Monday, 30 May 2011

Twenty five years later: Photographic comparisons.

This is the first reunion I have participated in my life. I have avoided them like the plague. However, haven come together as a team in 1985 and again in 1986, we bonded together through minus 70 degree temperatures and incredible hardship. So for me, going to Minnesota, USA for the 25th anniversay of our 1986 North Pole expedition, starting on 15 May, was a real joy. . Here are classic before and after photos; 1986 and 2011.

Back row: Bob McKerrow,Will Steger, Paul Schurke, Richard Weber
Front row: Geoff Carroll, Brent Boddy, Ann Bancroft, Bob Mantell

Note that in both photos we are in identicle positions, and the hair a little greyer.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Exploring. From New Zealand to Antarctica and finally New York

Walking into the Explorers Club in New York last night (Monday 23 May 11) was like walking back a hundred years in history. A club, when it was founded, drew polar explorers, mountaineers, scientists, big-game hunters, under water explorers and admitted members who competed against each other, often with a strong dislike for one another. It was a dream I had from my early twenties, to visit this famous institution.

I started exploring the forests around my neighbourhood in Dunedin, New Zealand when I was five or six. When we got our annual snowfall  I learned to sled down the hill on a portable signboard advertising bread, that I would borrow, or steal temporarily, from the grocery store at the top of the hill. By my early teens, exploring the hills of Otago consumed my spare time.

Jeff Blumenfeld a member of the Explorers Club showing me the collection of photographs of members who did oustanding exploration. Photo: Ablai McKerrow

By my late teens I had climbed many of New Zealand’s highest mountains and was wanting to explore other parts of a world I understood little about.

I was 19 years of age I left joined a New Zealand mountaining expedition to the high Andes of Peru  and we explored and scaled 13 unclimbed summits in these unmapped mountains.

I have been an explorer from a young age but what attracted me more than any part of the world, was the Antarctic. The post-war New Zealand baby-boomers were brought up on a diet of the Empire's greatest feats of exploration which was mainly Scott and Shackleton. Little was said about Amunsden the cheeky Norwegian that stole the prized South Pole that was rightfully thought of as part of the British Empire.
Jeff Blumrnfeld and myself in front of the renaissance-style marble fire place in the Clark room on the 2nd floor. Photo: Ablai McKerrow

Left: With my most admired explorer, American Matt Henson, a highly successful afro-American polar explorer. He made the last attempt on the North Pole in with Admiral Robert Peary in 1909.
Our 1986 unsupported dog sled expedition to the North Pole followed much of his route. Photo: Ablai McKerrow

 Having lived  in Antarctica for 13 months and had the privilege of staying in Scott's two huts and Shackelton's one at Cape Royd's, it was a privilege to hear Edward Larson's lecture at the Explorers Club on Monday night on the subject of:

Re-Inventing Scott: Science in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
In summary Andrew Larson spoke on this theme.

Over the 100 years since his death on his return for the South Pole, Robert F. Scott's image has shifted from tragic hero to Victorian bungler. Without excusing Scott's mistakes, this lecture seeks to restore some balance to his image by looking at the role of science in his polar expeditions.

Scott may have been trying to do too much on his expeditions, at least as compared to the single minded quest for the pole that propelled Amundsen's expedition, but they nevertheless left a lasting legacy in Antaractic research and discovery.

I found that Edward gave Amunsden full credit for his achievement of being first at the South Pole, and giving an honest assessment of Scott and Shackleton, two very different men. I bought a copy of Edward Larson's recnt book AN EMPIRE OF ICE which is about Scott, Shackleton and the heroic age of Antarctic science. He kindly wrote an inscription in it.
Edward Larson (right) is presented a certificate by one of the Explorer Club committee members for his fine presentation. Photo: Bob McKerrow
So what is the Explorers club all about?
The Explorers Club is an international multidisciplinary professional society dedicated to the advancement of field research and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore. Since its inception in 1904, the Club has served as a meeting point and unifying force for explorers and scientists worldwide. Our headquarters is located at 46 East 70th Street in New York City.

Founded in New York City in 1904, The Explorers Club promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences. The Club's members have been responsible for an illustrious series of famous firsts: First to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, first to the surface of the moon—all accomplished by our members.

I am so grateful to the invitation from Jeff Blumenfeld to visit the Explorers Club in New York on Monday night and hear the stimulating lecture on Scott by Andrew Larson, and to inspect the whole building that the club's treasures and memorabilia are housed.

I thought of how fortunate I have been in having opportunities of driving teams of dogs in the Antarctic and Arctic, a far cry from sledding down a snow-clad hill on a bread board at ten.

We shall not cease from from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Elliot

Monday, 23 May 2011

Pictographs, people and canoes in Ely Minnesota

Our last day canoeing on various lakes in the Boundary Waters north of Ely Minnesota was magnificent, and it drew to a close nine days of the 1986 North Pole expedition reunion which included getting together informally and canoeing and partying, four days of which were public exhibitions, displays and lectures.

