The two-man expedition comprising Petr Horký and the experienced arctic explorer Miroslav Jakeš set off in April, 2008, to the North Pole from latitude 88 degrees, i.e. the same starting point from which a few years earlier the famous mountaineer and adventurer Reinhold Messner had begun his trek to the pole.
Report on a journey to the North Pole
Horký and Jakeš strode it out on skis, pulling their sledges behind them. Their trek virtually copied the classical methods used by Roald Amundson. The effort was the same and so were the risks. They reached the North Pole after a march of almost 200 km on April 12th, 2008 at 11:57h CET. After spending two and a half days at the pole they were picked up by a Russian helicopter which flew them to the polar station Barneo. This is how Petr Horký recalls their moment of “conquering” the pole:
I have no idea how many times I had tried to imagine the glory of this moment. How I would reach that fascinating place and start screaming for joy. How I would slip off my skis and celebrate the fact that I was now one of only a handful of Czechs who had reached the North Pole. Who had walked all the way instead of being brought there on sleds or on an ice-breaker. I wanted to celebrate and shout for joy that the dream which I had been nurturing deep within me and which had pursued me from my childhood had suddenly, with one swish of a magic wand, come true and that I, Petr Horky, the man with such a non-polar name (Horký translates as Hot = tr.), am finally here and that no one will ever be able to take this experience away from me. The pole was, at that moment, not far away and together with Mirek Jakeš, my Arctic guardian angel, we kept on slave-driving our GPS navigational system which with the help of orbiting satellites was meant to inform us exactly where the Pole was so that we would not, heaven forbid, miss it. To do this we had to stop almost very two hundred steps. The landscape – if you could call the snowed-over icy cover of the Arctic Ocean that -was mild, no higgledy-piggledy jumble of icy boulders which the Russians, the local arctic maestros, call toros. No crevasses filled with watery traps with water as cold as well-chilled vodka, flowing like oil since sea water freezes at temperatures between one a four degrees below zero depending on the salt content. No – fortunately there were no crevasses at the Pole, just a long snowy plain, flat like the top of a table.
Later, friends in Prague told me that they had received my news via satellite phone and heard that we had reached the North Pole on Saturday, April 12th, 2008 at eleven hours and fifty seven minutes Central European Time and that I had eventually managed to let off a feeble “Hooray!” but that my voice had sounded tired and somewhat joyless. I remembered that moment differently: convinced that I was a bundle of energy and that no way could I detect any signs of exhaustion.´ We were not very far from the Pole when we began to hear a buzzing noise behind us. The weird noise grew stronger and stronger until it changed into the sound of an Mi-8 helicopter, which is what the Russians use to fly to the Pole in from their station at Barneo. The helicopter whizzed overhead and landed precisely on the North Pole. And then a group of Italians began to emerge out onto the snow. Mamma mia! It was just like out of a Milos Forman movie. Like if our Oscar director had dreamt up a film called “The Iceman´s Ball” and had decided to join forces with Fellini. The Italians bundled out of the helicopter, if I recall rightly there were eleven of them, a few about thirty years old, a couple of older gents and at their tail end two seventy year old signoras or signorinas who looked like spinsters. A package tour to the Pole! Ceremoniously they popped open a bottle of champagne, drank a toast in their imported glasses, tried to sing something, but thanks to our truly frosty surroundings we were unable to decipher a single syllable.
The Italians stared at us as if we were an apparition. We were unwashed, unshaven and certainly a little dishevelled while our Romans had shot off to the Pole as if on a day trip to Torino to watch a football match and holler: “Tempo, Roma!” Sure, Tempo Roma ... “Where have you come from?” one of the Italians asked us in his version of English as soon as we had dragged ourselves, our skis and sleds to the pole. “Yeah, sure, just got in,” I replied. “And how long did it take you?”, the Italian asked in his warm polar jacket. Suddenly, he became rather unsure of himself. “Did it take you a day? Or three days?” I told him the truth: “Two weeks.” “Two weeks?” “”Yes.” “That´s great. That´s fantastic. And how far did you have to go?” “Something over one hundred and fifty kilometres, maybe a hundred and seventy or more, God knows.” He called over the rest of the Italians and they began photographing us as if we were polar bears, tame ones trained to welcome Italian, French and American tourists. I had just completed the longest Czech expedition to the pole which had ever been accomplished and here I was looking at all these Eyeties and feeling a little like a drongo.
