North Pole Adventure

Jin Fei Bao's reports are below (translated by Frank Guo in Kunming):

First Installment

April 11, 2007
Tomorrow morning I will take a flight from Kunming to Beijing, then to Stockholm, Sweden then to Oslo, Norway. I will stay in a 4 star hotel in Oslo for one night then take a flight to Longyearbyen, Norway. Longyearbyen is located on the island of Spitsbergen which is to the north of Norway. I will stay in the Spitsbergen Guesthouse in Longyearbyen for 4 nights, waiting for other team members to arrive. Then, on April 17th we will take a chartered airplane and fly for 2.5 hours to the wilderness of 89 degrees north latitude. Then we will ski for about 9 days to the North Pole. We should arrive at the North Pole around April 26th. Then we will take a flight from the North Pole back to Longyearbyen.

April 13, 2007
I have safely arrived in Longyearbyen, Norway. This is a very beautiful country with snow covered hills, forests and log cabins. The air is fresh and humid. I listened to the music of Norway’s Forest from my MP3, and checked in the Spitsbergen Guesthouse, where I met 3 explorers from USA. They will also ski to the North Pole, so we are in the same expedition team. At night, the sun doesn’t drop below the horizon, it hangs just above the horizon, amazing view!

Norway is a country very friendly to travelers. When I arrived in Oslo, at the airport, I didn’t need to fill out the entry form. I didn’t need to pass the customs check, which means Norway is a very open country.

During my flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen, the airplane stopped on the way to re-fuel, but I thought it had arrived in Longyearbyen, so I took my hand-taking luggage and got off the plane. I waited for 10 minutes at the luggage claim in the airport, but didn’t see my luggage coming out, so I asked one person working in the airport. Then I realized this is not my tour destination -- Longyearbyen is still 2 hours flying distance away, so I hurried up to board the plane again. When we finally arrived in Longyearbyen, I asked one air hostess if this is Longyearbyen, the lady looked at me and said: This is Tokyo! She surely thought I am a Japanese.

April 14, 2007
Today, the weather is not good. It is cloudy and the temperature is -5°C. I walked around Longyearbyen in the morning. This town is not big, with only about 1200 long-term residents, but it has all the infrastructures a small city should have – schools (including one university), hospital, banks, post office, supermarkets, conference center, public library, hotels, restaurants, cafes, laundry shops, tour information centers, etc. – so, I feel this place is not so remote as I imagined before coming here. In fact, Longyearbyen is the northern most town in the world where an ordinary large passenger airplane can land. It is located in 78°13'north latitude, only about 1333 km away from the North Pole.

Longyearbyen was first established in 1906, when a big coal mine was discovered here. US industrialist John Longyear came here to invest in the coal mine exploitation. Later, this town was named after him.

Walking in the town, I can still see some big equipment that was used in the coal mines and the rail tracks on which the coal carts ran. But nowadays, the traditional coal business is receding, the new business - tour business - is emerging.

In many places of the town, there are street signs reminding tourists to be careful of the polar bears, but locals said the chance of encountering a polar bear inside the town is very very low. In recent years, nearly nobody has been attacked by polar bears near the town. The local government has taken some measures to prevent the polar bears coming into the town to look for food, such as: all the rubbish bins in the streets are made of thick metal, and are all-closed, so the bears can not find food here. The locals seldom go out at night. I saw some people riding on the ski-doos taking long rifles.

Most houses in the town are log cabins, they are not built on the ground, but on wood stilts. It’s very warm inside, with all the modern electric appliances. There are some hills surrounding the town, these hills are only about 800 m high, but very steep.

April 15, 2007
Yesterday afternoon, another 4 team members arrived. Three of them are from the USA, including one 18-year-old girl who is escorted by her father. Another one is Mr. Norbert from Frankfort, Germany. He is my old friend. We skied to the South Pole together about 4 months ago. Norbert is already 67 years old. If he skies to the North Pole successfully, he will become the oldest European who has skied to the two poles.

