Special contribution by Japan’s only “Arctic Adventurer”! Hunting seals, fighting bears, swimming in minus 2 degrees Celsius sea! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Special contribution by Japan’s only “Arctic Adventurer”! Hunting seals, fighting bears, swimming in minus 2 degrees Celsius sea!

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In 1919, he went on a 600-kilometer, month-long walking adventure in the Canadian Arctic Circle with 12 amateur youths. Mr. Ogita’s mission is to pass on his adventure skills to the next generation.

My first trip abroad was when I was 22 years old. I walked 700 km in the Arctic Circle in about a month.

People call him an “Arctic adventurer” because he has been to the North Pole 17 times since he was 22 years old.

In 2002. Pulling a sled loaded with two months’ worth of supplies, I set out from the northernmost cape in Canada to reach the North Pole, 800 km away. The depth of the water under their feet is about 2,000 meters. The average thickness of the frozen ice on the surface of the sea was 2 m. This solo expedition, “treading on thin ice,” was extremely harsh and eroded my body and spirit on a daily basis.

One of the most difficult parts of the Arctic Ocean for me was the turbulent ice zone. The strong currents and winds in the Arctic Ocean cause the sea ice to constantly move, and the force of the ice pushing against each other in the currents causes the ice to rise up and form an uplifted zone, which is truly a wall. The ice sometimes piles up to 10 meters high, making it the biggest obstacle for me as a sledger, and since it is difficult for a single sled weighing more than 100 kg to cross the massive ice sheet, I prepare two sleds and carry them one at a time.

Along with the ice sheet, the other obstacle in my path is the “reef,” which is a river formed by broken sea ice. Some of the leads are as small as 3 meters wide, while others are tens or even hundreds of meters wide due to the movement of the sea ice. When the reefs are huge, people have to detour several kilometers to find a place where they can cross them, or they have to wear special “dry suits” that do not allow water to pass through, and swim across the reefs in water as cold as 2°C below zero. Due in part to global warming, sea ice has become thinner in recent years, and the number of giant reefs is on the rise.

On Fire in an Uninhabited Area

It is a small tent that will be my life-saving home in the Arctic. The lowest temperature I have experienced so far is 56 degrees below zero. I would spend the night with only a tent and sleeping bag, then start walking again the next morning. When the cold is extreme, we sometimes describe it as “painful. However, the world with temperatures below 50°C below zero is the next stage of “pain. It can be described as “being squeezed out. Just being there is a life-threatening experience.

In 2007, I challenged myself to a 1,000-kilometer solo expedition in the Canadian Arctic Circle. After 25 days of walking, an incident occurred. In the tents, we use a camp burner. We used gasoline as fuel, but accidentally spilled it inside the tent. The accident was caused by a combination of familiarity after eight years of walking in the Arctic and a lack of concentration due to the exhaustion of daily solo hikes. Oh, no! The moment I thought, “Oh no!”, the tent ignited and instantly became a sea of fire. In a panic, I threw everything that was on fire outside and jumped out with my bare feet. I hurriedly scraped snow off the ground with a shovel, and when I managed to put out the fire, about half of the tent had burned to the ground.

The area I was in at the time was exactly half of a 1,000-kilometer no-man’s-land, and no matter whether I went forward or back, a radius of 500 kilometers was uninhabited. In the midst of all this, I encountered a polar bear and threatened it with a shotgun ……. As a result, they were rescued and returned to the village where they had started. In any case, it was a desperate attempt to survive. After a medical examination in the village, I was found to have burns on both hands, the tips of my right foot, and my face, with my hands in particular seriously injured. I was very depressed because this was caused by a simple mistake. I thought about quitting the Arctic, but after returning to Japan and spending a year or so there, I realized that my heart was once again yearning for the North Pole.

People often ask me why I go to the Arctic so many times. In my case, it is “because there is nothing there. In the Arctic, where there is nothing, my instincts are sharpened. Recently, I have also taken up the challenge of going to the North Pole with a young person to share this experience with him, as I do not want the experience of my adventures to end only for myself. He has been fascinated by the Arctic for 23 years. The experience he has gained and his age may have given him even more reasons to go.

They eat, sleep, and defecate in their tents. Making a fire, melting snow to make hot water, and securing food and drinking water
Ogita’s tent stands alone in the Arctic snowfield. Ropes are tied around the tent to protect it from foxes and bears.
Mr. Ogita is aiming to reach the North Pole on foot alone, without supplements. He had stopped two years ago due to bad weather and worsening sea ice conditions.
Along the way, he interacted with the Inuit who live in the Arctic. He also accompanied them on a seal hunt, learning from them the wisdom of survival.

Yasunaga Ogita was born in 1977. He has traveled to the Arctic Circle more than 10,000 km on 17 expeditions, mainly in the Canadian Arctic Circle and the Arctic Ocean, mainly on foot. Winner of the Naomi Uemura Adventure Award in 2005.

From the March 24, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Yasunaga Ogita

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