Ten tips for those planning to visit the North Pole
Tip No. 1: As the Russians say: “Vot Arktika!” “That´s the Arctic!”.For the Arctic is an entirely different world from anything you have ever seen before. Tip No. 2: 5 seconds and that´s it! You should never pull your hands out of your gloves for longer than that. If you leave them out for longer they start to lose blood and hurt like hell. Finger tips get frost bitten very quickly. Tip No. 3: Always keep moving! Those who don´t move, start freezing. By moving you generate your own warmth and good clothing will preserve it. Tip No. 4: Dress carefully and listen to advice from experts. The best way is to dress in such a way so as not to sweat while moving and not get cold the moment you stop. Tip No. 5: Don´t plan anything too precisely. In the Arctic everything keeps changing from day to day, from hour to hour, sometimes from minute to minute! If you map out a loose framework rather than an exact timetable you will avoid disappointment and your psyche won´t suffer. Out here, your psyche is probably your most important attribute. Tip No. 6: Whatever you can, do immediately! If you say “I´ll manage that in a moment,” you´ll probably never do it. Here´s an example: When I set off for the North Pole for the second time on April 13th I was filming Mira Jakeš overcoming the toroses and trekking under polar conditions. Mira suggested that we could film this when we got to Barneo so why not move ahead now without filming. But I was adamant. Thanks to which I now have a whole heap of footage. We would never have filmed anything at Barneo because on our way back we were there only for a couple of minutes. Tip No. 7: Tomorrow everything will be different! You can be standing in front of an insurmountable barrier, for instance a “river”. Only by morning the drift can turn around and you may have an open road ahead of you. Or a tract of water can freeze over in ten hours and then you can walk across it without getting your feet wet. Tip No. 8: Every stretch of water here has its limits. Even if you think you have the Mississippi before you (which is what the people from VICAR call the largest arctic “rivers”) you will always find a place where you can go around or across it. Tip No. 9: Remember that Jack Frost is your buddy! When it´s freezing, the ice is firm underfoot and you can function properly. As soon as things get warmer the ice begins to buckle and the floes begin to split up. Last but not least Tip No. 10: Eat and drink regularly. In the cold and while on the move your body always needs to keep burning something. You have to eat a lot and you must plan your menu accordingly: Your rations should include nuts, fats, meat (even if dried) vitamin tablets, sweets like candied fruit, chocolate. You should have everything prepared and divided up into daily doses. You´ll discover that even a humble bar of chocolate as a snack will fire you up with energy. As far as drinking goes, during the day you only need to drink in sips and small doses to void sweating. No more than 1 litre from sun-up to the evening break when you begin setting up your tent. You can fill up with fluids comfortably before going to bed. These are just simple basic guidelines. The rest you can glean from polar guides who have been covering this region for years. If you arrive well prepared then with their help you should be able to master your expedition. Even though ... you can never completely rule out a fatal event or mistake. And then for that person the helicopter need not come in time and that particular someone fails to return from the Pole. But I think that out there it is almost painless. The frost takes effect quickly. And it is certainly a more dignified end than to depart slowly day after day, hopeless for ever and ever and barefoot in a hospital bed. People will at least say: He tried and simply had horribly bad luck. But he was a great guy.”
Members of the Expedition:
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Polar explorer who in 1993 became the first Czech to walk to the North Pole. Since then he has visited the North Pole several times. His most spectacular achievement to date is his 1996 solo crossing of Greenland from East to West without the help of any communication or external aid.
Director, adventurer, traveller. Has made over 70 documentary films in about 80 countries. Horký has filmed tiger sharks in South Africa, the eruption of Mt. Merapi on Java, discovered two sunken boats on the sea bed in an out-of-bounds region of the Maldives and has crossed Greenland on skis. He is the author of several best-selling travelogues and a laureate of the Egon Erwin Kisch award.