be numbing to the mind, but can also be enjoyable if you’re patient and in a good mood as we were today. And so now it’s about 7:15 in the morning, we’re having our dinner shortly, and then we’ll go right to sleep. Our goal these days is to keep the tent as cool as possible when the sun is high in the sky which is when we’re sleeping. OK, thanks for listening everybody, more to come soon.

Daily Expedition Data
Date: 5/23/13, Day 54
Location: 80°24'N, 88°51'W
Traveled: 7 hours, 10.8 miles
Temperatures: 30°F am, N/A pm



Axel aka Schmaxel

by Kyle O’Donoghue

Hi, everyone, Kyle here from our red tent in the wilderness on Ellesmere Island. Today’s blog is about the dog that I have been skijoring with for most of the trip. His name is Axel.

Axel, or Schmaxel as I refer to him, is one of the brothers in the back. Our brothers in the back are Axel and Larry, and Larry skijors with Hugh, and Hugh and I are generally at the back of our queue. The Brothers in the Back is also the hit single, which was written by John Huston, and if you ask him, I’m sure he will sing you Brothers in the Back on his return.

Axel’s real ambition in life however is to be at the front of the queue. He is incredibly, incredibly strong. It’s an amazing thing with these dogs how strong they are. It’s difficult to actually put into words until you experience the raw power of an Inuit sled dog really digging down and pulling you. It’s an amazing, amazing thing, so I basically abuse Axel for his strength and in return at lunch breaks, he comes and sticks his head on my knee for a piece of bacon, and so it’s a pretty even relationship.

Kyle and Axel

One of my main tasks out here is to film the expedition and it’s quite tricky when there are four people with their dogs and eight sleds between us and very rough ice. And one has to maneuver with your dog and the dogs all want to be together. So pulling one dog out of the equation changes things. It means that first if you’re in front, all the other dogs want to run straight to the dog that is sitting with you while you film. So it’s a bit of a process, but over the course Axel has learned to very patiently, and against his nature, to sit under my tripod while I film. And he then follows me back and put on my skis and we follow everyone. He’s a really sweet dog and doesn’t know how strong he is. He’s probably pulled me off balance while I was filming about ten times and I fall flat on my back much to everyone’s amusement. So that’s Axel and we’ll be updating you on some of the other dogs as well.

We’re currently camped under the magnificent White Mountain on Axel Heiberg. Tomorrow we plan to climb to the top and to look over the vast area that Sverdrup mapped. It’s a really great place to do that and the weather report looks good.

Everyone is doing really, really well. We’re currently having our dinner, but it is 5:30 in the morning. So we are a little turned around from traveling at night and can’t believe that we only have two weeks left of what’s been a really incredible adventure so far. So more soon and greetings from everyone.

Daily Expedition Data
Date: 5/20/13, Day 51
Location: 80°37'N, 90°00'W
Traveled: 6.75 hours, 13.5 miles
Temperatures: 24°F am, N/A pm



Elle and John are Hawks fans

by John Huston

Some of you may be wondering if we’ve been using our ski sails.

Well, we decided not to use the ski sails because the effectiveness of our wonderful skijor dogs has far exceeded our expectations when we planned the trip so much so that we are a few days ahead of schedule and have ample time for a walks on the land and for filming.

Closing down May 17

Yesterday was the 17th of May, Norwegian National Day, and we celebrated and helped Toby celebrate with a very special feast of six courses, and here they are:

  • Course Number One – John’s maple chipotle bacon without the maple
  • Course Number Two – Some candied wild British Columbian salmon that was vacuum-sealed for us by a friend and was excellent
  • Course Number Three – We had some Asian rice chips
  • Course Number Four – Toby’s famous greasy bacon pasta casserole that has become our favorite trail meal. Toby is an excellent cook and he has a very nice beard too.
  • Number Five was the special famous chocolate bars brought from Norway by Toby, some Freia chocolate with the fruit and nuts included inside.
  • And the Sixth Course was some coffee to wash it all down. I had a cup of decaf.

And we really enjoyed that. We enjoyed relaxing, just a few skis on the land. And today we headed south into what is increasingly, increasingly becoming springtime, and up here that means temperatures that are hovering just below freezing and lots of sunshine.

