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  The Bering Strait Odyssey


The challenge

When you are passionate about something you can achieve it. –
Dixie Dansercoer

On February 17th Dixie Dansercoer, the renowned Belgian polar expeditioner, will announce his latest ambitious project: The Bering Strait Odyssey. Dixie Dansercoer and his American partner Troy Henkels will cross the Bering Strait, bridging the continents of North America and Asia.

Their goal is to reach Siberia from Alaska on foot over ice and possibly open water, and even attempt a double-back traverse, a never before accomplished feat.

First-ever double-back crossing

This feat has never before been tried. In fact, the first successful single crossing on foot was only accomplished as recently as 1998, after four failed attempts. Since then, seven more attempts have been made, all unsuccessful.

Starting in early March, the goal is to reach the Siberian coast and back in about two months. The shortest distance between Alaska and Siberia is 90 kilometres. However, strong ocean currents can easily double, triple, or quadruple the distance. The exact date of departure from Wales (Alaska) will be determined after in-depth research regarding ice thickness, wind direction and sea currents. For example, typical ice movements should carry the expedition north into the Arctic Ocean at speeds of up to four km per hour. But actual conditions could be very different.

Why the Bering Strait? 

A moment of dreaming, losing yourself in the map.  – Dixie Dansercoer 

Of great geographical and historical importance, the Bering Strait is a singular point on the globe, the juncture of two continents and two oceans, the Arctic and Pacific. It is the site of a dynamic geological event that changed the course of human history. The region is part of a unique and threatened polar environment, and home to a rich and ancient culture struggling to find its place in the modern world. Last century, the Bering Strait saw a Cold War face-off between two suspicious superpowers. The strait also straddles the International Dateline. 

From land bridge to ice curtain

The Bering Strait is a 90 km stretch of water separating Siberia in Asia from Alaska in North America. During the last Ice Age with its lower sea levels, lasting from 70,000 to 11,000 years ago, a land bridge connected the two continents. At the end of this period, about 12,000 years ago, people crossed from Asia and eventually spread throughout the Americas.

The strait is named for the Danish explorer Vitus Bering, who traversed it in 1728, a time when explorers were searching for a northern sea route from Europe to Asia. Imperial Russia claimed and colonised both sides of the strait but sold the Alaskan side to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million. During the Cold War, an “ice curtain” of mutual hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States blocked contact and travel across the strait.  

Imperilled way of life, endangered environment

One of Dixie Dansercoer’s aims with The Bering Strait Odyssey is to draw attention to urgent cultural and environmental threats.

A vast Arctic region – stretching from north-eastern Russia across Alaska and northern Canada to parts of Greenland – is home to the Inuit people. Their culture is perfectly adapted for survival in the harshest environment on Earth. The Inuit traditionally fished and hunted for seals, walruses and whales. On land, they hunted caribou, musk oxen, polar bear and other small animals. Tools and intricately-carved sculpture were crafted from bone and ivory. Kayaks and clothing from animal skins. Dogs were domesticated and used to pull sleds.

This traditional way of life has ended for most Inuit. While some have adjusted to a modern lifestyle, unemployment, suicide and alcoholism are major problems. Moreover, the effects of pollution and global warming on their environment are creating additional difficulties.

A recent WWF study claims that at currents rates of change, some time between 2026 and 2060 Arctic temperatures could reach 6°C higher than pre-industrial levels. This would lead to a loss of summer sea ice and tundra vegetation, with polar bears and other animals dying out. Furthermore, less snow and ice reflecting solar radiation back into space will produce additional global warming, affecting the entire planet.

The expeditioners

Dixie Dansercoer 

My life is one holiday. – Dixie Dansercoer

A former Belgian windsurfing champion, Dixie Dansercoer has voyaged the world for two decades. A marathon runner and mountaineer, he has climbed major peaks, including Everest. Dixie is most known, however, for his polar expeditions: Trans-Greenland (1995); an Antarctic crossing (1997-98); an ascent of Mount Vinson and Ellsworth Mountain Range polar trek (2000); and an attempted traverse of the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Canada (2002). Dixie is Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF Belgium.

Troy Henkels

Troy Henkels is 34 years old, lives in Alaska, and works as a Communication Technician. He is an avid mountaineer, ice climber, paraglider, mountain biker, windsurfer, kitesurfer, musician, photographer, and journalist. Troy has been on eight climbing expeditions in the Alaska Range including a solo ascent of Mt. Dickey (9545 feet) and a successful expedition on Denali (20,320 feet). Most recently Troy was a finalist in the recent Outdoor Life Network’s “Global Extremes challenge”.

Life on ice

When you’re on the ice everything is pure.  – Dixie Dansercoer 

During their expedition, Dixie Dansercoer and his partner Troy Henkels will confront a long list of hazards with courage, willpower, teamwork, flexibility and a lot of preparation, typically three to four years. “Whatever gets me closer to success,” Dixie says, “I do.” This includes training expeditions to similarly harsh environments, such as Greenland. There, the expeditioners test themselves and their equipment.

