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Walking and Walking for 2,000km and “Picking the Star at the North Pole”

Walking and Walking for 2,000km and “Picking the Star at the North Pole”

Posted May. 01, 2005 23:43,   


One step after another…

The members of the expedition team shouted, and the youngest member of the team, Jeong Chan-il (25) cried out loud. They passed 89 degrees 59.997 minutes north latitude, 59.998 minutes… They had finally reached 90 degrees 00.000 minutes north latitude.

“I couldn’t think of anything. As we were getting closer step by step, my legs began to tremble. When the GPS showed that we had reached the North Pole I just sat where I was standing.”

On May 1 at 4:45 a.m. (GMT: April 30, 19:45), expedition team leader Park Young-seok (42, director of Goldwin Korea, and Dong-guk Univ. Alpine Club OB), Hong Seong-taek (39, Korea Logic Speed Reading), Oh Hee-joon (35, Youngchun Alpine Club), and Jeong Chan-il (graduated from Yongin University in 2005) reached the North Pole.

After a while and getting back their minds, they walked arm in arm, jumping on the ice to the point of breaking it. After all, they had put their lives in jeopardy in the ferocious coldness for 54 days for this single moment.

The temperature at the North Pole was –22 degrees Celsius, and as if to congratulate their arrival at the North Pole, the sky was clear without a hint of clouds. Blizzards that could blow away men with winds speeding over 14 meters per second, irregular ice surfaces that hindered the progress of 100kg sledges, ice cracks that showed dark frigid waters, all obstacles that had harassed the team throughout the expedition, were absent at the North Pole itself.

Nevertheless, until the day before they reached the North Pole, April 30, the obstruction of Sedna (the goddess of the sea that appears in Eskimo tales) was fierce. Due to strong western gales, ice plates moved, hence moving the team far to the east.

The team marched toward the North Pole with all their strength. As they hustled their way forward, Hong fell into an ice crack but the team set up a tent to dry the clothes and three hours later, started the journey again. They were physically down due to the long expedition, but walked with their mentality.

During the 54-day expedition, the greatest crisis hit them at 86 and 87 degrees north latitude. They had crossed 86 degrees in just eight days after passing 85 degrees, but took them 12 days to move over the 87 degree line. As a matter of fact, they had reached 87 degrees once and set up a tent, but during the night the ice plate moved about 10 km backwards, forcing them to repeat their trek.

As the weather became warmer and ice began to melt, they had to reconsider going to the North Pole. Memories of the failed North Pole expedition, two years ago, haunted the team members.

In order to speed up, they had to reduce their load. Hence, the team ventured to make the sledge lighter by jettisoning one third of their rations and fuel. As a result, the team had to sleep in the cold to save fuel and eat only 200 grams of dried food per day.

The condition of the expedition team could not be worse. They basically all have frostbite on their face, hands, and feet. Park has pain in his knee and Hong has pain in his ankle. Now, the team only has two days worth of rations. If the departure of the airplane to take them back is delayed, they will have to starve.

At the base camp in Resolute Bay, Park’s wife Hong Kyung-hee (42) and younger son Sung-min (10), and long time alpine friend Hurh Young-man (58) are waiting for the return of the expedition team.

Chang Jeon jeon@donga.com