Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Polar Explorers Crossing the Chugach Glacier in Alaska

While we've been busy closely tracking the climbing season in the Karakoram, another pair of explorers has set off on an amazing adventure in Alaska as well. Norwegian polar legend Børge Ousland and French adventurer Vincent Colliard have spent the past three weeks in a remote corner of Alaska where they have been traversing the Chugach Glacier, discovering that even in the heart of summer, it is a section of the world that is often harsh and unforgiving.

The expedition is part of what is known as the Ice Legacy project, which has a long term goal of having Ousland and Colliard ski across the 20 largest glaciers in the world. Along the way, they'll assess the health of those glaciers to determine the impact of climate change. As temperatures around the globe warm, some of the largest glaciers in the world are in full retreat, while others are actually growing. What impact will these changes have on sea levels across the globe, not to mention the fresh water supplies of the millions of people living in close proximity to these glaciers? All of that is part of what they hope to discover.

Currently the two men are on their 20th day out on the ice, and it has been quite an experience so far. Traveling in typical polar style, they've been skiing across the glacier and pulling sleds behind them as they go. They've found conditions to be challenging at times, including one day in which they covered just 4 km (2.4 miles) in 7 hours of travel. Other days have been more productive, with weather and surface conditions dictating the pace.

Currently, the duo has set its sights on reaching the summit of Mt. Marcus Baker, the highest peak in the Chugach Range at 4016 meters (13,176 ft). What makes this mountain so challenging is that it has an impressive prominence, rising 3269 meters (10,726 ft). Ousland and Colliard had originally planned on summiting on Monday, but high winds and poor visibility made the climb extremely difficult, forcing them to turn back. They had another go at it yesterday however, and managed to reach the summit despite some unexpected obstacles. Near the top, they encountered a 60º ice wall which they were just able to overcome with the limited tools they had. After that, it was a scramble to the summit were they watched the clouds roll in from the Bay of Alaska.

Now, the boys are off the mountain and making their way towards a remote airstrip where they will call for a lift out. The expedition is nearly at an end, but you can read all about it on Børge's blog, which has excellent entries for each day. You'll also find more info at IceLegacy.com.

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