He knows high latitudes. He has crossed the Arctic and Antarctic with canoes and dogsleds. He has led expeditions to both the North and South Poles.
But Steger had never attempted a journey like this one. Neither had anyone else. Without companions of any kind or aid en route, he planned to venture from earthÕs northernmost point to the nearest land-half an ocean away. He set out in the summer, when ice covering the Arctic Ocean is at its thinnest and most treacherous.
Conditions proved even more treacherous than expected. Steger terminated his trek on July 19, 1997, and spent the next week camped on an ice floe while awaiting evacuation via helicopter and icebreaker.
Today I leave the United States for Russia.
It is hot and muggy here in Minneapolis but I realize that soon I will leave behind this green world of summer for a world of ice and snow and the uncertainty of life on the trail.
I shipped the canoe-sled, batteries and bottled gas to Russia last week and have learned that they arrived safely and await me in Murmansk.
I left my home in Ely three days ago. For weeks, I have been packing gear, food and supplies ... and repacking them. The weight of each item is absolutely critical so ...
... thinking through the necessity of each and every item. Finally I completed the final packing, eliminating ten pounds this weekend.
It looks like the total load of the canoe and all the gear is close to 300 pounds (136 kilograms)!
I took a last swim in the lake in front of my cabin just before leaving. I looked around, absorbed the scene and felt extremely thankful for all that I have. I said good-bye to my friends in Ely and my family in Minneapolis. I carry with me all their love and support.
I slept well last night, listening to the rain on the roof. My mind is a bit cluttered with last-minute details but I know that I will shortly be on the ice. I have spent the last two days fine-tuning the satellite transmissions and sending sample messages and photographs. The elements are in place.
I welcome everyone who will be participating in this summers exciting expedition through National Geographics Web site.
It is time to begin the journey and I am ready to do so!
Aboard the Russian icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz
Welcome. I have been traveling aboard the Russian icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz the last five days. We are presently in multi-year, pack ice which is about 3 meters thick. It is giving the icebreaker's 75,000-horsepower engines a real run! At times we are literally stopped dead in our track. This ship is the most powerful human-designed machine I have ever seen. I can sum up its power in one word - defiant! If it gets stopped by the ice, it backs up and then smashes forward. If it is stopped again, it backs up again until it WINS. It actually defeats Nature. I have never seen anything like this before.
I sleep in the cabin near the bow in a tiny room that I share with my Russian friend and past expedition teammate Victor Boyarsky. What little space there is, is filled with my gear. Our small quarters constantly shake and, at times, almost explode from the impact of the ship's 23,000 tons smashing into the ice! I have not slept much since I boarded the Sovetskiy Soyuz in Murmansk on July 5th. I am looking forward to living in my tent on the ice.
On board is an experienced crew of 150, including 50 officers. The ship's mission is to bring its 62 passengers to the North Pole. The ship itself is chartered out by Quark Expeditions which in turn sells passage to various people from around the world. The social life on board is great and I really enjoy meeting so many different people from so many 'walks' of life.
These past five days have not been relaxing at all however. I have spent about 12 hours a day working on my equipment and, in particular, giving the telecommunications gear its final test. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. It is my goal to be honest in my expressions these next 50 or so days and to give you an idea of how it feels to be out here. And, of course, I will send out daily descriptions of this most beautiful and awesome environment - THE ARCTIC OCEAN.
Signing off until tomorrow
LOCATION: 88.01N, 41.00E
It's snowing! White flakes fall from the grey fog and melt on the orange deck of the Sovetskiy Soyuz. A passenger asked me "when does it snow on the North Pole?" and I answered "always." The last three days have been overcast with temps hovering slightly above freezing. Last night it dropped to 32 degrees and snow started to lightly fall. This is typically one of the two faces that the summer weather wears in the northern polar area. It's this dreary, low visibility - almost white-out conditions - that we are presently experiencing. I can watch its effect on the passengers' spirits as they become more and more antsy to reach the Pole. The other summer polar face is bright, clear, sunny days when optimism soars. I never take these days for granted for I know at any moment the foggy face might appear and last 3 days, 3 weeks or maybe even a month.