L to R: Geof Carroll, Ablai McKerrow and Jeff Blumenfeld on the lake where we found pictographs. Photo: Bob McKerrow

In the morning we headed into Ely to pick a second canoe and this turned into a trip down memory lane as we went to Jim Brandenberg's studio white wolf, Patty Steger's mukluk store,  and to Jason Zabokrtsky who owns Boundary Waters Guide service and The Ely Outfitting Company. We also egged Geoff on to buy a pair of men's underwear with a rather provocative slogan on them.  I am sure Maria, his lovely Innuit wife be in for a surprise when he returns to Point Barrow Alaska.

On the town with Jeff Blumenfeld, Paul Schurke, talking to  Jason Zabokrtsky, the leading outfitter in Ely. Photo: Bob McKerrow 

Paul Schurke knows all the lakes, rivers, camping sites and places of historical and spiritual interest. On Friday he took us to one lake north of Ely, where we paddled to an amazing campsite with a spectacular view over the lake. There he told us of the political history of the region. In 1926, the Superior Roadless Area was designated by the U.S. Forest Service, offering some protection from mining, logging, and hydroelectric projects, although logging would not cease completely until 1979. The Wilderness Act of 1964 made the BWCAW legal wilderness as a unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System, while the 1978 Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act established the Boundary Waters regulations much as they are today with motors allowed only on a few large entry point lakes.

Because this area was set aside to preserve its primitive character and made a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, it allows visitors to canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French Voyageurs of 200 years ago.

Left: Here Geoff, Jeff and Paul showed their skills by making a fire ready on a large flat rock they had placed on the ground, and gave Ablai the honour by lighting it.

Within the BWCAW are hundreds of prehistoric pictographs and petroglyphs on rock ledges and cliffs. The BWCAW is part of the historic homeland of the Ojibwe people, who traveled the waterways in canoes made of birch bark. Prior to Ojibwe settlement, the area was sparsely populated by the Sioux who dispersed westward following the arrival of the Ojibwe.

French explorers were first known to travel through the Boundary Waters area in the late 1600s. Later, during the 1730s, the region was opened to trade, mainly in beaver pelts. By the end of the 18th century, the fur trade had been organized into groups of canoe-paddling Voyageurs working for the competing North West and Hudson’s Bay Companies, with a North West Company fort located at Grand Portage on Lake Superior. The US-Canadian border, the northern border of most of the BWCAW follows one of the primary voyageur route

Ablai, Jeff Blumenfeld, Geoff Carroll and Paul Schurke reflect on life around the fire, as they cook lunch. Photo: Bob McKerrow

We canoed from our lunch site down to the end of the lake, and portaged our canoes onto Hegman Lake, I was paddling in the front of our canoe, and Paul, said, " Bob, paddle over to those rock walls to the side of the lake." As we got closer, I spied some paintings of the rock wall. I was entranced.

We were all stunned by the pictographs, the spirituality it generated, the sense of history and for me, trying to sense who these people were and how they lived. Paul, with over 40 years of local knowledge told us the history of an Indian chief who lived in the south, whose tribe was starving. He had a dream of a land with plenty of lakes full of fish, and forests where many types of animals lived. Like Mosses, he led his tribe to this part of the land.

Jeff Blumenfeld gazes at the Pictographs on Hegman Lake. Jeff Blumenfeld

Paul (l) and Sue Schurke (r) sitting on a rocky promontory near White Iron Lake where they have their home, dogsledding lodge and 70 plus Greenland huskies. I first met Sue and Paul when they visited me at Anakiwa in NZ in 1983 and did two arctic expedition with Paul in 85 and 86. They opened their marvellous home and Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge to us and provided wonderful hospitality and nmemorable canoe trips.

The last night at Paul and Sue Schurke's home on the Boundary waters, was a memorable one where the remnants of our North Pole Expedition, together with Jeff Blumenfeld and Ablai, had the last supper for a while. The sunset from the balcony farwelled us.

I left Minnesota yesterday with such feelings of camaraderie and amazed by the individual acheivements since our expedition in 1986, and with many new friends.  This group of eight explorers have neen to the North Pole over 30 times, to the South Pole four, and numerous trips to Greenland, Arctic Canada, he Russian Arctic and Himalayas. In their own way, and own time, they have become advocates for climate change, vulnerable peoples, promoting peace between nations and  in the words of Ann Bancroft "I believe that in honoring our women leaders, and by supporting a girl's ambition and hope, we are validating ourselves. "  Others are doing important wildlife biology and conservation in the Arctic regions, but above all, they are curious explorers of the remote regions of the world and preserving them.