So, our North Pole expedition team has 8 members, 6 of them are from the USA, plus Norbert and me. One of our tour leaders is Annie. She is also from the USA. Norbert and I will share one tent in this adventure.

At dinner time, I looked at the Norwaygian menu and the only words I could recognize were beef and soup, which looked like english words. But I have already ordered fish soup for the last 2 meals, so this time, I decided to order a different soup. I told the waiter that I want a no-fish soup, but when the soup came, I found it was still a fish soup. Of course I had to drink it no matter what, because it was not cheap. One team member ordered a plate of meat. The color of the meat was black. I asked him what meat it was and he said it was seal meat, and invited me to taste it. I tasted one piece and the flavor was very strange to me. Then I realized that seal is the same kind of creature as me and I should not eat it, because seal in chinese is called sea leopard, and my name means flying leopard.

In the evening, we had a meeting of all team members. We had to sign a document, to exempt all responsibilities of the expedition organizer – The Northwest Passage – in case of death and injury of team members in any accident during the expedition, which means, everybody is fully responsible for himself. We also had to submit our medical evacuation insurance policy. In fact, in China at present, no insurance company would like to do this kind of high risky business, so I have found a Denmark insurance company called IHI (International Health Insurance) through internet, and purchased my medical evacuation insurance through the internet using my credit card, which took me only 10 minutes and cost me only 168 USD -- easy and fast. So, I can say that China’s insurance service is still underdeveloped.

During the meeting, the tour leader told us that North Pole expedition is quite different from the South Pole expedtion:

1. The snow and ice is only about 5 m thick in April, and it’s always floating, not like in Antarctica where the snow and ice is several km thick and very stable to ski on. So, skiing to the North Pole requires higher ski skills than skiing to the South Pole.

2. There are thousands of polar bears roaming on the ice in the Arctic area, so all team members should ski close to each other and watch out for each other. No one is permitted to ski alone or at night and everyone should be vigilant. In the Antarctic you don’t need to worry about animals.

3. In case the ice breaks, and you fall into the icy water we learned about how to rescue ourself and how other team members should help in a rescue. In the Antarctic expeditions, you don’t need to worry about falling into icy water.

This morning, we will start ski training, to see how fast we can ski as a team. If the weather is good, this afternoon we might take a flight to the 89 degrees north latitude today.

Second Installment

April 17, 2007
Yesterday morning, we trained for about 4 hours on the ice, learning how to ski on the rugged surface of ice, how to judge directions using a small positioning instrument, how to recognize the leads on the ice, how to cross the unstable floating ice, how to self-rescue in case of falling into icy water, how to camping on ice, how to deal with polar bears, etc.

But because the weather condition was not stable, so we didn’t fly to the 89 degrees north latitude in yesterday afternoon, instead, our tour leader arranged us to visiting a local family living in the hills outside the town.

When driving to the hills, I saw several reindeers standing not far away from the road, they were obviously not afraid of us, which shows that man and animals are living harmoniously together.

The family we visited are a middle-aged couple, they live in a log cabin which looks like the wood house of Mosuo people living in the Lugu Lake area of Yunnan, the logs have not been painted, with the fragrant smell of the wood. Outside the log cabin, there were 10+ big dogs which were raised by the couple to dragging their sled. These dogs were very friendly to us.

The couple warmly welcomed us to get into their house, let us sitting down beside the fireplace, then the man used a projector to playing slides on a white screen for us, these are the photos he took when hunting and touring in this area, including the photos of lovely polar bears, herds of reindeeers, skiing, climbing, outdoor sports, etc.

The man told us that, he works for a coal mine not far from here, but he only needs to work 8 months each year, in the rest 4 months, he can do whatever he wants to do, usually, he likes hunting reindeers, because they can eat reindeer meat, and sell the reindeer hide in the market to earn some extra money. But he never shoot reindeers near the town, and never shoot reindeers during its mating season.

