Was This Arctic Expedition the Last Great One of Its Kind?

The harrowing journey of Børge Ousland and Mike Horn

The Arctic
The Arctic can be an imposing landscape.
Arctichistorian01/Creative Commons

When a pair of experienced explorers, both of whom have made previous treks through the Arctic, joined forces in 2019 on an ambitious voyage across the ice, it had the potential to be another thrilling expedition for both men. Instead, the journey that unfolded proved unpredictable due to the effects of climate change — and very nearly had a tragic ending.

A new article by Aaron Teasdale in National Geographic chronicles the voyage made by Børge Ousland and Mike Horn. As is the case with David Grann’s The White Darkness, this article gives a sense of the extraordinary physical toll crossing polar regions can have, and the omnipresent dangers — from hungry polar bears to ice that can give way without warning.

Further complicating matters? For as well as both Ousland and Horn prepared for their journey — again, both are experienced explorers who were familiar with the risk of the terrain — there were certain things they hadn’t planned for. For one thing, thinner ice than in years past, due to climate change. For another, a change in the ocean’s currents — also due to climate change — which impeded their forward motion at a crucial time.

The article is both a gripping adventure narrative in its own right and a testament to the changing environment at the top of the world. One of the running questions is whether or not such a journey will even be possible in the future, giving the shifts in the landscape.

It also offers a glimpse of how two incredibly resourceful people contend with life-threatening emergencies in a hostile environment. One tip? If you’re crossing the Arctic, you might want to bring a nail. (Yes, just one.) As it turns out, it might save your life.

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