Special thanks to Bill and Duffy Sauer, their daughter Lisa, for taking charge of airport pick-ups and accomodation.
To Will Steger's sisters and Ann Bancroft's family who were so kind and helpful, and to the Mother of them all, Lois Schurke at 90 years of age, who gave us laughter and inspiration. With deep appreciation to Gail & Marlin Olson for putting up Brent, to Bob & Lana Doolan for looking after Bob Mantell, and Wendy & Seth Webster for accomodating Geoff and Quinn. Thanks to Greg and the team at Wilderness Inquiry for the canoe trip down the Mississippi ad the BBQ.

And of course, to all the Minnesotans that backed our 1986 North Pole Expedition, and who are still backing us now, such as Tom, who gave us all a ride from Ely to St. Paul/Minneapolis airport. Thanks to you all.

Tom (far right) and his amazing  twin cab pick up that took took five of us, and our gear to the airport. Thanks Tom. Thank you Minnesota. !

This photograph will be a lasting memory for me sitting round the table at Wintergreen on White Iron Lake: Left to right: Paul and Sue Schurke, Geoff Carrol, Jeff Blumenfeld, Ann Bancroft, Will Steger, Bob McKerrow and Richard Weber. Photo: Ablai McKerrow

Friday, 20 May 2011

Ely Minnesota - North Pole reunion and canoeing

In 8 days I have gorged myself with a smorgasboard of fascinating people, historical places, stunningly beautiful lakes and rivers. How can I forget canoeing down the Mississippi with a beavy of conservationists, historians, river planners, wizen canoeists, then the presentations our 1986 North Pole team gave to the public in St. Paul and Ely Minnesota ?

Canoeing down the Mississippi. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The drive up to Ely on Wednesday, and roaring down part of Highway 61, a route made famous by Bob Dylan’s albu, Highway 61.

Yesterday we spent a day canoeing on White Iron Lake in the Boundary Waters north of Ely, an area of a thousand lakes that stretch northwards across the Canadian border. Our hosts Paul and Sue Schurke stopped at places of interest and we walked in to see raging rapids, beaver lodges, trees felled by beavers to eat the fresh spring leaves and simply gorgous river and lake scenery.

Jeff Blumenfeld, Ablai McKerrow and Geoff Carroll canoeing on White iron Lake, Boundary Water, Ely Minnesota. Photo: Bob McKerrow

At the end of a long day we stoked up the sauna on the lake edge, had four rounds of 10 minutes in the sauna, a plunge and swim in the cold lake, and a cold beer. Being with Geoff and Paul, members of our North Pole expedition, is always enriching as Paul is a world leading explorer and Geoff Alaska/s reknowned wild-life biologist who is another remarkable explorer.

Paul has over 70 Canadian Innuit sled dogs which form the ackbone of a very successful winter adventure business.dogsledding
On Wednesday night Jeff Blumenfeld, who was the PR man for the North Pole Expedition, gave a public presentation of his recently published book “You Want To Go Where ?’or How do you get someone to pay for the trip of your dreams. Jeff has been a public relations professional for 35 years and is a delightfully entertaining racconteur.

After the presentation, Will Steger drove Jeff, Richard Weber and me back to White Iron Lake and Will asked Richard, “ What do you think now about Robert Peary, did he get to the North Pole ?”

Here were the world’s two greatest authorities with 18 trips to the North Pole between them and both have been to the South Pole on foot.. Richard didn’t hesitate, “ No he didn’t as the mileage he recorded on some days was just not possible.” Throughout the long journey home, they debated about Peary, discussing prevailing winds, ice flows, the effect climate change is having on the ice and many other fine details.

An exploreres dinner table at Wintergreen on White Iron Lake: Left to right: Paul and Sue Schurke, Geoff Carrol, Jeff Blumenfeld, Ann Bancroft, Will Steger, Bob McKerrow and Richard Weber.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dogs licking our plates clean. North Pole Reunion

Mary O'Donnell, Geoff Carroll, Gaile Antanaitis, Bob Mantell,  Indre Antanaiti, Richard Weber and Bob McKerrow.

Perhaps if we all got our dogs to lick our plates clean, we would save so much water and detergent, thereby slowing down the rate of climate change. Read on..... Brent Boddy

Monday was another wonderful day for the 1986 Steger International Polar Expedition that reached the North Pole on May 1 1986 using 49 dogs and eight people. Our 25th anniversary celebrations continue.

Today I had a long talk with Will Steger (Will left and me right) our expedition co-leader in 1986 about the remarkable work he is doing for climate change through the Will Steger Foundation

Steger has been an eyewitness to the on-going catastrophic consequences of global warming. A formidable voice calling for understanding and the preservation of the Arctic, and the Earth, Will is best known for his legendary polar explorations. He has traveled tens of thousands of miles by kayak and dog- sled over 40 years, leading teams on some of the most significant polar expeditions in history.

Will was also very interested in the climate change work I have been doing in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldive Islands for the International Red Cross.