The local government has a hunting regulation: each year, each family is permitted to shoot at most 20 reindeers during reindeer’s non-mating season. So, in fact, everyone has enough meat to eat.

Because there are only about 1200 long-term residents living in Longyearbyen, so the local government encourage all families to have more children, the more children you have, the more benefit you can get from the government. Here, the elementary school students only need to go to school in the morning, all afternoons are free time, so studying is a very easy and very happy thing for them, not like in China, many pupils have to study from early morning till late night.

After the visit, I feel that this place is like the Shangri-la, local people are very optimistic and active, they work hard in summer time, and have a lot of fun in winter time.

Today, we will continue training on the ice, just like yesterday, at this moment, I am still not sure if we can fly north in this afternoon.

April 18, 2007
Yesterday, we trained on the ice for about 8 hours. It's the same training as we did the day before yesterday. This morning, we were told to wait in our hotel rooms, get ready for the flying, but up to now, we are still waiting.

April 19, 2007
Today, we are still waiting in our hotel rooms, getting ready for the flying.

We can not fly, it's not because the weather in Longyearbyen is not good, but because the weather is too warm in the North Pole area, so the ice is too thin for an airplane to landing on it, and the ice is always floating, so, at this moment, the tour company is still trying to find out a suitable big ice for us to landing on. I really have not expected that the global warming would affect my North Pole tour. Now, I realized that the global warming is affecting everybody on earth.

April 21, 2007
Yesterday at 6:30 pm, we boarded a mid-size Russian transport airplane, flew for about two and a half hours, arrived in Barneo at 9:00 pm Longyearbyen local time.

There were about 30 passengers in the airplane, we all sit in the front half section of the plane, all luggage were put in the back half section. Two thirds of the passengers will not go to the North Pole, they will take
some sightseeing tours around Barneo.

Barneo is a Russian research camp located at approximately 89 degrees north latitude, but it is on a big pack of ice which is always floating, so its precise location varies. Barneo was established by the former Soviet
Union, in recent years, because Russia has not enough money to support its scientific research here, so Barneo has gradually changed into a tour destination and the starting spot for the North Pole expeditions.

Upon landing in Barneo, I saw some locals with their dog-dragged sleds waiting for tourists near the runway, so I guess that taking sightseeing tours on dog-dragged sleds might be the major attractions for ordinary tourists here.

We ate some snacks in a restaurant camp in Barneo, then we decided to going north immediately, because we are already 3 days behind our schedule, and we wanted to stretch our legs after the flying. So, we strapped on our skis and headed north. One and a half hour later, we have skied 2 km, the tour leader chose a solid "old" ice for us to camping on it, he said this ice is about 3-4 meters thick.

It was the first time in my life that I have slept on a floating ice, when I thought that 3-4 meters below me is the deep and icy Arctic Ocean, I felt very uneasy, I could not sleep at first, but looking at the sound asleep 67-year-old Norbert, who shared one tent with me, I gradually falled into sleep.

April 22, 2007
Yesterday, we skied 7 hours, covered 9 km.

It was a sunny day, nearly windless, the temperature was about -15C, much warmer than in the Antarctica, but the air is much wetter.

After breakfast, we started skiing to the north, dragged our sleds behind us, each sled weighs about 40 kg. We checked our direction by GPS.

On the way, we met many water leads and crevasses, which have as many kinds of shapes and sizes as you can image. When meeting the wide ones, we had to ski around it, which added more distance to our skiing; when meeting the narrow ones, we had to use the ski board as our bridges to cross it, after reaching the other side, we had to run immediately to pull the ski board across the crevasse, otherwise it would fall into the crevasse; But sometimes, the crevasses in front of us were too wide and too long, if we skied around it, it would cost us a lot of time, so we had to put down our skis and sleds, use a long rope to lower the tour leader down into the crevasse, he walked through the bottom of the crevasse to the other side, then climb up out and fix the rope on the ice, using this rope as a safe rope, we crossed the crevasse one by one as the tour leader did, we used the same method to drag our sleds across the crevasse.

