Optimism, Humility and Responsible Action

Published on 18.03.2009 - Victorinox North Pole 09 Expedition

Coverage of this expedition is particularly interesting. For once, it gets off the beaten track (i.e. the usual rather dry and technical description of the way things are progressing) and carries the visitor along on the fringes of a genuine feat of endurance. Riveting stuff...

The progress table published below will provide factual information for anyone who is just looking for statistics and figures. On the whole, we can see that the two men are progressing with great caution, as well as a high level of intelligence and a certain sense of risk, all of which tells us that these two young Americans are extremely well equipped for achieving their dream.

But it's what is written between the lines that we want to dwell on for a moment. It is quite unusual for expedition reports to be as informative and insightful as this one, so we have decided to depart from our standard coverage and lift the curtain on what goes on behind the scenes in undertakings such as this.

In this type of adventure, everyone knows that mental toughness counts just as much, if not more, than sheer physical strength. The history of polar exploration is studded with genuine tales of hardship, which demonstrate that without cast-iron mental strength, many goals and objectives would never have been achieved. No doubt the most heroic example is Sir Ernest Shackleton as he led his men through the most amazing and dreadful of polar adventures after his ship, the Endurance was crushed by the ice in the Weddell Sea and he managed to bring the small whaler James Caird safely back to port on South Georgia.

And here, for once, we are able to discover the way in which the two men bolster their own mental strength, day after day, and how they have created the tools they need to develop that strength.

First of all, they believe that everything that happens to them is both logical and natural. They are then able to respond to every setback positively. Examples:

  • They are obliged to haul their sledges one by one (they both have two sledges each) and so have to cover the distance three times over because the jumbled, uneven ice would be too much of a challenge with both sledges otherwise. They do, of course, recognise that this strategy is slowing them down, but it also gives them additional exercise, which is always welcome at the beginning of an expedition.
  • They are experiencing incredibly cold temperatures, dropping to as low as minus 50°C. But in their reports back, they prefer not to dwell on how tough the situation is making things, but rather they go into raptures about the beauty of the scenery, including a description of the ice crystals that line the inner surface of their tent every night. 
  • The fact that they have opted to pull two sledges instead of one (which is an innovative approach in itself) is, of course, creating some extremely irritating situations, especially when the pulkas happen to knock their skis or legs, sending them into an uncontrollable fall of several metres. The two Americans have found a way to counter these possible hazards: "Doubtless a lot of people will be wondering how we don't get exasperated more than we do when we only manage to cover half a mile in a day," wrote Tyler on 9th March. "Or whether our pulkas drive us to distraction from time to time. And how we manage to stay positive no matter what the circumstances. But merely being optimistic or staying doggedly but stupidly positive is not enough," Tyler responds. "You have to prepare yourself for it. One of the things I have found that helps overcome these theoretical setbacks is to give names to my two sleds. I call them 'Shadow' and 'Bud', which are the names of my two dogs (one is a husky and the other a German shepherd) who I adore so much and who love me back. Because their names are written on the front of my pulkas, I find it impossible to get mad at them when they play a trick on me or when I can't quite haul them up to the top of a hummock. I just look back and see my dogs' names – so how can I get angry then?..."
  • When it comes to describing how hard it is to warm up their hands and feet during the first hours of the morning, Tyler and his companion prefer to talk about the moment when they finally do start to warm up (hands and feet suffer the most in this type of adventure). They take the same approach to the leads of open water they come across. Instead of cursing the fact they occur and how often, the two men prefer to take the attitude that some of these leads are heading in the right direction and because the surface of the water is smoother than the surface of the pack-ice, they enjoy the change as it helps them to travel more quickly...

Each time we hear from the two young Americans, what they have to say is like a lesson in intelligence, courage and perseverance. In any event, they never forget just how lucky and privileged they are and whatever happens, they should thank heaven for taking them on an adventure such as this. Inscribed at their website, on their HP, as if on a Greek frontispiece, is the following aphorism: "An Expedition of Optimism, Humility and Responsible Action". These words have been carefully considered, well thought through – and are true.

Here are their progression table :

  • March 02, D 01, N 83° 08 096' / W 74°005.863', 2,3 hours walk, 1.7 NM, -37°C
  • March 03, D 02, N 83° 08.9' / W 74° 04', 5,5 hours walk, 0.87 NM, -41°C
  • March 04, D 03, N 83° 10.321'/ W 74° 02.344', 6 hours walk, 1.4 NM, -41°C
  • March 05, D 04, N 83° 12.927' / W 74° 4.66', 7 hours walk, 2.63 NM, -41°C
  • March 06, D 05, N 83° 14.665' / W 74° 03.906', 7 hours walk, 1.7 NM, -51°C
  • March 07, D 06, N 83°15.629' / W 74° 03.727', 7,5 hours walk, 0.97 NM, -50°C
  • March 08, D 07, N 83°19.526' / W 74° 02.124', 7 hours walk, 3.9 NM, -39°C
  • March 09, D 08, N 83°23.071' / W 74° 05.560', 8 hours walk, 3.6 NM, -37°C
  • March 10, D 09, N 83°26.482' / W 74° 07.548', 8 hours walk, 3.4 NM, -37°C
  • March 11, D 10, N 83°31.109' / W 74° 12.118', 8,3 hours walk, 4.7 NM, -33°C
  • March 12, D 11, N 83°34.625' / W 74° 16.487', 8,3 hours walk, 3.6 NM, -37°C
  • March 13, D 12, N 83°39.210' / W 74° 18.240', 8,7 hours walk, 4.6 NM, -39°C
  • March 14, D 13, N 83°42.946' / W 74° 16.704', 8,5 hours walk, 3.7 NM, -41°C
  • March 15, D 14, N 83°46.166' / W 74° 18.091', 8,5 hours walk, 3.2 NM, -38°C
  • March 16, D 15, N 83°50.895' / W 74°13.882', 8.5 hours walk, 4.8 NM, -41°C
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