The Subtle Art of Communication

The art of communication Every so often you run into someone who has a marked effect on your life. It might not be tangible, instead an acknowledgement of the fact comes from a deeper level, on the edge of your conscious mind. Sometimes the impact of a particular meeting might not come until days after the event has passed. This happened to me very recently and, I'm sure you've experienced the same at some point in your life. Some days back I had a conversation with a lady whilst out training and her words reminded me a significant part of why I'm going to the North Pole is to provide a service of sorts. One part of the service I hope to amplify over the next ten years or so is that of story telling.

I can already see the exclamation marks materialising over you heads. This little snippet is a lead into a topic that will be critical to the success of the mission, so bear with me...

Humans have evolved to tell stories; the skills required to pass on knowledge or entertain, have been developed over many thousands of years. Just recently I regaled two of my blackened toenails with my own rendition of Dame Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" - another form or communicating. Another example is my blog. It's here I attempt to lay out the steps for getting to, and the reason for going to, the North Pole. This website is simply a way of communicating the entire process (along with some of my own personal observations).

Communicating is a significant aspect of the trek. You see, without a capable and comprehensive comms package the team would be unable to pass messages, both to each other and the wider world.

With that thought in mind, I'm going to give you an outline of the equipment we'll be taking on the polar trek. The technical information may not be of interest to some of my readers, but bear with me as you'll get a better understanding of what it takes to establish and maintain communications from the North Pole.

Team Communications

There are many hazards to be aware of when crossing arduous environments. Open leads (stretches of open water formed when the ice separates), pressure ridges and polar bears are three of the most obvious. Going beyond external factors we also have to consider the status of each team member. Frost bite and exhaustion are very real threats that could result in a team member being pulled off the ice.

So how do intend to pass messages between the group? Two way radios. Simple and effective, the equipment will be based on short range walkie talkies that allow each member to pass information and, probably, a bit of banter as well.

There are many options available: Motorola, Cobra, Uniden and more. The requirements are simple: provide coverage for the team to talk over short distances; several hundred metres, at most.

The three options above have ranges from 22 miles to 50 miles, which might seem like a bit of overkill, but better safe than sorry.

Formal Polar Communications

Barneo ice station staff will be providing support for the trek. As such we will be required to send updates detailing our location, set off time for each day and a final schedule at the end of each day. This allows Barneo to track our position and progress. Furthermore, the formal communications will be used when we reach the Geographic North Pole at which point a helicopter will be sent to collect us.

The options for the formal comms package are limited; only Iridium supply handsets that will work at the North Pole. I have my beady little eye on two handsets: the Iridium 9555 and 9575 Extreme, but will probably go for the 9555 as it's cheaper and we won't be using it for anything more than passing messages back to Barneo and receiving critical updates.

Live Skype Sessions

This is the type of comms most of you will be interested in. During the trip we are planning on running short, daily Skype sessions for school students. Don't worry if that doesn't include you - the sessions will be open for all to join. As we move towards the Pole, we'll be using the live meetings to highlight not out progress, but to also show the impact mankind has had on the Arctic. Hopefully we'll get some real time images of polar bears (but not close up shots).

Putting together the package required to run Skype has proved a little tricky; currently, there are no hand-held satellite phones with the necessary bandwidth so we've had to go a little extreme.

The option we've selected is the Iridium OpenPort system. Designed to be mounted on ships, the full compliment of equipment weighs in at a rather hefty 19kg (as opposed to the 9555 and 9575 which are only a few hundred grammes each). To be able to run the meetings we're going to need solar chargers, a car battery (yes, you read that right), a laptop and expedition grade solar charging panels. The weight soon adds up.

As I'm now taking a three man team to the Pole, the equipment can be broken down and the load spread across all three pulks, the weight per person drops to just over 6kg. Not a significant extra load.

An odd intro, I know, but I hope you understand: communication is key in every part of our lives. We all need to tell our story and most humans crave the opportunity to hear tales of people and places they might otherwise never experience - another facet of the trip I will address using the Skype session.

Trust me: it pays to slow down, smile, do a little talking and listen.