As Dixie puts it, “Nature decides. But the work you do ahead of time is decisive.” Still, there are always risks. What kinds of challenges will they be facing? 

Frostbite and polar bears

Dixie and Troy can expect temperatures below -30°C. Add humidity and wind chill and it will feel a lot colder. All routines need to be adapted to cope with extreme cold. Merely setting up camp has to be highly organised so that no time is wasted, nothing gets misplaced.

In order to function, batteries and electronic devices are kept warm inside clothing. The gas used for cooking, melting ice for water, and drying clothing must be carefully conserved. Thermoses of hot water are prepared in advance for the day’s trek. Unless care is taken, sleeping bags can fill with ice from the body’s humidity. And there is often the risk of frostbitten nose, cheeks, fingers or toes.

Arctic mirages, known as Fata Morgana, can create illusions of solid, well-defined features where there are none. And hungry polar bears are a real danger. Dixie and Troy will be armed, although they will follow strict regulations governing the use of firearms during a polar bear encounter.  

Heavy loads

Both crossings – to Siberia and back to Alaska – will be unsupported. This means Dixie and Troy must carry all their supplies on sleds that start off weighing 120 kg or more. Every needed item must be either anticipated or improvised. Too much stuff and you move too slowly. Not enough and you risk lacking food, fuel or other essentials.

Moreover, Dixie’s strict environmental practices mandate that all trash must be carried out. On an earlier expedition, Dixie had the problem of what to do with heavy, wet teabags. He solved it by storing them under his armpits where they quickly dried out.

Food must be light and provide lots of calories, great for chocolate-lovers.   

Rubble, ridges and leads

Troy and Dixie will be on skies pulling their sled. When lucky enough to encounter flat ice and the right wind, Dixie and Troy will employ a kite to help pull their sled along. But they’ll also run into “rubble” (stretches of uneven ice piled up by colliding ice flows) as well as ridges of up to several meters in height. These have to be clambered over, pushing or dragging the heavy sled. 

Particularly hazardous are “leads”, channels of open water created by a break in the pack ice. (Remember, Dixie and Troy are travelling over open sea.) To avoid a long detour these must be crossed by jumping, bridging with the sled, floating or even swimming (with a watertight dry suit). The edges can be treacherous: slippery or breakable. Sometimes leads will be frozen over. Strike the ice with your ski pole: once, twice, three times. If it doesn’t break it’s safe to walk on.  

Race against time

The crossing will take place during a relatively narrow window. From early March, the dark Arctic winter will have brightened sufficiently to allow enough daylight hours for travelling. However, the pack ice will soon start to soften and break up, eventually making further progress impossible.

Equipment

The major difference with previous polar expeditions is that Dixie and Troy will be operating beneath the Arctic Circle, with the presence of water being much more pronounced. Therefore this expedition will be more amphibious, swifter and fickle than typical polar expeditions. The confrontation with the frigid open water must be welcomed. Thus, a fall in the ocean must be countered with specially made dry-suits. The tent will be engineered to offer flotation. The sledges must become true paddle-craft. Like always, a serious review of every single piece of equipment is an absolute must to comply with higher ambitions.  

Millet One Sport Everest Boot  has made some minor changes by adding more Kevlar. USES Expeditions / High altitude / Mountaineering in extremely cold conditions / Isothermal to -75°F Gore-Tex® Top dry / Evazote Reinforcements with aramid threads. Avg. Weight: 5 lbs 13 oz Sizes: 5 - 14 DESCRIPTION Boot with semi-rigid shell and built-in Gore-Tex® gaiter reinforced by aramid threads, and removable inner slipper Automatic crampon attachment Non-compressive fastening Double zip, so easier to put on Microcellular midsole to increase insulation Removable inner slipper in aluminized alveolate Fiberglass and carbon footbed Cordura + Evazote upper Elasticated collar.

Expedition footwear for mountaineering in conditions of extreme cold.  NOTE US SIZES LISTED. See more here.

A cold weather, high altitude double boot for extreme conditions The Olympus Mons is the perfect choice for 8000-meter peaks. This super lightweight double boot has a PE thermal insulating inner boot that is coupled with a thermo-reflective outer boot with an integrated gaiter. We used a super insulating lightweight PE outsole to keep the weight down and the TPU midsole is excellent for crampon compatibility and stability on steep terrain. WEIGHT: 39.86 oz • 1130 g LAST: Olympus Mons CONSTRUCTION: Inner: Slip lasted Outer: Board Lasted OUTER BOOT: Cordura® upper lined with dual-density PE micro-cellular thermal insulating closed cell foam and thermo-reflective aluminium facing/ Insulated removable footbed/ Vibram® rubber rand See more here.

 






 

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