Oppdrag Nansen: Young Norwegians head to North Pole

Photo: NRK Super These four are the youngest Norwegians ever to reach the North Pole.

Photo: NRK Super
These four are the youngest Norwegians ever to reach the North Pole.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

As part of NRK Super’s Oppdrag Nansen children’s program, four kids had the experience of a lifetime: to travel in the Arctic and become the youngest Norwegians to ever reach the North Pole.

Experienced explorer Aleksander Gamme led the Oppdrag Nansen team of Erika Gjelsvik (13) from Stavanger, Johanne Jerijærvi (13) from Hesseng in Kirkenes, Elias Damli (13) from Bergen, and Johannes Breivik (12) from Trofors outside Mosjøen. As science enthusiasts, Johanne and Elias were especially excited to participate in the nature and wildlife research along the journey.

“We want to give the children an understanding of the Earth’s climate, and give them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with a theme they have certainly heard or read a little about but have not managed to put into context,” said the head of Oppdrag Nansen, Havard Gulldahl.

“The North Pole is one of the goals, but on the road we will also follow in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen’s research. It will be a combination of science and expedition, and the entire time the children will get to learn new things, meet new people, and visit new places,” he continued.

If all goes as planned, the participants will attend the climate summit in Paris at the end of 2015 to share their unique perspective as young polar explorers. “It is important that we are able to speak at the meeting; it’s the young who must save the Earth,” said Johanne to Minister of the Climate and Environment Tine Sundtoft.

On March 9, the children gathered on Svalbard to start the first half of the expedition. After giving up their cell phones, they drove snow scooters to the training camp where they would stay for the next week. Here they had to pull tires to prepare for pulling their sled, learn to urinate in a flask to avoid getting out of their tents at night, and practice setting up and taking down their tents quickly. Gamme was impressed with the kids’ progress. “They get better with each day!” he said.

After a week of training, they boarded a helicopter and journeyed northeast of Svalbard to the Norwegian research vessel Lance, which is currently frozen into the polar ice sheet. With a temperature of -32 Celsius (about -26 Fahrenheit), everyone had to wear special extra-warm suits. The kids spent the next four days learning about polar research firsthand.

On their last day at the research station, the children were excited to see a polar bear out of the ship’s window. This marked the end of the first expedition, and the kids returned home for a couple of weeks.

On April 8, it was back to Svalbard for part two of Oppdrag Nansen. And this time it was the real thing: the trip to the North Pole! But first, the children had to prove to Gamme that they were capable of the mission. They had to pass an exam that entailed going on a long trip on their own with their sleds, setting up camp, and making their own dinner.

Thankfully, all four passed the exam and earned the right to continue. They first flew to the Russian research station Barneo and then on to their starting point at 89 degrees north. From here, they had to ski a little over 111 kilometers (about 69 miles) to reach the North Pole, taking snow measurements along the way for the Norwegian Polar Institute.

The difficult trek began on April 16, and by the middle of the third day they had reached the halfway point. The most exhilarating obstacle arrived on the fifth day, when the group encountered a break in the ice and had to use a sled as a bridge to ski across it.

On April 21, Johanne, Erika, Elias, and Johannes finally reached the North Pole to become Norway’s youngest polar explorers. “It is so cool to make history!” exclaimed Johannes.

According to NRK Super, the TV program will air next year, but there are several video clips available online now at nrksuper.no/super/blog/tag/oppdrag-nansen.

This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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