Heavy pack ice still bars our progress. We are now a little behind schedule and losing ground, or I should say ice, on our expected arrival date at the Pole on July 12th. The giant Russian icebreaker continually has to reverse its engines and thrust itself forward with all 75,000 horse power on to the stubborn multi-year ice. Victor's and my little cabin at the bow of the ship constantly shakes and jerks violently. This reminds me of the '60s when one of my forms of summer transportation across the states was freight trains. Traveling in the boxcars can be a wild bucking-bronco ride like this icebreaker. Riding the rails across the northern states sometimes seemed as endless as this journey to the Pole.
LOCATION: 89.01N 30.00W
Heavy pack ice still plagues our progress. The constant jarring makes typing almost impossible. I have been sleepless for almost 3 nights. Anxiety, more than anything, keeps me awake. The last two weeks of travel have been rough with little rest. I look forward to the ice but truly enjoy the people on board. This entry will be short. I expect to be at the Pole tomorrow, the 13th. I will rest a day there. Wish I could write more. There is much to say but the banging of the ice on steel prevents more.
The North Pole at last!
LOCATION: 90 degrees NORTH!
I won the contest! On those sunny days, way back when the passengers were optimistic, we wagered bets on our arrival time at the North Pole. Almost everyone fell short of our actual arrival since everyone felt optimistic in the sunshine. I guessed 9:30PM (Moscow time) on the 12th and we arrived at 8:30PM. At 89.12 degrees N we moved into some very heavy, broken-up ice which challenged the Russian ship to move full steam ahead. It was Russian power at its best. The fog and grey had driven some passengers to near-mutiny. On the 10th, Michael McDouglas, the Quark Expedition leader, had to remind everyone over the loud speaker that this was an expedition we were on and they needed to remain flexible. Some of the older folks hung in very well and did much better than others in coping with it. The grey and gloom hung literally to the last hour and THEN the sun broke through! It was polar splendor! No words can capture the feeling! Everyone transformed into children! The icebreaker finally stopped and the party began. Everyone except for me went on the ice for the celebration. I prepared for my departure.
Later that evening
I am on the ice and very exhausted from the long trip to the Pole. I must now concentrate on getting home safely but I want to communicate my telecommunications responsibilities here. If all the "machinery" is working and I don't damage anything, I hope to transmit a photo each week. I will write each day as long as the computer batteries allow. If my main transmission unit fails me, I will communicate by Argos with coded messages and if the computer does not work at all, some days you might only receive my daily position.
I will rest now. I will write again July 15th. I am in great spirits but very tired.
Best to all who are tuning in and learning about this important environment.
An eternal blanket of fog
LOCATION: 89. 42N 65.25W
I left ship at 2:00AM on the 13th. In the helicopter, we rose straight up 200 meters through the fog into the clear sky. The fog quickly came back and surrounded the ship. The Arctic Ocean was an eternal blanket of fog below. The helicopter went about 12 miles away to drop me off through a hole in the fog on ice safe enough for a heavy helicopter to land. I bid farewell to Victor. My spirits were high.
I rested all day the 13th. My camp is fog-fog-fog and slushy, watery snow. I am camped on a 20-meter little,ice-island surrounded by blue ice, water and slush. The conditions are sobering. There is always moisture and an eternal silence that I have never heard. It is a tedious kind of silence and my mind thinks it hears the whirl of this computer's little engine hum. On occasion I hear huge ice blocks being crushed to the north. I drifted on a strong southeast drift that has now stopped. I expect to rebound back to 89.50 or beyond to the north if the south wind blows. The ice is loose to the north and tight to the south. The overall drift is to the SE which is typical for this area.
I am camped on old ice with a big lead system to the north which will take the shock and prevent my camp from breaking if the south wind blows. I feel my ice is safe and I could pack up quickly if need be.
I am still exhausted and will rest another day. My body has no rhythm to it. It knows no time zone. The ship really took its toll on me.
It is not misting so I will transmit today. Transmission is now weather related.
