LastTwoDegrees2016

The North Pole Lies Below

So, I am here: the North Pole. Last night we camped about half a mile away from the geographic North Pole and slept. This morning we woke and skied one hundred and fifty metres to the point where this is no latitude, no longitude - masses of man made lines converging into a single point.

How does it feel? Amazing and, above all else, a privilege. Out of around seven billion people in this planet only a few hundred have visited this place. Less have skied any significant distance to stand at the top of the world. I am one of a few who now have experienced the serenity and perfection of this barren and beautiful region.

Soon I will ski away from this thing that has for so long been just a dream. I will be picked up by a Russian helicopter and flown to Barneo ice station and then on to Svalbard. The Pole may be behind me, but the memories and images will remain with me until my final day.

I thank you all for following this leg of my path. I will post a series of photos when I return and look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.

Until then...

Chicken Curry and Random Thoughts on Polar Exploration

Cracking day - 21.52 km covered. Terrain was a little more forgiving than in recent days - only a couple of small pressure ridges to cross - and the snow has a hard crust making travel faster. Current latitude is 89 degrees 43 minutes 8.5 seconds. What that means is: less than 17 nautical miles to the North Pole!

So there are now only two days left before this journey ends... assuming the weather doesn't turn into a whiteout, trapping us in the tent for several days. I have mixed feelings: sadness and elation.

I'm sad because, in a way, this journey feels like it has only just started. I've developed a routine for life in a tent, for skiing at two hour stretches and taking food breaks where necessary. That process has only just been hammered out and solidified into one I don't have to think about - the steps are now a habit, and one I will soon discard until my next, bigger journey.

There is a sense of melancholy over the fate of the Arctic ice. The increasing instability and rate at which the polar ice cap fractures and melts may preclude future expositions to this beautiful place. If this is the case then the world will be a much poorer place.

Putting aside my sadness, I look forward to arriving at the pole, drinking a small bottle of whisky and taking a number of promised photographs. More than the end point, I can't wait to have a shower (there is a slightly less glamorous side to trekking and one I'll leave to your imagination). I want to hug my children. And I want to start planning the next trip.

Now you'll have to excuse me - my freeze dried chicken curry awaits, as does my hot grape juice.

I'll have one more update for you all and will post from the North Pole.

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Crossing the 89th Degree and More

There are small moments in life; there are big moments in life. For me, crossing the 89th degree was both: symbolic yet a small step on the way to the North Pole. Crossing the 89th was a momentous occasion as it demonstrated the resolve required to travel this far. Climbing twelve foot high pressure ridges and dragging a pulka over the same obstacle is physically demanding and many of those ice formations have been crossed to reach the 89th degree. And there in lies the symbolism - an acknowledgement of all we have achieved so far.

But boundary; this crossing from one time zone to another is a small step along the way. There will be many more pressure ridges. Vast plains of thin ice lie ahead and will be given a wide berth (an act that will possibly add miles to the journey). Open stretches of water will cut from left to right and may require us to swim across the gap and set up a pulley system for our pulkas. And then there are the fields of ice rubble that force constant changes in direction, adding miles to the trek! Now you understand why the 89th is also only a small step.

And now the journey is over halfway complete. Shortly after midday, just before hauling gear over a monstrous pressure ridge, we crossed 89 degrees and 20 minutes latitude. Another mini celebration and then on to an expanse of deep snow lay on top of freshly formed ice!

Distance covered today: 16.4km

Mood: upbeat, but tired.

Now I'm going to get my eight hours of sleep in preparation for another hard day

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Porridge and butter for breakfast!

Last night a handful of skiers boarded an Antonov 74 at Svalbard airport and flew the three hour journey into Barneo and temperatures of minus 27 C. Unpacked, kit ready to go, we have a quick brief and were flown out onto the ice. Conditions have deteriorated and the many open stretches of water now make achieving the full two degrees unlikely. Instead the distance will be 1 degree and twenty minutes (about 90 miles).

I am disappointed, but this change reflects the fragile nature of the arctic ice.

After a short ski of one and a half hours, we put up tents and caught up on much needed sleep.

This morning I had porridge and butter for breakfast, a hot toddy and chocolate. Bliss.

Today's ski will be broken down into four one and a half hour sessions, the aim being to cover about fifteen kilometres.

Aside from the landing and watching the helicopter leave yesterday, one of the most amazing aspects of this place is the utter silence and Covina the North Pole. There is an almost perfect nothingness that pervades the atmosphere (bar the polar bear tracks detected by the guide, Audun).

Sad to say, even the sound of skis on ice is like a pollutant in this serene place.

On that note, I will leave you to your thoughts.

Next update in a few days times.

Leaving Svalbard Tomorrow

  At least - we have the green light!

After eleven days and many false starts the news is we fly tomorrow, 13th April 2016!

The is a huge sense of excitement in the air and the various teams are ready to go. But there is an issue : the original plan to trek from the 88th degree to the north pole is effectively dead due to the conditions on the ice. Many stretches of open water have been seen by the Russian aircraft crews during their flights over the region. Adding in the recent delays there is now no chance of walking the intended route.

Instead, we will ski from the 89th degree to the north pole. When we arrive at the 90th degree we will turn around and head back to the 89th. Not ideal and a departure from the original plan, but Mother Nature and, probably, global warming have played their respective hands.

So disappointment turns to a racing pulse. Tonight I will go to bed early, sleep and rise at 0600 to load my pulka onto the plane.

Next update will come from on the polar ice.

Until then, here's some huskies ready for the off during a recent race, Trapper's Trail, held every year on Svalbard.

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Update from Svalbard...

I've now been in Svalbard for four days. During that time I have packed gear and prepared for my upcoming trip. There have been some delays due to the ice runway cracking: this meant heavy aircraft carrying supplies and equipment were unable to land. The temperature at the north pole had dropped to about minus 42 C and the runway was repaired by the Russian team at Barneo. The flight in is now scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, a delay of a day and a half.

Here in Svalbard, the lowest temperature was in the mid minus twenties (balmy when compared to the north pole).

I have now acclimatised to the cold weather and am now more than happy wearing only a t-shirt, one fleece, and a shell jacket (plus hat and big gloves)!

Over the last couple of days I have taken my equipment out for a test run, practised erecting the tent I will be living in and perfecting the art of lighting an MSR stove aka the flame thrower.

Now I have a little time for reflection on the events that led to this day. After,I'll be working on mentally preparing for the journey ahead.

Future images will be smaller as my satellite communications system is low bandwidth and prevents larger images from being sent.

 

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