24 Nov

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

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The brutal history of Bougainville – in pictures

Mike Horn and Borge Ousland are crossing the Arctic on skis but ice drift has set them back

Melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

Melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Photograph: marako85/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It was supposed to be an epic 1,000-mile journey taking in the stunning snow-covered scenery of the North Pole as two adventurers embarked on a brave bid to cross the frozen Arctic Ocean on skis.

But the experienced explorers’ attempt has, quite literally, been left on thin ice as the pair struggle to navigate the harsh terrain in time – leaving them in a “touch and go” position to finish before food runs out in 12 days.

Mike Horn, 53, from South Africa, and Norwegian Borge Ousland, 57, set off from Alaska on their three-month journey at the end of August by boat, reaching sea ice on 12 September. Since then they have been travelling on skis pulling sleds with supplies.

They planned to complete their journey by mid-November, by which time they hoped to have hit the edge of the sea ice where it meets the water so they could be picked up by their vessel, Pangaea.

However, they have been slowed by the thinning ice, which has been credited to climate change. “Because of climate change the ice is thinner than usual, which is more prone to drift,” Lars Ebbesen, the expedition spokesman, told Agence-France Presse.

Normally there would be a positive drift of a few extra kilometres a day, “but the winds are pushing the ice toward Greenland and they have gone backwards three to five kilometres per day”, he said.

The duo, who have not asked to be rescued, hope to finish within 10 to 12 days, which is how long their rations will last. Ebbesen explained: “There is no danger, no huge drama. But it is touch and go – a mad dash to reach the goal. We are considering how to get more food to them in case it takes longer.” The weather forecast is looking better, he added.

Despite their situation, he said Horn and Ousland were in “surprisingly good condition,” adding: “They have a little frostbite but that’s quite normal.”

But Horn’s daughter, Annika, 26, told the French newspaper Le Parisien that her father was not in good shape. “His morale is very low. I’ve never seen him like that, in such an extreme state of fatigue … My sister Jessica and I just want him to come home soon,” she said.

Mike Horn allowed himself three months for the journey, which he should have completed by mid-November.

Mike Horn allowed himself three months for the journey, which he should have completed by mid-November. Photograph: Markus Wissmann/Alamy Stock Photo

Bard Mortensen, a spokesman for the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Northern Norway, said rescuers were “considering precautionary plans at this point” in case an evacuation was required. “There is no evacuation under way … they are determined at this point to make it on their own,” Mortensen said. A helicopter or ship from Norway’s nearby Svalbard archipelago would be able to rescue the pair, he added.

Horn’s website – which allows browsers to track the adventurers’ progress in realtime – paints a daunting picture of their journey, explaining time will be of the essence. “They are giving themselves a period of a maximum three months to undertake the traverse of the frozen Arctic Ocean via the North Pole,” it reads. “Once the crossover completed, Pangaea and its crew will pick them up at the point where the open water meets the sea ice in the region of northern Norway.”

It adds: “If all goes according to plan and that Pangaea can be sailed as far as 85°N from Alaska, Mike and Borge will jump off the boat and start their expedition. They will have to cover 900 nautical miles on foot and skis (approx. 1666km) [1035 miles], across the frozen ocean passing via the North Pole. This distance is calculated without taking into account the unavoidable ice drift, which could double or even triple the overall distance the duo will have to cover to reach the other side.”

The pair’s trip is the second part of Horn’s “Pole2Pole expedition”, after he traversed Antarctica via the South Pole in early 2017.

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World Politics

United States

Supreme court justice spent two night at hospital – as her health is closely watched by Democrats and Republicans alike

A court spokeswoman said Ginsburg was ‘doing well’ after spending two night at hospital.

A court spokeswoman said Ginsburg was ‘doing well’ after spending two night at hospital. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was released from hospital on Sunday, after being treated for a possible infection.

A court spokeswoman said Ginsburg was “doing well”. The 86-year-old spent spent two nights at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she was taken on Friday after experiencing chills and fever.

The court said Ginsburg received intravenous antibiotics and fluids and that her symptoms abated.

Appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg is the senior liberal on a court split 5-4 in favour of conservative justices, after two appointments under Donald Trump.

Only Clarence Thomas, 71 and appointed by George HW Bush in 1991, has served longer among current members of the court.

Ginsburg’s health is closely watched by Democrats and Republicans alike.

She has had four occurrences of cancer, including two in the past year. She had lung cancer surgery in December and received radiation treatment for a tumour on her pancreas in August.

In mid-November, Ginsburg had a rare absence from a public session because of what the court said was a stomach bug. Her latest hospital stay began after the justices met in private to discuss pending cases.

Ginsburg was evaluated at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington before being transferred to Johns Hopkins for further evaluation and treatment.

Supreme court appointments are for life, although justices can retire.

Trump’s first pick, Neil Gorsuch, replaced Antonin Scalia, another arch-conservative who died in February 2016.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell famously held Scalia’s seat open, refusing to consider Barack Obama’s nomination of a moderate, Merrick Garland, and citing alleged precedent that president’s should not fill a supreme court seat in their final year in the White House.

McConnell has said he would fill any vacancy arising in the final year of Trump’s first term in office – provoking fury among progressives.

Trump’s second pick, Brett Kavanaugh, was appointed after Anthony Kennedy retired. A forthcoming book by Washington Post editor Ruth Marcus contains the revelation that Kennedy asked Trump to include Kavanaugh on his short list.

Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate, tilting the court to the right, after a bitter confirmation process marked by allegations of sexual assault which Kavanaugh furiously denied.

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