Tracked vehicles camping on the sea ice en route to Cape Pointsett from Wilkes Station — the outpost that would become McMurdo — in 1957. (Olav Loken, National Science Foundation)

Martin Loken, the Canadian Consul General in Minneapolis put on a delightful lunch for the expedition today and invited a group of very interesting people. Martin's father Olav, was a member of the IGY in 1957 (International Geophysical Year) and spent a year at Wilkes Station in Antarctica and did amazing scientific work as a glaciologist. (The photo above is taken by his father in 1957) By setting up many meteorological stations on the continent, especially at the remote Wilkes Station and measuring the movement and size of glaciers, he was one of the pioneers in starting recording information that would coin the phrase Climate Change.

So the grouping at the Canadian Consul General's residence had a polar flavour and excellent food was served. We had lunch outside in a beautiful garden overlooking the lake. See photo below

The other highlight for me today was being reunited with Mary O’Donnell, Gaile and Indre Antantaitis, three volunteers who were the backbone of our 1986 expedition. They volunteered about a year of their lives to make our dream possible. It is the backroom and seldom heralded people who make these expeditions possible.

Three people I admire greatly, are Dick, Debbie and their daughter Ann Bancroft, the only woman on our North Pole Expedition. Ann went on to be the first woman to reach both the North and South Poles. Next year Ann is off on another expedition to the South Pole with a group of women from at least ten countries.

Ann, Dick and Debbie Bancroft.

After the buffet luncheon, Six of the team, and Geoff's son Quinn, and my son Ablai, went for a walk around Cedar Lake for about two hours.

We felt the need for a drink so we find a nice upmarket coffee bar, which backed on to a super-market. For a few minutes Brent disappears and comes in with a plastic bag of fresh carrots with stalks still on them. He pulls one out of the bag, and starts eating it and says. “ carrots are expensive up in Cambridge Bay, and these taste great.” He passess them round and only Geoff takes one. He reassures us that he washed the dirt off the carrots in the bathroom. Later while walking with Brent, I said “ did you do a good job washing the dirt of the carrorts,” and he replied he did, and told the story about his last dog sled trip in the Arctic where one of the dogs would sleep in the tent and to save water washing their plates and saving detergent, the dog would lick them clean.”
Bent lives close to nature and I admire his simple life style living in the Arctic, with his charming Innuit partner, and basically living off the land
Ablai helping Paul Schurke put skiis on the roof on the van. In two days time we join Paul and Sue Schurke at Wintergreen dogsleding

In the evening Wilderness Inquiry (WI) put on a BBQ for us. Paul Schurke was the co-founder of WI which is an organization dedicated to sharing the outdoors with others. They provide adventures for a wide variety of people. They offer canoe, kayak, hiking, horsepack, and dogsled trips throughout North America and the world. Each year we conduct over 250 events serving more than 16,000 people.

Left: Canoes stacked inside the WI store room.

The trips are designed for everyone from novices to seasoned outdoor veterans. Over the years, we have found that attitude is far more important than experience or ability. By their very nature, WI experiences have a way of fostering positive attitudes.

This is what they say on their website:

We are a nonprofit organization founded in 1978 and headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. WI is run with 10 full-time staff, 60 part-time staff, and a volunteer board of directors of 21 people. We are not a subsidiary of anything, nor are we officially affiliated with any group or organization. We do partner with many organizations and our trip participants come from all 50 states and many countries around the world.

Our passion is making high-quality outdoor experiences accessible for everyone, including those who do not typically get out and enjoy the wilderness. In addition to trips, we have a variety of programs and activities that help fulfill our mission. We provide training for other organizations and outdoor skills workshops at community events. We also raise money to provide scholarships to make our programs financially accessible to everyone. see website wilderness inquiry

So the BBQ ended a memorable day. I enjoyed meeting the instructors and talking about their programmes, their dreams and aspiration.

Tomorrow we are going to canoe down part of the Mississippi River with some of the young instructors
' Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.......Proud Mary keeps on turning......

Sunday, 15 May 2011

In Minnesota for North Pole Reunion

Bob Mckerrow (left) with Will Steger. The fourth person ever to reach both Poles, Will Steger is known by many titles—educator, activist, photographer, and explorer. This former explorer-in-residence for National Geographic is a pioneer in his field, with a series of firsts in polar exploration to his credit.

I tumbledof bed at 0030 a.m. on Thursday 12 May. With Ablai (11) we took off at 5a.m from Colombo and it was a thrill to look out the window four hours later, to discover we were over the empty quarter, that largely untracked desert in UAE, crossed by Wilfred Theseiger and Arab companions in the late 1930’s. Changed flights in Abu Dhabi and boarded a fourteen and a half hour flight to Chicago. After a few hours we were over Turkey and Ablai spied some mountains, and took this photo below:

We winged over Europe,and then Denmark, southern Norway, over Iceland then flew over Greenland. Most of our 1986 North Pole team members have done many trips in Greenland in the last decade, and a place I had read extensively on.

