The chilled explorers boarded the ship at the ice’s edge at about midnight Sunday, and shortly after were fed spinach soup, steak, chocolate fondue – and a buffet of questions from well-wishers and media folks with camera to record the end of an 87-day expedition whose white-knuckle conclusion involved more than just frostbitten skin.
“This is the hardest trip I’ve ever done,” said Børge Ousland, who with Mike Horn boarded the former research vessel Lance after an 1,800-kilometer trip over the North Pole to the sea ice north of Svalbard, in an interview with Verdens Gangen. “I’ve been on many trips, but this is the hardest and most difficult thing I’ve done, pout simply. So much resistance and struggle all the way. Right on the edge, really.”
The pair hoped to complete their trip from ice edge above Alaska to the ice edge above Svalbard by mid November, but faced numerous setbacks due to perilous ice conditions they blamed on climate change. As a result, they found themselves short of food and suffering frostbite after crossing over the North Pole, but rejected asking for a rescue helicopter in the hope of completing their expedition – a decision that is generating some controversy due to the vast resources and media attention involved in the boat pickup.
Ousland and Horn were faced with the prospect of running out of food Friday because the ice was too unstable to reach the Lance, resulting in fellow polar explorers Bengt Rotmo and Aleksander Gamme being sent from the ship Tuesday on skis with supplies to assist their peers. Frequent social media posts by the expedition tracking the movements of the men and ship noted that as the men kept moving closer to each other “all of a sudden, they spotted each other’s headlamp lights in the distance” and began “shouting cries of joy.”
But their struggles weren’t over, as cracks in the sea ice meant the four men faced a taxing challenge Saturday to travel the roughly 12 kilometers between them and the Lance.
“It’s a very, very big experience for me to arrive here,” Ousland told VG. “There were many times along the way I thought we should not do it.”
The debate over their decision to continue their expedition to the end if possible was sparked by critics noting emergency resources are lacking in northern Norway and lamenting the media for a lack of attention to that problem while covering the pickup effort in a dramatic minute-by-minute fashion online. Ousland stated a helicopter pickup was rejected because the situation was not an actual emergency – and a rescue would have meant using those resources and exposing personnel to risky conditions – and supporters of the pair noted the pickup involving the Lance was not done at public expense.
As for media coverage, plenty of observers stated the drama merited the attention.
“It’s been an incredible expedition to watch, something of a throwback to the golden era of expeditions into the unknown with uncertain outcomes that became tales of survival and hardship,” wrote Kevin Duffy, an administrator of the Facebook page Terra Glacialis, which posted updates throughout the latter part of the expedition. “Technology and shared knowledge can play its part in making things safer and more accessible, but in these kinds of environments there’s still plenty can go wrong and this expedition had lots of twists over the last few days, in addition to the 80+ days of gruelling travel that got them there. Absolutely fantastic stuff and a privilege to be posting about it.”