Dispatch 6 - Part 1 of 3
Where the time zones all converge
LOCATION: 89.33N 31.51W
The world outside of my tiny green tent is difficult to describe. I am at the top of the world adrift a small ice block, in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, inside of a seemingly endless foggy mist. On occasion the sun does peep through to let me know there is hope. I am where the time zones all converge, where the sun spins invisibly around - always at the same degree above the horizon. I am drifting in a SE direction, across many times zones, at an equivalent speed which a family might take on its vacation traveling leisurely across the United States. I drift now about 3 miles each day 'traveling' almost exactly south and east. There is no concept of time or space here, only endlessly bright and foggy eternity. The wind blows silently broken only by my tent guy-lines which make a hum and give me a sound to listen to. The hum of wind in the guy-lines is the explorer's reality. Peaceful most of the time. However, the spirit can get sleepy in this indescribable world. So it is necessary to keep active in both body and mind. It is not an easy world to live in for those who are accustomed to green summers and warm beds and bathrooms to walk into with bare feet. Let me tell you about my first week here on the Arctic Ocean.
Dispatch 6 - Part 2 of 3
It was glorious outside and I was happy.
While I laid awake in my sleeping bag on that third long night, I kept my mind occupied by fine tuning the details of potential rescue options from both the Russian and the Canadian sides. These kind of details, of both the technology and a rescue, are almost impossible to do prior to a major expedition. It takes being in the present, in actual field conditions, to tweak them 100 percent. I had planned to travel slowly in the beginning and to stay in the range of the Pole in case there were problems like the ones I am presently experiencing. I had planned my strategy to be within range of 90 degrees north in case I had to evacuate via the Russian icebreaker that was scheduled for a return trip on July 26.
The only problem with that plan, which is inherent in any rescue or evack at this time of the year, is how would anyone locate me in this cotton fog. This is what whirled in my head - back-up plans to back-up plans - in case my various communication systems went out during a potential search. For without having my exact pinpoint location, I could be lost forever. It was good to have the details to mull over for it got my mind off of my immediate 'problems' and gave me something constructive to think about.
Dispatch 6 - Part 3 of 3
Survival depends on awareness.
I woke up at 4:00AM in a pensive mood. This was my big day - the start of the expedition. This was the day I had planned for, trained for, prayed for and dreamt of for two years. I had helped develop an on-line education program that would follow me and, at the same time, educate those following about the Arctic region. Many people had made commitments to me and to the project. I carried the weight of this as I accessed my present situation. I could feel it still in my lungs although I had made improvements and my strength seemed to be coming back. I felt a little weak while laying and thinking but I felt what I needed was to just pack up and get moving!
These thoughts were replaced by the reality of my present technological black-out. My logical mind took over and analyzed the possible problems, including all connections, batteries and even the software itself. This gave me something to concentrate on and to spend some time thinking about.
At 7:00 I could take it no longer. I had to get out of the sleeping bag and start the day. After mandatory liquids and oatmeal, I dressed and went outside to start fiddling around with the transmitter. Within an hour I started to make double and triple checks on the battery systems - first with the transmitter and then the computer and then with the two in combination.
My tent shakes violently...
LOCATION: 89.30N 11.45W at 20:50 GMT
My tent shakes violenty from the strong W-N-W winds outside. It is 26 degress with a thin, low blowing surface fog. The sun is visible and, at times, it peeps through a break of the surface cover clouds. Today, when I walked the perimeter of my home block, it was cold. I estimate the windchill to be around 5-10 degrees above. Despite the chilliness, the refreshingly charged air made me want to stay outside rather than crawl back in to my cluttered and confined tent. This wind is from the prevailing direction, which is from the west and slightly north. I have drifted over 7 miles to the E-S-E in the last 24 hours. My daily average drift has been 3 miles a day up until this blow came. The slushy, watery surfaces are now frozen again and I can almost walk on the pools of water which are covered with an inch-thick layer of ice. The winds have opened up some big leads accounting for thin, low ceiling fogs that wisp by.
Crossing Antarctica, Will Steger's book on the 1989-90 expedition.
Reprinted in January, 2010 & offered exclusively on willsteger.com
Get your SIGNED copy today.
Lunch break is no picnic in Antarctica
during a 56-day storm on the Antarctic
This full size, museum quality poster is available
exclusively on willsteger.com
Get your SIGNED copy today.
Will Steger Foundation
The Will Steger Foundation seeks to inspire and be a catalyst for international environmental leadership to stop global warming through exploration, education and action.