On March 14, 1895, Fridtjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen left the Fram expedition ship and began their attempt to ski to the North Pole. They had two winters in the Arctic Ocean behind them, but the ship was unable to reach the Pole as they had hoped.
When the men went out with 27 dogs and three sledges they used old clothes, heavy wooden skis and solid ski poles. Last week, Johannes Breivik, Erika Gjelsvik, Johanne Jærijærvi and Elias Damli began their attempt to try the same feat with such equipment.
"The clothes are warmer than I thought, but then again, it's not very cold out today," said John while squinting in the minus three degrees Celsius cold at the foot of Sarkofagen.
"But the skis are heavy and they glide both ways," Erika and Johanne chimed in.
To the North Pole
The four youths were selected from among hundreds who applied to be included in NRK Super's program "Oppdrag Nansen," (Mission Nansen) which will be broadcast on TV next winter.
"We want to give children and youths a concept of how things are going with the climate on Earth, and give them an opportunity to familiarize themselves and understand a topic they certainly have heard or read little about," said Håvard Gulldahl, the project's leader.
The whole process concludes with the gang going to the North Pole on skis. They will be flown to the Russian-operated Barneo ice camp at 89 degrees north latitude and spend about a week skiing before reaching the top of the world.
"When we get to the point where we are actually moving towards the Pole, I think it will get pretty boring - or like routine stuff," Elias said.
"It will be fun the first two days," Johanne said. "Then it becomes more boring. Go, eat, go to the bathroom, go, eat, and lie in the tent and sleep. Then do the same the next day."
Lots of training
It goes without saying that they will be among the youngest people ever to reach the North Pole, not to mention the rarity of going the "last degree" on ancient skis, so they needed training. They began preparations in November and they have gone through four months of personal training before Longyearbyen became their training base. During the two weeks before Easter and two weeks after, the youngsters have been in Svalbard. Their training consisted of getting used to the elements in the Arctic and performing tasks necessary during the expedition. They also spent a week aboard the Lance research vessel that is frozen into the sea ice north of Spitsbergen.
"A little bit of a thing is that we do not know what we will being doing from day to day," Johanne.said. "We really only know that we're going to the North Pole at the finish."
"Two hours after we came here after Easter we had to jump in the water and swim," Elias said. "It was cold, but actually not as bad as I thought."
None of the participants knew each other before they were handpicked to be part of "Oppdrag Nansen." But when Svalbardposten visited them at their the camp at the base of Sarkofagen south of Longyearbyen it seemed as if they've been friends all their lives. The bump and banter with each other, but said major conflicts have failed to arise even though they have lived in close proximity for quite a while.
"There have been some kinds of small conflicts, where someone gets a little sour at others, but it passes," Johannes said.
"And then we have stuff like 'do-not-talk-to-the-girls days," Elias added.
"And then there are some who have been slightly acidic because I have called them stupid," Erika said, looking at the people around her.
"But it's meant well," she added with a laugh.
What the worst thing about participating in this?
"Oatmeal for breakfast!" all four agreed.
"And then there's disgusting thing of having to go to the bathroom when we sleep in tents," Elias said. "We have to pee in a bottle in the tents at night, and it can be quite difficult."
The girls nodded vigorously, pondering the funnel they have to use along with the bottle.
Gulldahl, as the project's leader, raved about the effort being made by their hosts here.
"We have received lots and lots of help from many Svalbardites while we have trained here," he said. "The plan is to come back from the North Pole on April 25 and then it will be nice to be welcomed at the airport."
Nansen and Johansen never actually reached the North Pole. They had to turn around just after passing 86 degrees north. The youngsters said they believe they will go beyond the footprints of Nansen.
"I am absolutely sure that we will reach the Pole," Erika said determinedly. "We are mentally prepared for the trip."
"Eh, I'm not prepared," Johannes said, to snorts from his friends.