Wednesday 14 January 2015

Ice-walk 89 by Shailendra Sinha (Gold Awad Holder) - From Archive

In March this year, Robert Swan – the world famous polar explorer led a team of 8 men from seven countries in on expedition called ICEWALK-89 the International North Pole expedition.  They walked from Cape Columbia, Canada’s northern most tip, over 450 cold miles on the frozen Arctic Ocean to conquer the North Pole on May 14. 
At the same time a team of 22 student members from 15 countries went all the way to the Canadian High Arctic to participate in the programme of adventure, scientific studies and environmental awareness, all under the same project ICEWALK.

It all began in 1989 when Robert Swan went unsupported to the South Pole along with this two team members and became one of the first men to go under the newly formed Ozone Hole in our atmosphere.  He got heavily sun burnt.  In order to promote greater global awareness about the damaged ozone layer and the environment as a whole he decided on another expedition, this time to the North Pole, and dedicated it to the environment.

For any expedition, finance is required, so he went around the world 26 times getting world-wide sponsors and finally came up with 5 million US Dollars.

A student expedition was organised simultaneously to create greater awareness worldwide.  Students went up to Eureka (800 North) to study the Arctic pollution and global environment as a whole.  They also did a bit of Arctic Survival training and were thoroughly exposed to Arctic hardships.

The reason why students aged 17-22 were chosen what that students can relate with this environmental damage more easily and also because they are the ones who would be worst affected by this environmental damages in the near future.

I was lucky enough to be chosen as the Indian student for this expedition.  My escort-instructor Mandeep Singh Soin also went along with me all the way to the High Arctic.

We left India on the 12th of April and arrived in London.  There we were received by DEAS headquarters’ and went to the Portuguese Embassy for dinner with the Ambassador.   A brief press conference was also held.  Next day we gave a live interview on BBC followed by the many others.   We also met the Minister of Environment of Britain, Mrs. Virginia Bottomly, in front of the House of Lords.  She had shown a keen interest in ICEWALK and its movies.  From England we moved on to New York, and then on to Ottawa.

Al the members gathered at Ottawa and there we all met for the first time.  They came all the way from America, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, Germany, Portugal, Kenya, Russia, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India.  There were 8 girls’ students and two lady escort instructors amongst 22 students and their9 escorts who participated in this international student expedition.  The highlight of the stay in Ottawa was the meeting with Mr. Lucien Bouchard, the Canadian Environment Minister , who announced a clean-up programme in the Canadian Arctic, in order to remove all the oil drums lying around which went there as aeroplane refuelling drums.

From Ottawa we went on to Iqaluit (660 North) located on Baffin Island, which is essentially on Eskimo community.  There we received a warm welcome.  The locals taught us how to build Igloos (Ice-houses) and acquainted us with a few techniques necessary for Arctic survival.

From Iqaluit we went to Eureka (Ellesmere Island) via Resoulute (Cornwallis Island).  Eureka is situated at 800 North and is an environmental weather service station, which is manned all the year around.  Whilst we were there, we had 24 hrs day light and the daily temperatures ranges all the way from 120 C to 350 C.  The lowest if went down to was 450 C with the wind chill factor.  We placed ourselves comfortably and had the help and support of five leading Canadian American scientists who were there especially to teach us about the on-going environmental destruction.  We took a trip to Lake Hazen (82.50 North) which is an 800 Sq. mile lake, the largest lake above the Arctic.  We went all the way to observe wild life but unfortunately no wild life signs could be seen anywhere except a trail of lemming foot prints.

Arctic by far has been regarded as one of the cleanest places on earth.  Yet now there are traces of pollution in the form of gases causing the Greenhouse effect, and soot-causing acid rains, as well as pesticides carried by complex wind patterns coming right down from Texas in America.  The thinning ozone layer is another fatal threat to the High Arctic.  If all this carries on even at the present rate, the polar ice-caps will melt causing ocean levels to up by 70 metres or so.  I need not explain its obvious effects.

By now all the students had mixed very well and had overcome the barriers of language, country, community etc. acting like mini-ambassadors of the countries they represented.
We also learnt about the Arctic as a whole i.e. its people, wildlife geography, solar navigation etc.  Later we went out on a 4-day ski trip which exposed us fully to the rough Arctic weather.  The weather there was quite unpredictable.  We were heavily geared and pulled our own stuff ourselves, on the sledges; quite like the polar team which by now crossed 88.50 N.

We came across lots of spectacular sights of icebergs and even climbed a few.  Icebergs were rising upto 50 m, high and looking extremely beautiful.

We skied on the frozen ocean, cooked out own food which at -300 C certainly wasn’t very easy to do, slept in tents and Igloos and climbed right to the top of the highest mountains, on the Ellesmere Island (2150 ft. above sea level), which was quite nearby.

The return was very nostalgic and sentimental, with a few girls breaking down in tears.  So fare we had lived in perfect harmony and bonds of friendship had been permanently established amongst us all.  We returned home both happy and sad’ happy because we had achieved our goal and sad because it was over now.

Thank you Ice-walk.

(Source: The Doon School Adventure Stores shared by Dr. S C Biala)

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