Table of Contents
Editorial: Defining the Inuit Sled Dog
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Sylvia Feder
All the Wrong Reasons
Last Trip of the Century to the North Pole
Bering Bridge Expedition - 10 Years Later
Ways of the North
Behavioral Notebook: Watching TV
Poem: Standing Invitation
Video Review: Dog of the Midnight Sun
Janice Howls: Observations
In My Humble Opinion: Work, et. al.
Navigating This Site
Index of articles by subject
Index of back issues by volume number
Search The Fan Hitch
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Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis
Our comprehensive list of resources
Talk to The Fan Hitch
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Last Trip of the Century
to the North Pole
by Geneviève Montcombroux
The North Pole holds a magic that has long inspired explorers. In April 1999, Paul Schurke led an expedition named Aspirations! to the pole. Eleven adventurers and two teams of Inuit sled dogs made up the party. Great Aspirations! is a Cincinnati-based charity, established by team member Doug Hall, and dedicated to helping parents inspire their children's goals and dreams. No one in the team was a professional explorer.
Despite a few snags with the high-tech gear - an Iridium satellite phone mistakenly used as a urinal and a frozen computer that melted when thawed - expedition members reached over three hundred thousand people in their daily website updates and education inserts distributed in 5 million Sunday papers. Although it is not a requirement, being innovative is one essential quality on such a trip. The phone was the team's key communications link to the outside world.
"We were a bit panicked, but that evening we became resourceful and used our snow melting pot and camp stove to slow bake the phone for several hours," said Paul Schurke. "Finally, some beeps, swizzles and hums began to emit as it came back to life. We jumped for joy as our link to the world was reestablished."
The team reached the North Pole on April 26, 1999 and in doing so set a record for charitable fund-raising. Many expeditions secure corporate sponsorships, but this one was the first to give all the proceeds to a charity. Expedition expenses were borne directly by team members.
The expedition retraced the final 150-mile segment of Admiral Peary's 1909 trek to the Pole.
Paul said the conditions were not as favorable as on some of his four previous trips. "Temps hovered around -15F and the weather alternated almost daily between calm-clear and blizzardy. The entire ice pack was moving steadily at about 4mph south each day so we were obliged to travel many more miles northwards than anticipated. We traversed a moving surface towards an invisible target and so the challenges were entirely unpredictable, they changed by the hour." The party encountered much open water and had to use "every trick in the book" to get across. These included using ice blocks in the middle of large leads and making bridges with a sled. One team member fell through thin ice but was promptly rescued and warmed up.
The high Arctic is not deserted as some might think. Polar bear tracks were seen during the trip, but no bear was sighted. That must have been a relief to the members of the expedition.
Team member Dave Golibersuch, of Schenectady, New York, became debilitated by cold, stress and frostbite. Words of support reached him from as far away as South Africa. He was able to overcome his difficulties and to carry on.
A team of NASA scientists was airlifted to the Pole to meet the team upon their arrival. The scientists tested and demonstrated state-of-the-art communications, ice mapping and meteorological equipment at the top of the world. It was there the frozen computer was overheated while thawing out and melted.
The eighteen pure Inuit sled dogs of the expedition eagerly pulled the expedition's gear. In addition to their daily ration, they were fed fat. As a result their performance improved considerably. "They were getting stronger by the day," said Paul.
For Paul, the North Pole is a gift. "Reaching the Pole is an accomplishment that is bigger than life. That achievement becomes a resource I tap each time other personal or professional goals appear daunting. The beauty of the Aspirations! expedition was that not only was I able to share that gift with ten other team members but with people worldwide who followed the trek and who are now adopting the goal-setting programs provided through the Great Aspirations! Foundation."