Then a long haul into Chicago. A ling, tiring wait at immigration. I almost cried when customs made me ditch a bottle of Brandy in the garbage as you can’t carry it on internal flights in the US of A.

Ablai's photo from the plane looking over Chicago.

Met at Minneapolis/St. Paul airport by Bill and Duffi Sauer, and my old sled partner from the North Pole expedition, the towering Brent Boddy. A remarkable Arctic traveller, Brent has lived most of his adult live in remote Innuit settlements (Eskimo) in the high Canadian Arctic. In early 1986 when we were training for our North Pole on Baffin Island where Brent lived then, he and I helped him drive his team of dogs and sledge, and shared the same tent. We also shared dangerous and emotional moments such as when he was badly concussed when hitting his head after falling from an ice pinnacle, and we put up a tent, looked after him until he was better. Some weeks later when I was lighting a leaking white spirits stove in the tent, gwhen it exploded, and Brent and Paul Schurke saved me from certain incineration..

Brent and I had not seen each other for 25 years so driving from the airport to our hosts, we gave thumbnail sketches of the intervening years.

Brent Boddy (l) with Bill and Duffy Sauern

Ablai and I stayed with a delightful couple, Bill and Duffy Sauer, keen skiers and outdoors people. In the last 15 years Bill has been on a number of expeditions with Paul Schurke, to Greenland, Kamchatka, Siberia, Wrangel and and Northern China and inner Mongolia..

Bill who retired some years ago, after selling a successful automotive diagnostic hotline business for technicians.

Left, Brent Boddy(l)  in the Kite shop Minneapolis

On Friday, Ablai, Brent and I went outexploring Minnesota. We stood in awe of the mighty Mississippi River, which winds through central Minneapolis, wreaking havouc downstream, flooding southern States. We caught a train from Nicollet Mall and travelled the Hiawatha line to the Mall of America, the largest mall in the world. Three jet lagged travellers were after some good food, and Brent, hell bent on going to one of the few Kite shops in the USA. Brent at 56, is a fanatical Arctic traveller, who used dogs for 35 years to haul his sleds on many expeditions in the Arctic. Now he travels on skis with a kite, connected to a body harness, or connected to his sledge. He sold his dogs a few years ago, retired early from the Government in NWT, and is a full time kite skier.

Photo on the right: Ablai (left) and Brent in downtown Minneapolis

The advantage kite skiing has over dogs, manhauling or skiing with a back pack is when you face a lead, or open water, on the polar sea, you use the wind-filled kite to get speed up, and with the correct manovering, the kite flies you over the open water to safe ice on the other side.

Brent;s whole life centres rounf kite skiing. His diet, giving up alcohol, his daily training, all centres round inproving his ability to cover longer distances.
Yesterday Brent Boddy took Ablai to the King Tut exhibition – King Tutankhamun –The golden King and the Great Pharaohs showing the lives of the early Egyptians,

Later in the afternoon, Will Steger, came to pick me up and drove me for 45 minutes across the border to Wisconsin to team up with Jasom Davis, the famous US adventure TV director/producer who covered our 1985 Arctic expedition and the 86 North Pole exhibition.

Bob McKerrow, Will Steger and Jason Davis

It was quite an honour having the world’s greatest living polar explorer drive me as I had his undivided attention for 45 minutes each way to Jason’s home in the beautiful Wisconsin countryside. Our lives have taken different paths over the past 25 years. Jason and his wonderful family were there to welcome us and we enjoyed a delicious BBQ meal and salad. For three hours we spoke of explorers, politicians, world events and family. Thoses two trips on the Arctic ice that Jason covered on American and world TV, was something that bonded the three of us.

The fourth person ever to reach both Poles, Will Steger is known by many titles—educator, activist, photographer, and explorer. This former explorer-in-residence for National Geographic is a pioneer in his field, with a series of firsts in polar exploration to his credit.

In 1986 he made the first confirmed unsupported journey to the North Pole, leading a team of eight people with 50 sled dogs. Two years later he guided the longest unsupported dogsled expedition in history, a 1,600-mile (2,575-kilometer) south-north traverse of Greenland. In 1995, he led a 1,200-mile (1,900-kilometer) expedition between Russia and Ellesmere Island, Canada, via dogsleds and canoe sleds with a team of five educators and scientists. This sweeping project earned Steger the prestigious National Geographic John Oliver La Gorce Medal, awarded only 19 times since the founding of National Geographic in 1888. Steger joins Roald Amundson, Amelia Earhart, Admiral Robert Peary, and Jacques-Yves Cousteau in this honor.
In 2004, Steger led a five-month journey through the Northwest Territories in Canada.

Having testified before the U.S. Congress on polar and environmental issues, Steger has become a recognized authority on polar environmental concerns. So that is a little background on Will.

Today we go to the Minnesota History Centre for a family open dayfrom 12 noon to 4p.m where we display our North pole equipments such as sledges, tents, clothing and the eight expedition members are available to talk to the public. At 4 p.m we put on a presntation on our expedition..

