February 1999 Volume Six, Number Two
EXPEDITION TO THE MISERY ISLANDS
Canada's Ellesmere Island, and its mountainous and uninhabited next-door neighbor, Axel Heiberg Island, are extreme places that have always "drawn extreme people, harbored extreme animals, nurtured extreme plants, and showcased extreme phenomena," according to Jerry Kobalenko, a 41-year-old journalist and photographer from Toronto, who this spring hopes to accomplish the first circumnavigation of Axel Heiberg since 1932.
Kobalenko's partner for this 60-day, 600-mile expedition is Wojtek Moskal, 41, a Polish marine biologist who went unsupported to the North Pole with Marek Kaminski in 1995, an adventure the two media-savvy explorers called, "Poles to the Pole." Kobalenko and Moskal will ski and haul 300 lbs. of supplies on catamaran sleds which perform better in a variety of snow conditions than commercial flat-bottomed sleds.
When Kobalenko and Moskal depart from Ellesmere's Eureka weather station in early April, it will be the first circumnavigation attempt of Axel Heiberg since Sgt. Henry Stallworthy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police set out looking for German geologist Dr. Hans Krueger who disappeared in 1930. Kobalenko is calling his expedition "Search for Krueger" and plans to carry copies of the passionate love letters of Krueger's fiancee Hilda Schad von Mittelbiberach who died by her own hand in 1946, still distraught over Krueger's disappearance.
According to Kobalenko, the disappearance of Krueger almost 70 years ago is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Arctic. Krueger and two companions vanished with their dogs while on an expedition to explore the Arctic Ocean and look for new land - maybe even Peary's elusive Crocker Land. Three of his cairns have been found, but no trace of the party.
Ellesmere Island, three-fourths the size of Great Britain and roughly the same shape, was first seen in 1616 by William Baffin and was named in 1852 by Sir Edward Inglefield after Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere - who has no other connection to the island. John Tierney wrote of Canada's northernmost island in his New York Times "Explornography" cover story (July 26, 1998) that Ellesmere has probably "the highest misery-per-visitor ratio of any place on earth."
Indeed, it was on Ellesmere that Adolphus Washington Greely's expedition was stranded in 1883 at a location today called Starvation Camp. A relief ship sank before reaching the expedition and Greely and his 24 men had to stretch 40 days of food over eight months. The hunting was poor and 19 eventually died (one was executed for stealing food). Only Greely and five others survived this misery long enough to be rescued in 1884. Sensational publicity and distorted facts portrayed the survivors as cannibals, an accusation Greely vigorously denied to Congress.
Just six miles across frozen Eureka Sound is Axel Heiberg, one of the world's largest uninhabited islands, named after a Norwegian consul and expedition sponsor, and discovered by Otto Sverdrup in 1899.
Together, Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg are considered the two most ruggedly beautiful lands in the High Arctic, with mountains up to 8,583 feet. Cape Aldrich, at 83 deg. 07 min. North latitude, is the most northerly point of North America. Most North Pole expeditions begin from Ward Hunt Island, a tiny speck on Ellesmere's north coast.
During the Search for Krueger, Wojtek will collect samples of marine life at tidal cracks and leads along the way, while Kobalenko will gather material for his book, "Extreme Journeys on Ellesmere Island."
Kobalenko runs The Wild Places Fund, a non-profit organization in Toronto that educates people about the world's wild places through talks and slide shows. He is supported by Banff Designs in Toronto, a clothing company he's been working with for 10 years, providing photos, feedback and design ideas. An additional $6,000 of the $12,000 expedition budget is being sought from sponsors.
Mars in the Arctic - A remote, barren island in the Canadian Arctic will become a place Marvin the Martian could call home. The Mars Society, an international group of space enthusiasts, plan to build a mock Martian base on uninhabited Devon Island, north of the Arctic Circle.
Up Close and Personal - The new generation of compact digital camcorders permit an unprecedented view of big wall climbing, says San Francisco filmmaker Howard Shack, 31. Equipment such as SONY's DSR - PD100, weighing only 2.2 lbs. with battery and tape, will be used by Shack to record this summer's Charakusa Expedition to the unclimbed "Husband and Wife" granite spires known as Parhat Brakk (18,250-ft.) and Fathi Brakk (18,345-ft), which rise 3,800-ft. above the floor of the Charakusa Valley in the Karakoram Himalaya in Pakistan. The climbing team will be Americans Jimmy Chin, 24, Evan Howe, 26, Brady Robinson, 25, Doug Workman, 25, and Jed Workman, 27. All are experienced and all but Jed have taught at the National Outdoor Leadership School.
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
- Teacher and athlete Erik Weihenmayer, 30, who became the first blind person to reach the summit of Argentina's 22,841-ft. Mount Aconcagua. (See EN, January 1999). His efforts, during Glaucoma Awareness Month in January, were sponsored by the San Francisco-based Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF). Weihenmayer was led by his partner, Chris Morris. The GRF is planning several events throughout the year with Erik themed, "Do you have the vision to succeed?"
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