Near Ward Hunt Island.

Cecilie Skog and Rune Gjeldnes left from Ward Hunt Island in northern Canada on June 7, several days later than they had planned, due to adverse weather. It would take some 55 days to canoe and ski to the North Pole. They would keep in touch with Expedition Cruises, aboard the nuclear icebreaker 50 Years of Victory, via satellite phone.

Rune transmitted text and pictures of their progress to his blog (http://www.rune-gjeldnes.com) through his support team. As I stated previously, the blog describes him as, among other things, “happy.” He is an eternal optimist; I guess you have to be when you’re in what could turn into a life-or-death situation at any moment. But I’m sure Rune doesn’t see it that way. He just enjoys it.

Part of the logistical problem of reaching the Pole, to say nothing of a rendezvous with someone else, is that the ice is always drifting, and explorers must essentially keep moving to stay in the same place, or make any progress. Cecilie and Rune knew early on that things were not going according to plan. Their progress was slow, only about six miles a day. The ice was slushy, too thick to paddle the canoes but too soft to ski. But there were sweet moments, such as an interlude with a curious seal.

On June 20, 13 days out, with their geographical position N 83.45 W 77.09 (north of the very top of Canada, if you look on a map), they made the tough decision to abandon the quest. They estimated that their slow pace meant they would take 85 days to reach the Pole instead of 55, far too late to meet the ship, which had its own schedule to keep and passengers to transport. If the operation turned into a rescue, the ship was limited in how far off course it or its helicopter could travel, especially in adverse weather. Cecilie and Rune’s support team would have to stage its own helicopter recovery, which could take up to a week, while they waited and their supplies dwindled. They headed back to Ward Hunt Island, which they reached on June 28.

Rune in his Ally canoe. The pictures in this post are from his blog, at http://www.rune-gjeldnes.com.

You might think that after a tremendous amount of planning, time, effort, money, corporate and family support and emotion, the disappointment would be great, almost overwhelming. But Cecilie hardly saw this as a failure.

“We were very, very focused, making decisions all the time,” she said. “We wanted to see if conditions improved, but they only got worse and worse. After three days of going back and forth and finding out what our different situations could be, it was easy.

“It was a great experience. We enjoyed it. We didn’t want to put ourselves in a very hard situation where we had to be rescued. That’s not like us.”

On his blog, on June 20, Rune said that before they left, they had studied satellite photos of the ice at that time of year, which showed much more open water than they encountered. They could have increased their pace, but he wrote, “If we decided to push on and failed to reach the icebreaker in time this could put [other people’s] health and safety on the line in a potential search and rescue operation. We definitely don’t want that to happen, so the decision is to turn south and head for Ward Hunt Island.”

He later e-mailed me to say that although they did not reach their main goal, every day of the expedition was a “fantastic” experience.

“It was just amazing to see the Arctic Ocean during summertime,” he wrote. “It is so totally different from winter-expedition. In the beginning we had minus temperatures, but after four-five days it changed and we suddenly got rain, slush and this changed from day to day. It just happened so fast. After 10 days we had to start crossing big melting pools on the ice, sometimes over our knees, and some places we could paddle the pools. But what surprised us most was our pace. We thought we could do better distances, but the conditions did not let us. Wintertime we are used to slow progress in the beginning and then you speed up. Our experience this time was almost opposite.

“Some moments are always scary. The ice is changing all the time and you do not know what’s happening the next moment. Disappointed I am. I always work for the success, but this time we could not reach the main goal. … the good thing is that I feel and know we did right. And it was just a fantastic trip I could not be without. And we had lots of fun and good laughs.”

Rune hasn’t yet decided what he will do next. He’s thinking about a river expedition, maybe some mountains. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be strenuous, outdoors, involve plenty of good stiff drinks and good friends, and be grandly entertaining. And I’m sure it will make him perfectly happy, as always.

Cecilie takes a bath. Sorry, no hot water.

Some articles and profiles of Cecilie have painted her as a role model for young women, an idea she dismissed. “There have been other women before me who did this,” she said. “But maybe I can be an inspiration to girls. I get e-mails from young girls who want to be explorers. It’s nice, and important that kids enjoy nature. They’ll take care of it if they understand it.”

I asked what would be next for her. There are so many things she’d like to do, so many places to see, so many worlds left to conquer. The water she will most likely be on next will not be frozen, but much warmer than she is used to. She commissioned the building of a sailboat in France, which should be finished in early August. She will test it briefly in the Mediterranean before returning to work, and before too long, probably take it on a long journey.

“I don’t know where I’ll go, maybe just sail, someplace warm, around the Equator, maybe for many years. Maybe around the world. I like to be outside a lot. I’m just fortunate to be able to do this.”

Godspeed, Cecilie. Bonne chance, Rune.

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