Toby checks out the Musk Oxen

About an hour into the first march today we spotted a herd of musk oxen up on a nearby hill. And so Kyle, Toby and I skied over to investigate while Hugh watched the dogs. And there were 16 total musk oxen in the herd, and we were able to get pretty close and get some awesome photos and video over the next two hours or so, so that was super fun. And then took a relatively short travel day after that, and made a decision to start traveling at night which will begin around 11:00 tonight and end around 6:00 in the morning tomorrow. So, if the weather holds, we’ll be traveling while you’re sleeping, so we get cooler weather for the dogs and we don’t get as sweaty ourselves. All right everybody, thanks for listening and hope your spring is going well.

Daily Expedition Data
Date: 5/19/13, Day 50
Location: 80°45'N, 91°05'W
Traveled: 4.25 hours, 8.2 miles
Temperatures: 14°F am, N/A pm



Happy Birthday, Norway!

by John Huston

We now have more information about the cairn near Lands Lokk. We prematurely concluded that the cairn might have been built by Otto Sverdrup.

According to Jerry Kobalenko and Graeme Magor, two Canadians who visited the cairn together in 1997, the cairn was built by American Robert Peary in 1906, four years after Otto Sverdrup first visited Lands Lokk. And in 1930, Hans Krueger, a German, opened the cairn. We thought the cairn could have been built by Otto Sverdrup in May of 1902 because its size and location fit well with the descriptions of the Lands Lokk cairn in Sverdrup’s book New Land and his personal expedition journal. When Krueger opened the cairn in 1930, he found a note from Peary dated 1906. In 1954 Geoffrey Hattersley-Smith and Robert Christie, two geologists, opened the cairn and found a note from Krueger and a copy of Peary’s note that Krueger had made as was the custom in those days.

Hugh and his buddy Axel

The fate of the three-man Krueger expedition is unknown. They left Lands Lokk and continued southwest to Axel Heiberg Island and were never seen again. Approaching Krueger Island and Kleybolte Peninsula on our way to Lands Lokk, we had both the Krueger and Peary Expeditions on our minds and we thank Graeme and Jerry for connecting their stories to the cairn we visited. So, the mystery of Otto Sverdrup’s missing Lands Lokk cairn lives on. It is this sort of tangible and living history that makes Ellesmere Island a fascinating place to travel and to read about.

Larry, John, and Elle having fun in camp

Over the past few days we have crossed Nansen Sound again and are now camped by a big iceberg just off the east coast of Axel Heiberg Island. Two days ago we skied across a huge piece of ice that appeared to be a broken off ice shelf. It took us almost an hour to ski across it. Temperatures are starting to warm up, but the winds are keeping things cool; the dogs are happy about that. Today, May 17th, is Norwegian National Day, so Kyle, myself, and Hugh are doing our very best to help Toby celebrate that very important day. And we’ve taken the day off to help those efforts. OK, thanks for listening everybody. Talk to you soon.

Daily Expedition Data
Date: 5/17/13, Day 48
Location: 80°59'N, 91°33'W
Traveled: 0 hours, 0 miles
Temperatures: N/A am, 23°F pm



Toby's favorite camp chore

by Toby Thorleifsson

Hello, this is Toby calling in from the ice. We are now about midway in the big Nansen Sound and we are camping directly tonight on the sea ice. And I thought in this blog that I would talk a little bit about the sea ice as we’ve spent so much time on up here.

The sea ice very roughly can be divided up in two types: there is yearly ice, that is ice from the winter that we’re in, and then there is the multiyear ice, that is ice that can be anywhere from about 2 years old to up to 6, 7, or maybe 8 years old. A lot of the ice that we’ve traveled on so far on this trip has been year ice, that’s ice from this year, and in the fjords and sounds of Ellesmere displayed almost flat like the ice on a lake in the interior in the winter. The multiyear ice, it’s a lot thicker and it’s also a bit wavy. And it has sort of like small valleys that are remnants of meltdowns from the year before.

Now when we’re on the sea ice, obviously we also need to drink and we usually have two options to get water: one is to collect snow that is in drifts on the ice, and the other is to find old sea ice where we can chop up the top layer and melt this ice. And it is beautiful, it’s full of air and it’s a very effective way for us to get water. One of the big changes on the polar ocean and in the Arctic over the last 20 years is that the multiyear ice, this old generational sea ice, has been very, very much reduced. So about from 1980 until today, about two-thirds of this old ice has disappeared, with obvious consequences.