Friday, 6 May 2011

The most remarkable polar journey in my life - 1985 Arctic Canada and Alaska

In a few days time I am leaving for St. Paul, USA for a reunion of our 1986 North Pole expedition. Here is a bit of a journey down memory lane.

After 13 months in Antarctica in 1970, I was on two expeditions to the Arctic in 1985 and 86 as a member of the Steger International Polar Expedition. What an amazing chapter in my life. Face to face with polar bears, attacked by musk oxen and gliding over the Arctic Ocean with dogs and sledges. Nights in igloos and in the homes of Innuit (Eskimo) and north \American Indian trappers and surviving at minus 70 o F. What memories !  The journey that I recall most fondly, is the first expedition with Will Steger in 1985. We were young and idealistic, hoping to prove that by completing this arduous 1500 mile trip, we would be strong and fit enough to reach the North Pole, the following year. Here is our group below modelling sun glasses.

L to R:  Bob McKerrow, Will Steger, Paul Schurke, Bob(Ironman)Mantell and Richard Weber.

This image was taken in May of 1985 on the first Steger International Polar expedition . The dog with the sunglasses is Slidre, he went to the North Pole and Greeenland. Slidre was born at the Eureka weather station on Ellesmere Island.

With Will Steger and team, I did some remarkable journeys such as down the Mackenzie River Delta and across the Arctic Ocean to Point Barrow Alaska in 1985 and the following year as a warm up to our unsupported trip to the North Pole, spent 3 months on Baffin Island training in the middle of an Arctic winter, and the late winter on Ward Hunt Island.

The map on the left shows the ARCTIC and our trip is marked in black. The red dot on the left is our starting point at Innuvik and finish point at Point Barrow Alaska.

 The 1985 expedition started in Ely Minnesota with Will Steger setting out by dog team in January that year trying to travel 5000 mile . We were to meet him at Arctic Red River, 3500 miles into the jourmey. Bob (Ironman) Mantell, came 1400 miles by dog sled from the Yukon  and also met us at Arctic Red River. Paul Schurke, John from Buyck, and I drove with a truckload of 15 huskies for about seven days, and  after crossing the US-Canadian border at International Falls, into Ontario, then across the wheat-belt through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the north-eastern  sector British Colombia, a corner of the Yukon, up the  Alaska Highway, then onto the snow clad Klondike Highway for 489 km. The next part of our road journey with dogs in the truck was up the at times impassable Dempster Highway for 603 km. When the road blocked our way, we continued northwards by driving up frozen rivers. This was a journy with a challenge round every corner and it was John's amazing music of the north that kept us awake as we drove 24/7

We stopped at Fort McPherson and heard first hand of Albert Johnson, known as the Mad Trapper of Rat River, a fugitive whose actions eventually sparked off a huge manhunt  in the Northwest Territories and Yukon in Northern Canada. The event became a minor media circus as Johnson eluded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) team sent to take him into custody, which ended after a 150 mi (240 km) foot chase and a shootout in which Johnson was fatally wounded on the Eagle River, Yukon.

Travelling for seven days or more with Paul Schurke and John of Buyck with a truck load of howling, hungry huskies were a conversation piece wherever we stopped. We would take them out of their mobile kennels every day for a walk and a feed, and huge crowds would gather round bursting with curiousity.

After five days we crossed the Arctic circle and two days later reached the Innuit settlement of Arctic Red River where Bob Mantell had just arrived with his team of dogs, led by the unmistakable 'Critter' who went on the following year to make Arctic cannine history.

But where was Will Steger?  He should have been here to meet us. The next day we got word that Will had just arrived at Innuvik, the next Innuit village down the trail. Here was Will, who I had met for the first time the previous year in England at Ullswater in the Lakes district where we spent 3 days together discussing this journey and the eventual dream of making the North Pole.

Will was in good shape and his team of dogs fit and well. Over a few beers that night, Will told his a harrowing story of how in a blizzard on a large lake, his dogs were startled, and bolted with the sledge, leaving his seperated from his dogs and all his survival equipment. Through sheer survival and navigational skills, Will tracked his team down. Arctic Red River and Innuvik have a special place in my heart as it was where I met Will Steger, Bob Mantell, and Richard Weber for the first time. Richard Weber was a Canadian Olympic skiier and went on to do some of the longest and quickest ever polar journies on ski, a modern-day John Rae.

The 1985 polar team: Bob Mantell, Paul Schurke, Bob McKerrow, Richard Weber and Will Steger leader.

We set off in mid April with three teams of dogs, from Innuvik, on a 1500 miles trip down the Mackenzie River, onto the Arctic Ocean. Here are some excerpts from my diary on the middle part of the journey, crossing from Canada to the USA.

