The challenge | Law

The challenge

The Physical Challenge

The challenge

Skiing to the North Pole has been described as the hardest expedition on earth.

In April 2006 Rosemary Rayfuse will be the first Australian woman to attempts to ski from the North Pole to Ward Hunt Island, the northern most point in Canada. Rosemary will traverse over the most inhospitable, dangerous and ever-changing 'terrain' on earth.

What makes it so hard?

The challenge

The North Pole is a geographical construct that lies at 90o North in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, one of the world's seven seas. Skiing to or from the Pole involves skiing over floating sea ice which is constantly shifting and breaking. These great pans of ice crash together to form pressure ridges which can be as much as 30 feet high and which either have to be gone over or around. In addition, as the ice breaks up with the onset of the northern summer, it shrinks and 'leads' open up revealing sometimes vast expanses of deep, cold, black water. If the lead is small the ice may move together or refreeze enough to allow a skier to get across. If the lead is large, the only way over it is to ski around it, adding potentially many kilometres to the journey. There are no permanent installations or camps; just 16 million sq. kms of sea ice in winter, which shrinks to 9 million sq. kms in summer. The Arctic Ocean is a cold (-40to -50C in April), humid and inhospitable place which is home to seals, walrus, and polar bears.

The North Pole is located 425 nautical miles, or approximately 770 kms, from the nearest land mass which is Ward Hunt Island off the northern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. To ski between the Pole and Ward Hunt Island involves hauling up to 100 kgs of food, fuel, equipment and personal gear over the sea-ice in sub-zero temperatures for 35 to 50 days. Progress is affected by ice conditions and also by ice drift, as the ice moves with the ocean currents.

Why ski from the Pole and not to it?

Contrary to popular belief, skiing from the Pole to Ward Hunt Island is NOT downhill. You still have to put one foot in front of the other for the same distance, over the same ice, in the same conditions. However, the advantage is that the expedition can start later in the season thereby avoiding skiing during the total darkness and extreme cold of the Arctic Winter. In addition, there is the psychological advantage of knowing that you are skiing to a fixed land mass which will be there when you get there and your charter aircraft will be able to land and pick you up to take you home. Many a polar expedition has had to be abandoned because of unfavourable ice conditions that made continuation to the Pole, and evacuation from it, impossible.

How many people have done this before?

The challenge

The challenge

Since the days of Cook and Peary approximately 200 people have tried to make it to the North Pole either from Russia or from Canada. Some of these expeditions have involved extensive support, including several air drops of food, and use of parasails, snowmobiles or dogs. Some have been unsupported and some have been solo. Some people have been to the Pole more than once and some have failed.

To date, no Australian woman has ever accomplished the feat. Indeed, only 12 women have completed the trek either from the Russian or the Canadian side (UK 4; USA 3; Japan 2; Canada 1; France 1; Sweden 1). For more information see http://www.adventurestats.com

Rosemary will be the first Australian and, thanks to her dual nationality, the second Canadian woman to accomplish the feat. She is training hard to meet the physical demands of the expedition, including cycling, doing weights, bushwalking with a heavy pack, and hauling a heavily loaded sled on the beach 2 or 3 times per week. She is being assisted by Jeff Taylor of AddVenture Training who has generously donated his time to help her get as strong and fit as she can.

The Intellectual Challenge

Global environmental changes, increasing human impact, and technological developments are leading to significant changes in polar environments. These changes are posing a new range of threats to polar regions and the people living in them arising from increased shipping, fishing, whaling, tourism, bioprospecting and resource exploitation activities.

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The need to assess, quantify, and understand these impacts, changes, challenges and threats, has been recognized by the announcement of the third International Polar Year (IPY), which will take place in 2007-2008. The IPY will be an intensive international program of coordinated, interdisciplinary science, research and observations carried out over a 24 month period, which will contribute to environmental knowledge and scientific understanding of the physical and environmental changes occurring in the polar regions. (see http://www.ipy.org ).

Where science leads law and policy must follow to address the changing regulatory challenges for polar nations which are being brought about by these changing environmental and human factors.

It is important for Australia to be at the forefront of policy and legal research in this area. Australia is a polar state that claims sovereignty over 42 percent of the Antarctic continent and the sub-Antarctic Heard, McDonald and Macquarie Islands. Along with territorial claims come claims to extended jurisdiction over vast maritime areas, the sea-bed and sub-soil, and the living and non-living resources therein. Australia's claims to portions of the Antarctic continent are not recognised by other states. Currently, the Antarctic Treaty suspends all claims to Antarctica which means there is no outright challenge to Australia's claims. With the opening up of previously ice covered areas as a result of global warming, it can be expected that challenges to Australia's claims will arise from others hoping to access the resources that are located in the areas claimed by Australia. Thus, what happens in the Arctic will be of direct relevance to Australia and to its Antarctic claims.

Rosemary is involved with a team of researchers from Australia and Canada who will be working together over the next 3 years on a project examining the legal and policy options for maintaining maritime sovereignty and security in polar regions.

The Financial Challenge

Rosemary is using this expedition to raise money for the Law Faculty Endowment Fund which supports vital students programs, in particular the Public Interest Internship Program and the International Law Competitive Moot Program. Both of these programs, are key elements in the Law Faculty's preparation of its students as future leaders. Rosemary has set herself the personal goal of raising $500,000.00 will which go towards assisting students to undertake internships at national and international organisations and towards funding student participation in national and international mooting competitions.

ALL of the funds raised will go directly to the Endowment Fund. Rosemary is bearing the full cost of her participation in the expedition herself.

If you would like to donate to the Law Faculty Endowment Fund or discuss other possibilities for donating to the Law Faculty please contact the Law Faculty Development Officer, Amanda Hansen, at A.Hansen@unsw.edu.au or on (+ 61 2) 9385 1538. [Donate here]

If you would like to assist Rosemary by way of personal sponsorship please contact Rosemary at r.rayfuse@unsw.edu.au or on (+61 2 ) 9385 2059.