Each time when somebody successfully crossed the crevasse, all other people will cheer and applause, just like watching an acrobatic performance. If somebody could not cross it, then other team members will surely help him. Mr. Norbert is the oldest one in our team, his leg has been hurt when he playing football in his 20s, whenever he has troubles crossing the crevasses, I always actively offering my helping hands to him. So no one was left behind, and no one will be left behind.

Because the air is very wet, plus our sweating, whenever we stopped to have a short rest, we always found out that our headwears, gloves, and clothes are wet, and there is no way to dry it except to put it into our sleeping bags and use our body heat to dry it when we sleep, if you put it outside under the sunshine, it will not dry out, because the air is so humid.

On the way, we didn’t see any animal, but we saw some ice hills, they might be the top of the big icebergs under the water. Some ice hills are as high as 60 meters, some looked like towers. So, skiing to the North Pole is not so boring as skiing to the South Pole, we had some landmarks and some kind of sceneries to look at, although skiing on the uneven ice surface is not as enjoyable as skiing on the flat snow ground in Antarctica.

April 23, 2007
Yesterday, we skied 9 hours, covered 14 km.

The weather was the same – sunny, with a little cloud and a little breeze. Temperature still around -15C.

Now, everybody is familiar with how to ski on the uneven ice surface, how to avoid water leads, and how to cross different kinds of crevasses, so, we marched faster than the previous day.

But on the way, we encountered some very thin ice, which can be probed through easily with an exploring pole, so everybody was afraid that the ice could break at any time, and everybody has to ski as fast as he could to lower the pressure on the thin ice. After crossing it, everyone was sweating, it consumed a lot of energy, so we had to stop frequently to eating some chocolate bars and drinking water. While resting on the ice, one man from USA took out a harmonica and played some beautiful music, all people were silent at that moment, fully enjoy the music which seems coming from the heaven. It’s so romantic.

Up to now, according to my GPS, we have covered nearly one thirds of the total distance, if everything goes well, we should reach the North Pole within 6 days.”

April 24, 2007
Yesterday, we skied 10 hours, covered 16 km.

When we started in the morning, the weather was good, the sun was shining in our right side, the shadow of my body was in my left side. But at noon time, it became cloudy, the shadow disappeared, the temperature dropped very fast, the hot air that we breathed out quickly formed into frost on our goggles and face masks, even our hats and clothes have been covered by frost, so we all looked like snowman, clumsily moved forward in the snow world.

In this kind of environment, we could not see very far, there were always some ice hills blocking our vision, and we had to pay our full attentions on the ice in front of us and on the ice beneath our ski boards. Sometimes, we had to climb up a big ice slope, I felt that my sled was too heavy, at that moment, the member who walked behind me voluntarily and silently pushed my sled up the slope, I appreciated it very much, so I offered the same help to the person who walked in front of me when we met another ice slope. In this kind of extreme environment, teamwork is so important, without it, we could not possibly reaching the North Pole.

Because the ice surface was uneven, so tumbling was quiet normal for us, not only us, but the tour leader also often tumbling, yesterday, my ski boards were damaged when I falled forward, luckily, the tour leader has taken some backups.

Up to now, we still have not seen any animals, let alone polar bears, so we felt a little disappointed, we were afraid that we would have no chance to see the polar bears in this tour.

Last night, when we were setting our camp, the wind picked up. This morning when we got up, I checked my GPS and found out that the ice we camped on has been moved to the south for 2.5 km by the strong wind, which means, today, we have to ski 2.5 km more to make it up.

Third Installment

April 25:
Yesterday, we skied 10 hours, but covered only 13 km.

The weather was not good, it was very windy, temperature dropped to -25C. We skied very hard with the head-on winds.

