The Arktos Expedition
One Month, -25° and a Big Bear Scare
N83°45'288" E9112''702" - March 27, 2002

Mike Horn
Cooking
© Sebastian Devenish

"It's difficult to believe it is already one month since I said goodbye to my friends and family at Cape Artichesky. It has been one of the most challenging months I think I have ever experienced. One never gets acclimatized to this cold. It's always present no matter what you do. Even in the tent I sleep in temperatures of around -25°C. You never get warm even in the best sleeping bags made for -50°."

While the last few days have been rather uneventful, Horn can never be off guard, as he was reminded by the events of the night of the 23rd of March.

"You can walk for days and days, nothing happens, nothing changes, and all of a sudden you have a night like [that] night. I settled down later than usual," Horn reports. "I had problems finding a flat piece of ground to pitch my tent, so in fact only managed to pitch my tent after the sun had set. It was too late. Once the sun is down it gets very cold very quickly. I rushed to get into my tent to heat up and didn't bother putting up the bear watch."

"After recovering from the bear experience, I eventually settled back down to sleep. Then another fright. I awoke with the sound of the ice cracking right beside me..." — Mike Horn, March 23

Horn's "bear watch" is simply a line around his camp with loose containers attached to it. Should a bear enter this territory, Horn will be woken by the sound of the containers rattling. Or that's the theory.

"You won't believe it. The night I don't set up bear watch is the night a bear visits. At around 2am I woke up to the sound of a bear sniffing around the tent and around the sledge. I was frozen inside the tent, not sure what to do. After a while I decided I had better try and scare him off before he starts eating my food supplies. Can you believe it? As soon as I stuck my head out of the tent I saw the bear turn around and walk away. I couldn't believe my luck!"

That was not the only stroke of "luck" Horn had that night.

"After recovering from the bear experience, I eventually settled back down to sleep. Then another fright. I awoke with the sound of the ice cracking right beside me. I ran outside to see a three-meter-wide lead form only two meters away from my tent. Freaky experience! Luckily for me I remained on stable ground. Took me a while to walk around the lead [the next] morning but I finally managed to find a point where I could cross over and continue on my way."

Since then there have been no more sightings of polar bears, though he's seen plenty of bear and hare tracks. The terrain remains unforgiving, and Horn has to fight the disillusionment of slogging for 12 hours to make only 9km when his goal is 50km per day.

"When you manage to get your sledge over one iceberg then you have to push it immediately up the next. It's hard work and very frustrating."

The one lesson Horn stresses most in his motivational talks between expeditions is the importance of being goal-orientated and on finding satisfaction in the attainment of even the tiniest achievement, the most recent was having passed the 700km mark. "Only 698km until I reach the North Pole!"

He's very close to the point at which another expedition had to be airlifted a few days ago. Peter Treseder and Tim Jones were not only hoping to be the first Australians to reach the Geographic North Pole, but were hoping to set up a speed record for getting there after having done so to the South Pole. However Jones was suffering from severe frostbite in one of his feet, and the two had to call in Cerpolex, the French logistics company based in Siberia which is handling the flights and potential rescues for Horn, both Australian expeditions and the Chinese soloist who has also already withdrawn.

Dominique le Roux, MountainZone.com Correspondent