Wed 24 April. Left at 10 am. Made a navigational error. (Close to Herschel Island) Went right at the oil rig ship, frozen in the sea. instead of left. Corrected course after an hour of sledging. We really pushed hard today. Reached the DEW line station at 9.45 pm. 11 and 3/4 hours of travel. Passed a high nunatak, point 33’ on map.There was a log cabin close to the nunatak.

Camped half a mile from DEW line station.

Today was one of those days when it is essential to put your mind in neutral.

(On this page I have a map of Herschel island showing where we found the large ship, Gulf Beaufort, frozen into the ice, and our route.
In 1985 as we moved close to Herschel Island, the sun rolled along the horizon, but never set as Will Steger and his dog team plugged on to point Barrow, Alaska.

Thurs 25 April ANZAC day in New Zealand, the day we commemorate all those in fought in World War I and II.

Packed up and left about 10 am. Today has been designated ice-training and filming day. Dropped into the DEW line station for about an hour or two. Had freshly baked bread and an apple. What a treat ! Jim, an Englishman, who had been in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1952, ran the station. He told us that when this station was built they were not sure whether it was in the US of A or Canada.

Travelled about five miles onto the sea ice and spent about five hours cutting, hacking,, route finding, pushing twisting sledges. We hacked our way through about 50 feet of ice, averaging a height of 10 feet. It was difficult road building, a taste of next year and what we are likely to experience on the way to the North Pole. We need heavier ice axes and a heavy crow bar. A polar bear track wove in and out of the frozen ice-pack. Sam, the DEW line dog, followed us. Sleeping with rifle inside the tent tonight.

Friday 26 April  So far the hardest day for me as we step up our pace. 10 am to 10 pm. A long day with poor visibilty, biting wind and quite poor conditions all round. About we struck a frozen delta with fresh water covering the ice, and started shattering, creaking and groaning.

Sam followed us today, sometimes getting closer for a better look at us all. Sam was a fine husky that was at the DEW line station and decided to follow us.

A year later Sam was on his way to the North Pole with the team and, in 1989, he was part of Will's South Pole expedition as well, thus making canine history as the one and only dog on expeditions to both ends of the earth. See link to The Most Amazing Sled Dog in Polar History Sam the husky story

Left, Paul feeding Sam.

At 2pm crossed the Canadian/ US border. Rough, soft conditions. At 6pm, on the other side of Demarcation Bay, discovered an abandoned Innuit settlement. The eiry place exuded remoteness, hardship, sadness and a strong sense of ‘the past.’ Bleached wind and snow blasted crosses, stuck out of a graveyard. Two were easily recognisable:

Annie Died 1913 – 22 years

Alovik Died 1922

Who were these people?  What were they like? What did they die of. So many thoughts rushed through my head. Passed Gordon, an abandoned DEW line station and a ship wreck in Demaraction Bay.

Camped for the night on the other side of the large river delta.
Paul Schurke (l) taking a noon sunshot to asxcertain latitude, while I am recording the readings the dogs take a nap.. Arctic Ocean April 1985. Photo: Steger International Polar Expedition

Saturday 27 April.  Daylight for 24 hours now. Left about 10.40 am. Takes us about 40 minutes ro hitch up the dogs and break camp. It was smooth going for the first hour, and then crossed some very brittle overflow ice. Will was very concerned about the condition of the ice. Afterwards two hours of slow progress and for the rest of the day we were inside a spit/peninsula, that rounded a point where we pitched camp. The Brooks range was a stunning backdrop all day. The highlight of the day was when Richard caught Sam. He’s going to be a fine husky. The dogs pulled very well today. Passed a few more abandoned Innuit settlements. The sun set about 11pm, but it never got dark.

Ann Bancroft and the runaway sled dog Sam in 1986

Also from my 1985 journal.are the names and order of Will's dog team.






Why was this the most remarkable polar journey in my life? Starting in Minnesota USA, drving a week through Canada to the Arctic gave me a look at a swathe of  scenicly beautiful parts of the US, Canada and Arctic Canada by road, and then a 1500 mile trip with dogs and sledges where we met indigenous Indian families and later trappers, the Innuit in remote villages. Sharing a team of dogs and a tent at night with legendary Bob Mantell was a remarkable experience, and learning dog drving in the north, which is very different to what I had learned in Antarctica. As we cooked an unhurried breakfast or evening meal, I would listen to a very modest man tell me of his many winter journeys by dog team in the Arctic. Paul Schurke, Richard Weber and Will Steger were all remarkable travelling companions with insatiable appetites for exploring, and each taught me some of the finer points of arctic travel. I will always be indebted to these caring and tough individuals.

I will post a few more excerpts on this trip later.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Off to Minnesota next week for our North Pole Expedition Reunion

We are leaving a week tomorrow for St.Paul/Minneapolis in the USA to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of our 1986 North Pole Expedition. We have a two week programme,which includes a number of group presentation on the climate change work we are doing in the various organisations we work for.