On the way, we met a very wide crevasse, about 8 meters wide, and it was very long, at least several kilometers long. Standing on the edge of the crevasse, we could see the blue water inside it, and we could see that the ice we were standing on was only about 1 meter thick above the water level, which means we were standing on the edge of a big floating ice, there was no way to crossing such a wide crevasse except to go around it, so we skied along the crevasse, 2 hours later, we finally found an ice bridge and crossed it.

Potential dangers like this are everywhere on the way to the North Pole. Sometimes, the hard ice surface is too slippy, even the ski boards can not hold on it, tumbling is unavoidable; sometimes, we ski on the soft snow field and can not possibly avoid the hidden holes beneath the snow cover. Yesterday, a team member from USA falled into such a hidden hole and damaged his ski boards, but luckily, the hole was not deep, so he has not been hurt.

We have 2 tour leaders, and they are very experienced. Usually, one tour leader skis in the front, frequently stops to checking the ice, when he is not sure about the ice condition, he will take off his skis and walk ahead with an exploring pole to check it in details, meanwhile, another tour leader will follow him with rescuing ropes in hands, in case the first tour leader falling into water, the second one can rescue him immediately.

Because we need to drink a lot of water on the way, so, each morning before we start out, I have to fill all my water bottles with hot water, but several days later, I found out that some other team members were filling hot chocolate into their water bottles, so when we stopped on the way, I was drinking water, but they were drinking chocolate, so they took in more energy than me. Now, I have learned the lesson, I also fill hot chocolate into my water bottles as they did. So, on the way, we not only eat chocolate, but also drink chocolate.

Last night when we camping, the wind was still blowing, no wonder this morning, my GPS shows that we have been moved 4 km away from where we camped last night, so we have to ski 4 more km to make it up.

Now, my GPS shows that we are only 30 km away from the North Pole, but with the head-on winds, floating ice, has-to-go-around crevasses, I guess our actual ski distance should be at least double the direct distance. However, we have confidence to reach the North Pole within 3 days.”

April 26:
Yesterday, we skied 11 hours, covered 15 km.

It was still windy, temperature around -21C. After 6 days skiing, everybody felt very tired, everybody felt it’s harder and harder to keep going.

On the way, we met a 30-meter-wide crevasse, with water inside, it looked like a wide river in front of us, we had no other choice but skied around it. Sometimes, we met a crevasse about 3 meters wide, but no water inside, there was a thin layer of ice on the bottom of the crevasse, in this case, we slowly lowered 2 sleds to the middle of the crevasse, then put 2 pairs of ski boards linking the sleds with the ice, to forming 2 instant bridges, and crossed on it, then dragged the sleds up. Usually, if the crevasse is less than 1 meter wide, we can use our ski boards as a bridge and cross it easily, then immediately run forward to drag the sled cross it quickly.

In order to save fuels for melting ice into drinking water and for cooking, we have not washed our faces and brushed our teeth since we left Barneo camp, even our bowls and dishes have not been washed, each time after the meal, we put the bowls and dishes into a plastic bag and seal it up, waiting for the next use.

Going to toilet is much easier than in the Antarctic, one reason is because it’s not as cold as in Antarctic, another reason is we can always find an ice wall, even if it is only 1 meter high, it is enough to blocking the wind when we are doing the big job. We also take all our waste in sealed plastic bags on our sleds, just like we did in the Antarctic.

Our foods include noodles, instant rice, ham, sausage, bread, and chocolate. Of course I love rice most. Everyday, our tour leaders use a satellite phone to keep in touch with their colleagues who stay in Barneo camp. The tour leader said that, at this moment, our 7-person team is the only team in North Pole area. (The 18-year-old girl from US didn’t come with us, she stayed in Barneo camp waiting for her father).

This expedition is very hard and very lonely, everybody has to have rich imaginations to keeping his mood happy. Everyday, I think about Kunming’s warm sunshine, delicate food, family and friends, and Kunming’s night life, because there is no night in here.

This morning we found that, once again, we were 4 km away from where we camped last night, this time we are not surprised, and not upset. Now, we regard this kind of ski-forward-in-day and float-backward-while-sleeping things as quite normal ones.

