By Conor Mihell
For most polar explorers, the North Pole is the pinnacle object of an expedition. Not so for Norwegian Auden Thorfsen and Estonian Timo Palo. On April 22, a helicopter deposited the adventurers at the pole, along with a pair of fully laden kayaks, skis and enough supplies to see them through a 1,000-mile journey south to Spitsbergen in Norway’s remote Svalbard archipelago.
Billed as the “Arctic Return Adventure Tour,” Thorfsen and Palo picked up where a legendary polar expedition by Norwegian explorers Fridjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen left off. In March 1895 Nansen and Johansen abandoned their icebound ship and set off on skis for the North Pole. After numerous epics, the explorers gave up and turned back, eventually reaching Franz Josef Land. They never completed their original plan to reach the pole and retreat south to the Seven Islands, the northernmost islands in the Svalbard chain. According to Thorfsen and Palo, “No one has ever skied nor paddled from North Pole to Spitsbergen without dogs and resupply points.”
Thorfsen and Palo hauled their 300-pound sea kayaks across pressure-heaved ice sheets, paddled across numerous leads of open water, and dealt with notoriously strong ocean currents that threatened to push the sea ice—and with it Thorfsen and Palo—off course before they could reach the Seven Islands. Besides the ice-related difficulties, the pair also had many close encounters with polar bears, including a juvenile bear that came six feet of their tent and an emaciated adult that stalked them to within 10 feet.
Finally, after 72 days on the ice, the pair arrived in the Spitsbergen capital of Longyearbyen on July 3. “We have written small chapter of polar history,” wrote Palo in an email. “As unpromising as conditions were in the beginning we were able to get some piece of luck on our side and make it as was dreamed. After all of that we have been going through the feeling is now incredible good.”