ADVENTURE

Over the Arctic ice cap

ANNE STEACY April 6 1987
ADVENTURE

Over the Arctic ice cap

ANNE STEACY April 6 1987

Over the Arctic ice cap

ADVENTURE

Soviet Arctic expert and mathematician Dmitry Shparo wants to succeed in a journey that has never been attempted on skis. The 45-yearold adventurer is proposing to form a joint Soviet-Canadian expedition to travel over the frozen Arctic Ocean from the Old World to the New World. The group would journey 1,125 miles from the northernmost tip of the Severnaya Zemlya Islands in the Soviet Union to Cape Columbia on the extreme northern tip of Canada’s Ellesmere Island.

In 1979 Shparo and six other Soviets became the first modern-day explorers ever to ski the jagged peaks and windswept flats of the treacherous Arctic ice cap, a 940-mile trek from Henrietta Island to the North Pole. Last year Shparo led a team of skiers on a 430mile journey between two ice stations in the -37°C cold and darkness of the midwinter polar night. Of his new adventure, the explorer declared, “It is the last difficult thing left to do in the Arctic.”

To that end, he has spent the past two weeks in Canada on a promotional campaign searching for team candidates— and sponsors. Shparo says that he would like at least two Canadian skiers to join his nine-man Soviet team, and a maximum of $100,000 to cover travel and medical research costs once the expedition reaches Canadian territory. The Soviet expenses, he says, will total as much as half a million dollars. Although he says that he has found at least a dozen promising Canadian men from whom to choose, he and four other Soviet delegates helping him to promote the venture have been less fortunate in obtaining either government or corporate backing. Indeed, after meeting with the delegation, Otto Jelinek, the federal sports minister, said that they had not discussed government funding, although the project had his wholehearted support.

Shparo is proposing that the skiers, who would travel over the ice on wooden skis, through frozen barriers on foot and across open water on rubber dinghies, begin their trek next March. It would be a three-month journey of discovery— but also of hardship. During the month of March they would have alternating nights and days. But in April and May the sun never sets in the high Arctic, and Shparo says that the constant presence of light can be psychologically disorienting. As well, until they reached the Pole the sun would be behind them, but from that point on they would have to travel toward it, with its glare reflecting off the ice and burning into their faces.

The team members plan to carry 100lb. packs up to 10 hours a day, skiing for 50 minutes an hour and resting for 10. Food, gasoline for cooking and other supplies would be dropped by a plane at intervals of about 15 days, at an average weight of 450 lb. a drop. At those times they would have fresh onions and garlic to eat, but for most of the trip they would live on freeze-dried meat, hardtack biscuits, salami, chocolate, tea and other staples.

The Soviets say that the project would be an important exercise in international co-operation. Said Shparo, a professor of mathematics at the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys: “We are going to join two different continents with a ski track. It is important that it is a walking trip from one house to another house—the fact that it can be done by walking shows that we are very close neighbors.” In addition, the delegates say that both countries would benefit from medical research and experiments that team physician Mikhail Malakhov will carry out during the trip. Most of Malakhov’s research will investigate the way that team members react to extreme stress from simultaneous factors in the Arctic, where temperatures will average -36°C. For that purpose he will be carrying a small electrocardiograph to record the heart rates of the men after difficult physical activity and psychological test cards to investigate their mental state at intervals during the prolonged social isolation.

To prepare for the event,

Shparo says that he would like to decide on the Canadian participants by the beginning of May and have them join the Soviets in Moscow for training this summer. And they have approached doctors at the University of To-

ronto with an offer to fly them to the Soviet Union to participate in joint medical discussions in preparation for laboratory experiments to be carried out at the end of the trip. But Dr. Roy Shephard, director of the University of Toronto’s School of Physical and Health Education, said that although he found both the stress research and the opportunity to test Malakhov’s specially designed Arctic medical equipment interesting, he had no budget set aside for that purpose. Said Shephard: “It is one thing to have interest, but it is another thing to have resources.”

Funding for the project in the Soviet Union, on the other hand, is not a problem. Shparo, who received the Order of Lenin after his journey to the North Pole in 1979, is a popular adventure author and hero in that country. And most of the expedition’s publicity campaign and costs are eagerly being undertaken by the official Moscowbased Communist youth newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, which has a national readership of 17 million.

Each evening the skiers plan to transmit broadcasts from their tent via satellite to the paper’s supplements editor, Vladimir Snegirev, who is also the expedition’s organizer. Indeed, Arkady Cherkasov, a senior research fellow at the Institute of U.S.A. and Canada Studies in Moscow, told Maclean's last week in Toronto that one of the purposes of the expedition is to spark the imagination of Soviet youth. Declared Cherkasov: “Some young people don’t believe in anything; they think only about music and dancing and smoking and so on. We need good examples of romanticism, of courage, of movement ahead.” Now, all he, Shparo and the others have to do is find two or more outstanding Canadian skiers— and succeed in convincing the rest of the country that the expedition is a worthwhile venture.

ANNE STEACY

in Toronto