are passionate about something you can achieve it. –
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
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.
of dreaming, losing yourself in the map. – Dixie Dansercoer
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
bridge to ice curtain
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.
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.
way of life, endangered environment
Dixie Dansercoer’s aims with The Bering Strait Odyssey is to draw attention to
urgent cultural and environmental threats.
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.
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.
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.
My life is
one holiday. – Dixie Dansercoer
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.
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”.
you’re on the ice everything is pure. – Dixie Dansercoer
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.
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?
and polar bears
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
be light and provide lots of calories, great for chocolate-lovers.
ridges and leads
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.
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.
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.
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