Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ski the Last Degree, Here I Come

I am officially excited.

Yes, we are going to the North Pole, on schedule too. April 2 is the day. Everything is confirmed yesterday after the meeting at the Radisson hotel with Victor.

There was so much uncertainty past few days regarding when we can depart and how many people are going, etc. Last night we know what we will be doing. For the 9 day expedition that I participate, there's only 3 of us including the guide. Christoph Hobenreich (http://www.franzjosefland.com/center_frame.htm), an experience professional polar guide, who has lead 10 polar expeditions and many other mountain climbing will be my guide. Sergei who is a deputy director for a medical supply company is another participant. In the other post I mentioned Mikhail said there was 12. Well, they had been trying to merge our group with an Indian navy group, but they did not like that, so we only have two. The journalists are also participating in an expedition but much shorter one, one day or two on the ice. Vicaar invites them to participate to get some publicity. This is pretty much paid for but they can write pretty much anything, be that good or bad, about what they learn from the trip. I would love to get paid to go to the North Pole.

Since there only two of us for the 9 day expedition, the training/mockup trip around Longyearbyen is cancelled, instead we will do it at the base camp Barneo. And you might have guessed, no fitness assessment test either. What if both of us fail :). Actually, the way it works is this is more tourist oriented, although the 9 day is physically demanding. Those journalists didn't even step on a tread mill, or even know what to prepare, but their trip is only one day.

So this is the plan for the expedition:
- We fly to Barneo tomorrow (April 2)
- We stay there one day, training, and camp outside
- The following day we fly to a location a little less than one degree in the North East and start skiing from there
- We will reach to the Pole a week or so later
- If the nature stop us from reach there by skis after a week (say the ice drift backward or some storms, etc), we will have the helicopter take us there.

The base camp is currently at south of 89 and the ice drifting south fast. So Christophe decide to move to North East a little less than one degree and with the drifting ice to take advantage of the drifting.

Today we went to the airport warehouse again to pack our sledges, pick up food (ghosh, I can't wait to eat those yummy dried food they provide - NOT :)) and test out some of the hardware such as stoves, fuel, tents, and sleeping bags. Before going there, Christoph checked out my gears. He said I am very well equipped. And he's ok with the food I bring with me. We will definitely exchange some of the stuffs we are not going to eat with something more swallowable. It was fun to prepare for this. It seems everyone there is busy. Met more people, one Spanish guide who will lead a group of Spaniards from the last degree (like my program), an Indian navy team (which I video taped them), Frank a British journalist and George. George is a very special character. He's going this time to the pole unguided just to test out his gear. The grandeur he is looking for is crossing the Artic Ocean from Russia to Canada via North Pole, solo, unsupported, and he has to swim too. No one has done this kind of expedition before. He tried this once but failed after 5 days so he has to try it one more time in Jan 2009. Apparently this will cost something like 170K euros. This time it is a test, he has to pay 12K just to have Vicaar just for the flight, no supply or equipment. So the cost for my trip isn't much more than what he pays, but I have pretty much my private guide and all needed the equipments.

Speaking of polar guide, I like Christoph. He's really professional. Maybe a little too professional, but maybe because we just met. We have more than a week working together, day in day out, lots of time to get to know each other. I observe him as we pack, he's a little more of a perfectionist too. Maybe it is Austrian thing (or German - they're known for being perfectionists). Sergei, on the other hand, is totally unprepared it seems. He is still in business mode. He has some paper/docs with him and still calls people at work. Hopefully he doesn't expect we do everything for him. This ain't a regular vacation or even a safari in Africa. He doesn't speak much English, but enough to converse. He has two daughter, one is 6 month old. Christoph prepped us last night, stating all the risks, challenges and all, but one thing he is really make us feel safe and show his resposibility is he said he has a family and his children are looking forward to meet him. And another thing is missing a finger (by frostbite) is not worth the trip, that means our safety and health is the priority. I'm glad he leads us and there are only two of us for him to be responsible for. But on the other hand, I would love to have more people on the trip. To me, I am ready to take on whatever challenges this expedition brings, but one thing I'm not sure is how I will do to make this more enjoyable, in term of human interaction. After all, you're stuck with two other strangers for 10 days. Christoph and I can definitely get along fine but Sergei is a little different. This is a team and we should work as a team. The success of the expedition depends on the team. Anyway, will see how everything turns out. Maybe I'm way too sensitive about this. But I wouldnt mind to have those journalists in my team :). They're fun to talk to.

Oh, Mark and Emma-Kate are going to video interview me today. Boy, I look ugly :) but they said they want real people who are going on the real trip, not like theirs abd they want to interview me in a guest house not at a nice hotel :). Well, that's me at this time, looking ugly, staying at a guesthouse sharing room with 3 other strangers (who luckily don't snore at night so far :)) trying to get everything ready for a biggest trip of my life.

Lights, Action!

1 comment:

Alex said...

Hi Khai,

Very excited to hear that you started your expedition. All the best in you achievement.