printer friendly iconemail a friend icon
Field Notes
Mike Horn
Photograph by Børge Ousland
Mike Horn

In subzero temperatures, explorer Mike Horn forges across pack ice on an expedition to the North Pole

What was your best experience during this assignment?

The moment Børge and I realized we'd reached the North Pole was the high point of the expedition. We were standing on top of the world, and everywhere we looked was south. I felt strangely removed from the world below us, as if time had no importance.

What was your worst experience during this assignment?

It was early in the expedition during a bad storm, and I was leading. Even with our headlamps, we could barely see our skis through the low-blowing snow. Suddenly, I skied across a small crack in the ice that was covered with drifting snow. It gave way, and swoosh…I went into the drink, down to my knees, skis and all. Falling backward at the waist, I was able to stop my slide with my gloved hand against the edge of the ice just long enough for Børge to pull me out. The first thing I did was to pack snow around my wet clothing, knowing that it would absorb the water before it started to freeze. Børge immediately pitched our tent, started a fire to dry out my boots and clothes, and soon we were back on our skis. Then it happened again a couple hours later.

This time there was a narrow gap in the ice right ahead of us. We saw the water, and were simply trying to step across it with our skis. Børge went first with no problem. When it was my turn, however, the ice started to move and my legs parted in a wide split. When I couldn't get leverage with either leg, I decided to dive for the other side, and swoosh…back I went into the drink. Once again, Børge was able to pull me out. And once again he pitched our tent, and we had to use our precious cooking fuel to dry things out.

The next morning, however, my clothes were still rather damp, and it was dangerous for me to put them on. So I ate a lot of food, knowing that the heat of burning calories would raise my body temperature enough to completely dry out my clothes. That was undoubtedly the toughest day of the expedition.

What was the oddest experience that you encountered during this assignment?

A helicopter had just dropped us off on the ice at Cape Arkticheskiy on the Russian archipelago of Severnaya Zemlya. That was a spooky moment, knowing that our last connection to civilization was flying away. The ice was moving so much, we decided to go back on land and pitch our tent. We'd just settled in when Børge said "Did you hear that?" Right away the big zipper on the tent broke open, and a polar bear stuck his head in. We jumped to the back of the tent in fright, but the bear was just as scared of us. He tore out of there, but not before grabbing the food we'd stashed outside in the snow. We needed that food, so we had no choice but to go after the bear.

Not far away, we found him ripping the food open. Børge fired a flare at him, which went off close to his leg, scaring him enough to abandon the food and run. That night he came back three times, putting a hole in our rubber raft. But the strange thing about his first break-in: He used his claw to break open that zipper. And he entered the tent the way it was supposed to be entered. Maybe these bears are smarter than we think.