Monday, March 29, 2010


Dr. Chiu Liang Kuo in Alaska, December 2009.

Updates RE some friends and acquaintances:

1. An email from Chiu, my long-time climbing partner, who's heading to northern Baffin Island in two weeks to learn about the Narwhal:

"I am still looking for a long piece of wood works as a spear shaft( I have a spear head). It is my only defense from the polar bear.
I also need a last piece wood for sled.


Unable, due to the fact that he is a citizen of Taiwan, to transport my 12-gauge to Canada for protection from polar bears, Chiu is going to rely on a spear for protection. Good luck, Chiu!

2. Ripley Davenport, of England, is off to Mongolia, where he will drag his cart, if all goes well (or well enough, anyway) for 1,700 miles "across the Eastern Mongolian Steppe, Gobi Desert and the Altai Mountain Range". Stay warm, Rip!

3. Belgian Louis-Philippe Loncke has been elected into the Western Europe Chapter of the Explorers Club. Congratulations, Lou-Phi; let's get on the horn RE diving under the sea ice in Alaska!

4. Sixteen-year-old Aussie Jessica Watson has "passed the 18,000 nautical mile of her epic [solo sailing circumnavigation of the globe]...and is now less than 1,500 nm from Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia." Stay safe till you step on the doc, Jessica!

..and finally,

5. Brit Ben Saunders is back in the Arctic; he's walked alone to the North Pole once before, so I am shocked and amazed to find that he has had a stove-fuel leak from a cracked 5-liter container, which has contaminated a significant portion of his food supply, thereby seriously threatening his ability to carry on. Why am I so shocked? Because such a disaster is exactly why we (A) carry stove fuel in smaller containers (to minimize disaster if a container leaks...when we are counting fuel in ounces, to reduce weight, a five-liter leak is disastrous and can ruin years of planning, not to mention risk life itself!) and (B) we always carry stove fuel containers themselves inside fuel-impermeable bags, or so separated from food supplies (e.g. in a different sled or sled compartment entirely) so as to prevent precisely this disaster! All I can imagine is that in his mania to reduce weight (we all do it), Ben made decisions, took gambles, that now are not paying off. Rough luck, Ben! Very dirty luck--but why didn't you follow these basic principles of Arctic manhauling???? Interestingly, a number of comments on Ben's blog post announcing the disaster suggest that he, essentially, 'buck up' and keep going. But he can't! It's not a matter of will--Ben has plenty of that (he aborted another attempt on the pole last winter due to an equipment failure, so this must be extremely frustrating)--his food is contaminated with Coleman stove fuel. That is poison. It is either he gets a food resupply flown in--and repacks it all, which will take a while--or back to England. Hopefully, as often happens, things are not as bad as they seem; hopefully the food bags, maybe, are reeking of fuel, but the contents are actually OK? I'm sure Ben is checking that out in the most exacting detail right now.


LP Loncke said...

agree 100%. wanted to put a post on the adventure blog when i read he got his food contaminated. and i got to the same conclusions: weight reduction. Still, I admire the athlete-adventurer but don't like just going for a record. A record based mainly on an athlete and some luck on the terrain. While sailing records are used to show teamwork and new technology in boat construction.

Cameron McPherson Smith said...

...and I agree with you, Louis-Philippe, I don't get the 'record chasing' thing. What is the significance of going faster? In the long run that time only reflects lighter equipment, which is not something the person has done, it is something the gear manufacturers have done. I'm more interested in what the human observes while they're out there.