Arctic Dreams & Nightmares

With only a headlamp and the mid-February moon to light the way, Mike Horn treks across pack ice on the Arctic Ocean. He and teammate Børge Ousland were pursuing a shared vision: to ski to the Pole in the dead of winter. Not long after, a third adventurer—stranded, frantic, and alone—sat atop a shrinking ice floe facing death.

  1. Spooky. That's the word that keeps coming up when people describe Cape Arkticheskiy, the godforsaken tongue of land where this Arctic adventure tale begins. There's nothing there but the ice, moaning like an old door in the wind, and hungry polar bears looking for lunch—which, on any given day, if you are not careful, could very well be you. (That's why you pack the .44 Magnum.) This desolate dot on the top of the planet is like any other Siberian outpost, except for one thing: It's the start point for some of the most ambitious Arctic expeditions and extreme explorers of our time, one of the places where the pros separate themselves from serious amateurs and adventure clowns.

    The tricky part is getting off the cape and onto a more solid surface to walk to the North Pole. Depending on the weather, that first step can either be more or less a breeze or a death trap. Sometimes the ocean surface freezes all the way up to the shoreline, and sometimes there are miles offshore of unstable, drifting ice and open black water that, in 2004, swallowed one able French adventurer, Dominique Arduin, without a trace. It's not uncommon to end up being flown across the hard part or picked up as a nervous wreck.

    In the early months of 2006, six expeditions planned to set out from Cape Arkticheskiy. One solo adventurer crapped out altogether, as soon as he got a load of it, and three other parties were airlifted by helicopter to a safer chunk of ice. Two expeditions remained: The team of Bør...

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