The programme below on Sunday 15 of May looks very interesting and it is pleasing to see families will be participating

Monday, 2 May 2011

Abbottabad, a place where Osama bin Laden was killed

I met Osama bin Laden in early 1996 in Laghman province in Afghanistan.

This tall, and quite handsome man seemed a serious and likeable man. As is the Afghan tradition, when a foreigner is in an area, he called me over to his table in a small, dirty tea shop to join him and his group for tea. He asked me what I had been doing and I told him that I had been into the mountains of Nuristan with my Afghan Red Crescent colleagues where we were building a clinic, two days walk from the road. I said women die in child birth because they don't even have basic facilities and now we have a trained doctor and nurse who run the recently-opened clinic.. He congratulated us. I didn't know much about this man, but he left an impression on me. Little was I to know his future doings.

But some years later I got to know more about this man.

11 September 2001, Ferney Voltaire, France (Quote from my diary)

I've just come back from a walk past soft yellow corn fields with the the Jura mountains as a backdrop and Mont Blanc on the other side of the path.

I'm hurting today because it seems Ahmed Shah Massoud is either dead or dying. Some say it could be the work of Osama bin Laden. I think of the times I met Massoud during my stay in Afghanistan between 93 and 96, and the hour interview I had with him before I left in August 1996. My friend Azem was killed too and Massood Khalili badly injured, the Ambassador to India and son of the great Afghan poet.

Meeting with Ahmed Shah Massoud in Kabul, in 1996.

My heart bleeds for you Afghanistan; the pain and hurt you've been through. Penalised by your geographic location and the pawn of superpowers.

During the day in the workshop in Ferney-Voltaire. my mind kept going back to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his senseless killing by hired killers posing as cameramen. Just before 4 pm, we broke for afternoon tea. As I picked up a cup of tea, the ,manager came running and shouting in French, something about a disaster in America. A group formed at the TV in the bar and watched an interviewer talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Tower, then seconds later we saw the most spine-chilling metal and human bomb plough into the second tower.


Right: Massood Khalili on the right, G.Whitney Azoy on the left and I in the centre, on the veranda in my house in New Delhi in early 2002, when Ambassador Khalili was recovering from the Al Qaeda attack that killed Ahmed Shah Massoud and left him badly injured.

Whitney is the author of that famous book 'Buzkashi - Game and Power in Afghanistan.'

I wrote on the day before b9/11, "Massoud gone, many thousands of lives lost in the four plane hijacks......"

The scenarios began to build up in my mind; retaliations on Afghanistan yet again. Alexander the Great, The Arabs, The Turks, Chengis Khan, Timur, Persians, The British x 3, Soviet Union and now a US led western coalition.  FINISH QUOTE FROM MY DIARY ON 9/11

Today Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, which I recall after many visits to this beautiful town beween 1994 and 2006, as a peaceful place. I visited there in May 2006 to run a disaster preparedness workshop with Irja Sandberg and Ilyas Khan, and then when the tragic earthquake struck in this region in October 2005, Abbottabad was badly affected. but the worse damage was to the north. I spent over a month in this region after the earthquak in 2005 which killed over 75,000 people.

Villagers carry relief supplies during the 2005 earthquake near Abbottabad:

Abbottabad is home to at least one regiment of the Pakistani army, is dotted with military buildings and home to thousands of army personnel and many Universities and institutes. Surrounded by hills and with mountains in the distance, it is less than half a day's drive from the border region with Afghanistan.

On the outskirts of Abbottabad, en route to the high Karakoram ranges

Where did the name Abbottabad come from?

Although, Abbottabad today is a thriving business and tourism city, it is traditionally a military city. Besides the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) in a nearby village of Kakul, Abbottabad is home to three regimental centres of Pakistan Army and Army School of Music. The PMA provided fame to Abbottabad for many years, prior to the recent development of the city, from a non-industrial backward area, to a busy modern business, economic and academic centre. The city takes it roots from the British India, when Major James Abbott came this way in 1853 after the annexation of Punjab into the British dominion and laid the foundation of a military cantonment. He also became the first Deputy Commissioner of Hazara Division. By 1901 the population of the town and cantonment had grown to around 7,764, which today stands at 300,000. Abbottabad remained the dominating district till 1976, when one of its tehsils Mansehra was given the status of district, which now consist of Mansehra and Batagram Tehsils. Subsequently in July 1991, Haripur Tehsil was separated from Abbottabad and made district. Thus only the Tehsil Abbottabad remained, which was declared as district. Major Abbott was so mesmerized by the beauty of the area that when leaving Abbottabad with a nostalgia a, he wrote a poem expressing his love and affection for the place he founded.

What a quirk of fate.

If you want to read a more complete story on my meeting with Osama bin Laden check this link:

Pakistan Red Crescent medical team walking into remote earthquake villages  carrying medical supplies to treat people affected by the earthquake in October 2005, which killed over 75,000. This photo is taken in the hills north of Abbottabad.