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The never ending unpredictable "Arctic Ocean sea ice" 2011

Trip ReportJames HipkissComment

Every year the mass of floating freezing unpredictable arctic sea ice never ceases to amaze me, this year being no exception. One week exactly to day, it was my 8th time standing at the top of the world where all the lines of longitude meet at 90 degrees north. I had a team of adventurers who had trained with me in Scotland and Finland since meeting last year in London, this was a last degree trip.

These trips leave from a temporary camp set up on the arctic ocean by the Russians. All the polar adventurers from around the globe meet up in longyearbyen Svalbard where we do last minute preparations before flying out on an Antonov and land on the ice runway prepared by the Russians at 89 degrees north. I have been involved in the Arctic for well over a decade and every year the ice is so unpredictable. I spent the last 2 years working with an international pioneering scientific expedition..measuring and gathering scientific data on the arctic ocean. The Ice conditions were particularly shocking, I had never seen so much open water which made our expedition very challenging and frustrating, but also very exciting .We did succeed in reaching the pole 60 days later which was very satisfying after many failed trips last year. This year I had prepared my clients for a hard time after experiencing the last 2 years ice conditions...however to mine and all the other guide s surprise, we had the best ice conditions for years and years, the temperature was steady and just below -30, the sea ice was very compact and not much pressure ridges to clamber over, and no massive open stretches of water which always challenges the teams.

By day 2 it was obvious we were to finish this trip (disappointingly) too soon, if the ice conditions were to remain the same. Although i kept telling them that it can and change at any time. We finally got hit with some challenging ice on the last day,which I was grateful for as id told the team to expect tough conditions althrough their training..I'm sure they must have thought I was feeding them a suspiciously elaborate tale . We had our last break stop with 1.8nm to the Geographical North Pole, and set of with excitement knowing that the next stop would be the GNP. Thoughts in my mind were going over and over would it be an easy finish..the ice had change this last day and we were in more unstable ice and it was a bit more challenging for the team...but i was happy that they weren't getting an easy run all the way to the pole!

We hadn't even done 0.5 of a mile and once again too my surprise and relief we actually came across a big and wide open lead 1.4nm from the Pole. I had a big smile on my face as I knew at last they would get some added adventure and we could use our rafting technique we had practised and talked about many times. We crossed very effortlessly and carried on without any more hazzards making it to the Top of the World at 19.45 local time Friday the 15th of April. ...only 4.5 days later after starting. Over the years I have encountered many different Polar trips from the First British unsupported team to walk unsupported from Canada to the Geographical North Pole in 2000 with fellow Royal Marine Alan Chambers...too .... pioneering scientific expeditions, ....and by no means last (in my eyes which i have most fond memories) are the last one and two degree trips!

Every year these are amazing trips and you simply cant get sick and tired of doing the same thing year in year out.. the arctic ocean sea ice conditions are so unpredictable that it is impossible to have the same conditions in any 2 separate hours.. as the conditions change all the time, so does the team dynamics with having to cope with different mental and physical challenges from different team members..it certainly does makes for a most rewarding, challenging once in a lifetime trip! Charlie