Now, we are only 19 km away from the North Pole.

April 27:
Yesterday, we skied very hard for 13 hours, covered 18 km. But we were moved back several km while sleeping, so this morning, I checked my GPS and found out that we are still 8 km away from the North Pole. I estimate that we can reach our destination within 10 hours.

The weather was not good, it was very cloudy, looked like the sky and the ice ground have been mixed together, sometimes, I felt we were skiing in the sky, not on the ice. In the afternoon, it started to snowing, the snowflakes were very tiny, like powder. But it was not windy, so we didn’t feel too cold. However, because I forgot to taking out the heat-preserving layer from my boots to airing it before I went to sleeping last night, so my boots were wet inside, felt very uncomfortable.

On the way, we encountered a really dangerous situation for the first time – while we were ready to crossing a crevasse with water inside, the ice on the other side of the crevasse suddenly started to moving, submerged all the small pieces of floating ice in the water very fast, the tour leader yelled to us “go back! go back!”, we hurried moving back to a pack of stable ice. Afterward, the tour leader told us, if somebody falled into the water just now, the person would be carried away immediately by the floating ice, and other people could not resue him. We were all scared.

Because we were very close to the North Pole, so we planned to reaching the North Pole yesterday, but unexpectedly, the nearer to the North Pole, the wider the crevasses (with water inisde) became, and the higher the ice hills, so we had to ski around one crevasse after another, and climb up one ice hill after another, in early evening, we realized that it was impossible to reaching the North Pole on that day, so we had to choose a stable ice to camping, everybody was exhausted.

But we had a pleasant surprise yesterday – we met another expedition team in this ice world, they sat on sleds dragged by 8 dogs, their tour leader is a lady from France, team members including one lady from France and one man from USA. The dogs were very friendly to us, and we were very happy to meet them.

April 28:
Yesterday, we skied 11 hours, covered 13 km actual distance, reached the North Pole at 2:45 am of Apr.28 Beijing time.

This last day of our skiing/trekking, compared to the previous 7 days, was the hardest one. We were blocked by many very wide crevasses with water inside, so we had to use GPS frequently to guide us zigzag, non-stop through the maze of the crevasses.

On the way, I stepped on a pack of thin ice, but the ice was too thin to hold on my weight, so it broke as soon as I put my full weight on it, I immediately fell into the icy water. Luckily, the breaking rift was not wide, so I could still hold on the ice with my both hands and arms, only my legs were in the water. The tour leader rushed to me and dragged me out of the frigid water, then picked up the powder-like snow on the surface of the ice and used the snow to rub my wet pants repeatedly, to accelerate the process of water (in my pants) changing into ice, thus could lower the danger of frostbite. After a while, I felt my legs were OK, so we kept pushing forward.

When the GPS showed that we were very very close to the North Pole, everybody was so excited that all team members started to run toward the pole direction, just like we were crazy. Finally, the GPS showed that we were standing on the exact spot of 90 degrees north latitude. At that moment, everyone was really crazy. We all forgot the freezing cold and the exhaustion, started yelling and taking photos, and calling family and friends. The tour leader popped open a big bottle of champagne and we all cheered. I showed China’s national flag, 2008 Beijing Olympics flag, Kunming City Spirit banner, KCC banner, etc. at the North Pole and had my photos taken by team members.

Last night, we camped at the North Pole, which has no landmarks. This morning, we woke up and found out that we had floated 2 km while sleeping. Now, we are waiting for the helicopter to pick us up from the ice and fly us back to Barneo camp, where we will take another airplane back to Longyearbyen of Norway.

At this moment, sitting on the top of the world, I am very proud of myself, because I have successfully reached the 3 poles on earth – the top of Mt. Everest, the South Pole and the North Pole – within one year’s time. I might be the first chinese who has accomplished this achievement.

I also want to express my gratitude to my city Kunming, my hometown Yunnan, my motherland China, and all my friends, and my family. Thank you all very much !!