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Russian Arctic dogsled expedition alters its route to head for Canadian island

May 16, 2013, 14:08 UTC+3

Fyodor Konyukhov and Viktor Simonov are in middle of a dogsledding odyssey from the North Pole to Greenland

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MOSCOW, May 16 (Itar-Tass) - Russian Arctic explorers Fyodor Konyukhov and Viktor Simonov, who are in middle of a dogsledding odyssey from the North Pole to Greenland, have decided to change their route and head for Canada’s island Ward Hunt, the head of the expedition’s Moscow-based headquarters, Oskar Konyukhov, told Itar-Tass on Thursday.

“Taking into account the current ice situation eastwards and southeastwards of the current location of the expedition, Fyodor Konyukhov and Viktor Simonov have decided to head for Canada, to Ward Hunt Island, although they initially planned to reach Greenland’s coastline near Victoria Fjord,” he said.

There is a winter hut of the Danish polar patrol Sirius Patrol on the island. But what is more important is that there is an airstrip, the coordinates of which are familiar to pilots of Iceland’s Norlandair air company. A Norlandair plane was to reach the expedition in Greenland to bring two sleds of dogs of the Greenland breed and to take Russian dogs the expedition used on its way from the North Pole.

According to Oskar Konyukhov, it is obvious for the two explorers that they would not be able to reach a designated point because of the difficult ice situation in the southeast and there is no sense in reaching Greenland at any other point, where a plane cannot land.

“Throughout this week, we have been analyzing data on the current and expected ice conditions from the Research Institute of Arctic and Antarctic Studies, from Canada’s and Greenland’s ice services. Taking into account our travelling speed across drifting ice, we arrived at a conclusion that if we proceed to Victoria Fjord in Greenland, by the end of May we are likely to find ourselves in an area of fractured ice and insurmountable lanes,” Fyodor Konyukhov told the headquarters during the latest communications session. “The ice melting season has already begun and we encounter more and more cracks every day. Air temperatures are so far staying in an interval from ten to fifteen degrees below zero, but the oncoming Arctic summer is felt ever more distinctly. If we are on impassable ice, it will be impossible to take us from there in a regular mode, since ice landing is banned from May 8.”

According to the Canadian Ice Service, the ice situation along the route to Ward Hunt is satisfactory. Ward Hunt, Fyodor Konyukhov said, was the expedition’s plan B. “Although the island is uninhabited, it has been used as the starting and finishing points of polar expeditions. I visited this island back in 1989 when I took part in the trans-Arctic ski expedition led by Dmitry Shapiro. Back then, we reached Ward Hunt on June 1, 1989. I hope this time we will get there earlier. The island’s coordinates are latitude 83.05 North and longitude 74.08 West,” he said.

“Our further plans are as follows: we head for Canada’s coast to try to reach the uninhabited island Ward Hunt, wait for an Icelandic plane that will take us to Greenland’s northern coast, from where we begin stage two of our expedition to cross Greenland from North to South,” said the other expedition member, Viktor Simonov. “Though we have decided to go to Canada, the journey is not going to be an easy one. But in current conditions, it seems to be the only right decision.”

According to Simonov, the dogs are in good physical fit and the fodder will last till May 25. By this date, the expedition plans to reach Ward Hunt. “We have been moving across drifting ice of the Arctic Ocean for 40 days in a row and we can go on for about the same time. But the problem is that the ice suitable for moving on is becoming scarce,” Simonov noted. “This is a most vivid example of the global warming.”

The head of the expedition headquarters and head of the Russian republic of Karelia, Alexander Khudilainen provided his comment of the situation. “We conceived this expedition as the longest dogsled yomp in the Arctic. Our fellow countryman, a resident of the city of Petrozavodsk, Viktor Simonov, and Fyodor Konyukhov set a task of getting from the North Pole to Greenland’s coast and cross the island from North to South along the longest route in a span of one season. If from safety considerations, the explorers have decided to change the route and deviate to the Canadian territory, I fully support them. The most precious thing is the lives and health of the men and their dogs,” he said. “I wish Viktor and Fyodor a successful journey to Canada and I hope they will be strong enough to continue their expedition in Greenland and to cover a distance of 2,500 kilometers.”

Since the start on April 6, the expedition has covered a distance of more than 700 kilometers across the Arctic Ocean’s drifting ice. They have yet another 110 kilometers ahead before they reach the Canadian coast.

The two Russian explorers have ventures the longest and most hazardous route in the Arctic. At the end of the 1970s, legendary Japanese explorer Naomi Uemura tried to accomplish this task for the first time. However, he did not succeed in doing this completely - because of the slow progress at the very start, a polar bear attack and bad weather he had to fly to Greenland from the North Pole by plane.


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