Historic journey across Arctic Ocean recounted 50 years later
Kim Phillips, CTV Barrie
Published Wednesday, May 29, 2019 5:27PM EDT
For 476 days four men and a team of Huskies made an epic journey across the frozen Arctic Ocean from Alaska to Norway.
The conditions were harsh with temperatures dropping below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, bitter winds and weeks of complete darkness. And as the last surviving member of the British Trans-Arctic Expedition recalled today there was also the threat from "the unreadable expressions of predatory polar bears, with the stark confrontation of kill or be killed."
Dr. Ken Hedges, a retired Royal Victoria Hospital physician, recalled the moments from 50 years ago to a captivated crowd of hospital staff about the historic mission.
"The journey which lay ahead would not just be a geographical transit, but one of a physically demanding nature with its own psychological challenges," he said.
The group consisted of Sir Walter Herbert, a British polar explorer who planned the expedition, explorer Allan Gill, glaciologist Dr. Roy 'Fritz' Koerner, and Dr. Hedges.
The four men had no less than 11 close calls with polar bears during their quest across the ice kingdom.
Dr. Hedges explained how they made their way on Feb. 21, 1968, walking nearly 6,000km navigating a labyrinth of shifting ice to reach their destination on Apr. 6, 1969. "We didn't have GPS, satellite phones, computers, so we were doing it. We were navigating it in exactly the same way that Captain Cook navigated across the Pacific."
Each man had 10 dogs to pull them across the frozen ocean. Hedges' sled is now on display at CFB Borden along with some of his maps.
"We set out with no established rescue plan, and would be, for all intents and purposes, the most remote enterprise on the face of the earth."
The explorers were named Men of the Year and elected fellows of the Royal Geographical Society. Dr. Hedges was also the recipient of the Polar Medal in 1970 for his work on the expedition.