Old ice

We are now on our way to Axel Heiberg Island, that’s a Norwegian island. And we look very much forward to a national day that we’re going to celebrate on May 17th. I’m sure you’ll hear much more about that. On a smaller note, John’s beard is getting longer even than it was the last time I did a blog. We’re all still very happy about that and impressed about the progress on that front. OK, that’s all from ice today. I look forward to calling again. OK, bye.

Daily Expedition Data
Date: 5/15/13, Day 46
Location: 81°10'N, 91°49'W
Traveled: 5.6 hours, 11.3 miles
Temperatures: 4°F am, 16°F pm



The cairn

by John Huston

Based on our resources, which include Otto Sverdrup’s book New Land and his personal journal from the second Fram expedition, we believe that we have found the cairn he built in May of 1902 near Lands Lokk.

Toby first sighted the cairn last night around midnight as he and Kyle went for one last look around the area before we headed back south. We think the exact location of this cairn has been unknown for a long time. It appears the cairn is very old and well built and that it has been previously opened. When we opened it today, we found nothing inside.

Find the cairn

Cairns were built for purposes of surveying and as a means of communication. Explorers sometimes left notes indicating their travel plans or even mail to be sent home. This cairn marks the northern end point of the second Fram expedition, the expedition responsible for the largest mapping and the largest geological survey of polar territory before the use of airplanes and satellites. The cairn is located at N 81 degrees, 39.16 minutes, W 91 degrees. 52.58 minutes.

We are super excited about the find. We thought it was a very slim chance that we would locate it when we started the expedition and planning for the expedition two years ago. We’re camped just a bit south of it on the sea ice. The wind is blowing a bit from the southeast. And we are celebrating in the tent with a little scotch. Thanks for listening everybody. More to come soon.

Daily Expedition Data
Date: 5/12/13, Day 43
Location: 81°39'N, 91°53'W
Traveled: 2 hours, 3.4 miles
Temperatures: 1°F am, 6°F pm



Toby celebrates arrival at Land's Lokk

by John Huston

It is Day 41 of the expedition and we have arrived at our northern most destination Land's Lokk, which is Otto Sverdrup’s furthest north which he obtained on May 6, 1902, so just a few days before we arrived.

And we arrived in very similar conditions to him with a bunch of humidity blowing in off the Arctic Ocean from the north and poor visibility and kind of mystic, mysterious cloud and light formations. So that was a bit windy in the face, but kind of fun as well.

We’re camped close to where we think that he and his travel companion Per Schei camped. And we’ll take tomorrow off; we’re going to give the dogs a day of rest and a bunch of food. We’re going to spend time searching for a cairn that Sverdrup erected that has never been found.

Our camp, 2013

Now this cairn, just for the people that don’t know, is more or less a pile of rocks, typically but not always, with a bottle inside that contains a note stating information about the people who made the cairn, route information, and other information. So if someone else found the cairn, they could kind of have a trail to locate in case the original party went missing, or there was some information to convey. Sverdrup also used cairns to help him make maps and for navigational purposes as well. So two other capable expedition parties have spent some time up here looking for this cairn, so we think our chances are fairly low. But it’s going to be pretty fun to hunt for it and to walk around the beautiful mountains and hills right outside our campsite here.

So everyone’s doing very well right now. Kyle’s appetite has gone up. Toby’s beard is still a very big beard; it’s got a lot of white sunscreen pressed into it that doesn’t ever seem to go away. Next to him is a picture of his hero in the tent, Otto Sverdrup, that was just hung on the wall. And Hugh, I think he has a bigger beard than Toby and he’s still taller than Toby. So everybody’s doing well; we’re happy for a day of rest.

We’d also like to thank our two main sponsors of the expedition, Bergans of Norway, makers of technical outdoor equipment and clothing since 1908, and Devold, maker of wool underwear and sweaters, a Norwegian company founded in 1853. So thank you for the support. And we’d also like to thank our dogs for their wonderful support, Elle, Axel, Larry, and Napu. We’re happy to be here, we’re thrilled the expedition is going so well, and we hope you have a very nice weekend.

Daily Expedition Data
Date: 5/10/13, Day 41
Location: 81°36'N, 91°57'W
Traveled: 3 hours, 3.8 miles
Temperatures: -6°F am, -7°F pm