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Northland residents plan two Arctic expeditions

Lonnie Dupre wasn't planning to go to the North Pole this spring. Then, about a month ago, his cell phone rang.

The call came from an adventure travel agent in Chicago. A couple of serious world travelers, one from Lebanon and one from Texas, wanted to make a North Pole expedition. They needed a companion who knew the ropes.

"I said I wasn't really planning on going to the pole," Dupre said. "But I chatted with these guys and, lo and behold, they have tons of experience."

An instant expedition was in the works: Just add ice.

Dupre and his companions will leave March 1 from the northern tip of Arctic Canada for a 600-mile ski trek to the pole. They're calling their trip the Peary Centennial North Pole Expedition.

For Dupre, it's an all-expenses-paid outing. His companions have enough sponsorship or personal finances to float the expedition over the sea ice. Total cost is about $225,000, Dupre said.

Dupre, 47, is the kind of person you'd want to hire if you needed a North Pole guide. He and companion Eric Larsen of Grand Marais used skis and canoes to make the first-ever summer trek to the North Pole in 2006. In addition to numerous other Arctic expeditions, Dupre circumnavigated Greenland by dog team and kayak from 1997 to 2001.

He had hoped to do a North Pole trip this year to commemorate Adm. Robert Peary's 1909 expedition to the pole. But while he wanted to go north, the economy went south, and Dupre couldn't land a sponsorship.

Now he's scrambling to put this expedition together on short notice. His partners, Stuart Smith of Waco, Texas, and Maxime Edgard Chaya of Beirut, Lebanon, will join him in Grand Marais on Feb. 8 for a shakedown winter camping trip. They're calling their expedition the Peary Centennial North Pole Expedition.

Smith, 49, and Chaya, 47, come with impressive credentials. Each has made the summit of Mount Everest and has climbed the "Seven Summits" -- the highest peaks on seven continents. They also have made 600-mile treks to the South Pole without resupply.

"That's 600 miles as flat and white as a dinner plate," Dupre said. "If you can get through that mentally, you can probably get to the [North] Pole. The only thing we have to fight off is the extreme cold in the first days off Ellesmere."

The two men have done some previous expeditions together and many separately, Dupre said.

Distance to the North Pole from Ellesmere, or, more precisely, tiny Ward Hunt Island, is 437 miles, Dupre said. But the team will more likely travel 600 miles, zig-zagging around leads of open water and pressure ridges.

"We'll be carrying dry-suits, swimming the leads," Dupre said. "We're expecting a pretty good [ice] year. It's been cold on this side of the hemisphere. We're hoping we don't have to swim too much."

Rather than trying to make the trek without outside resupply, the team will be resupplied at least once en route.

"I decided not to go unsupported because the ice is so unpredictable now," Dupre said. "And we don't want to be stopped."

The men won't see sun for the first week of the expedition, when temperatures could reach 60 below zero. To stay in shape, Dupre has been skiing a lot this winter, often hauling a pack filled with two bags of road salt. He also has done weight training with kettlebells, a system developed by Russians.

They will have to reach the pole by April 26 or 27 to ensure a pickup by helicopter from the Russian Ice Island Borneo, a research base that drifts in the Arctic Ocean each winter, Dupre said. From there, they'll be flown to Norway for the trip home.