Explorers Connect

How To....Go to the North Pole

How-toJames Hipkiss

So you have decided to journey to the North Pole? Which one? Someone asks you. Why is there a difference?

To venture to the Top of The World means exactly that: 90 degrees North the northern axis of planet Earth the Geographical North Pole in the centre of the frozen Arctic Ocean. In my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful places on our planet. The frozen ocean is a pure and simple environment but also thrilling and harsh. Many people mistake the old Magnetic North Pole position off the coast of Canada as the Geographical North Pole, this is actually hundreds of miles away and a completely different type of journey.

Here I will lay out some brief guidelines of how to get you started in your attempt on the Geographical North Pole. Guided or Unguided You have two main options: put in the years becoming competent enough, skilled enough and gain crucial years experience travelling across sea ice understanding how the ice moves and works and then recruit a team and lead it yourself or be guided by an experienced Polar Guide. The self-leadership route brings huge responsibilities especially if you are taking other team members with you or you want to travel solo which requires immense courage and a great deal of expertise. How to find a guide.. recently I was asked to help out a team who were deceived in to thinking their Polar Guide had far more experience than he actually had.

After losing over 100K on a trip which only lasted 6 days because the guide lost his nerve on sea ice dreams were shattered and charities were let down. For me a Polar guide has to have been to a Pole and led teams, just because you can look after yourself in a cold environment and pitch a tent in a whiteout doesn't give you the skill to look after others. The job of a Polar Guide is far more than just being able to talk a good cold walk, so check your Guides credentials. It is a small community so you will soon determine if he or she is the right guide for you. There are some incredible Polar Guides out there who have the experience and knowledge to help you succeed. Choosing a Route Fly: You can fly to the Geographic North Pole. The most popular route is via Svalbard and the temporary Russian ice station Barneo. The final 60 mile leg taken by helicopter. You can also fly from Canada with airline Kenn Borek for approximately 100,000. The Last Degree: The Geographic North Pole is at 90 degrees north, recently a common place to be dropped off by helicopter is at the 89th degree. From there you can travel the final 65 miles over ice to the North Pole. You can arrange this yourself or chose from a number of companies that will guide you for approximately 20,000.

Full Length Trip All the Way From the Coast: If you decide to travel from the Canadian coast you will be travelling against the flow of the ice, as predominantly the ice (although frozen) drifts from Siberia across the pole towards Canada - you may find that you will spend all day pushing forward dragging your laden pulk (sled) across the ice but when you rest and set up camp you will immediately start to drift backwards. You could easily lose all the distance you travelled during the day while you rest and sleep therefore having to do it all again the next day and some more to make any progress, hence mental preparation is key! If you decide to start from the Siberian coastline you must be prepared to hold out for a little lady luck and hope that the ice is landlocked to the coastline.

Over the last ten years the opening between the coast and first stretch of solid safe ice has become larger and larger. Decisions, decisions you ask yourself. What is your goal? Is it a full length trip from the coast or a shorter trip? Do you self guide and recruit a team or recruit a polar guide? Or do you go solo? Preparing Yourself Whether it is a long haul expedition from either coastline or a shorter journey from a closer start point to the pole you must be strong physically and emotionally. Put the time into training, keep it simple take some advice from others who have dragged sleds across the poles. Find out what works for you. The greater you prepare the more you will enjoy your expedition. You do not want to be learning the skills to survive on the frozen ocean while you are there, do not under estimate this challenge and its dangers. Take advice on clothing if you do have the resources and funding to trial what clothing systems suit you and your team. The more familiar you and your team are with your clothing equipment and supplies the more confident you will be driving you and your team towards the pole.

There are many suppliers of clothing and equipment on the market around the world, talk to people who have spent time on he sea ice and find out what works and what doesnt. You can save a lot of time and money by asking around and then adapting the clothing to suit. There are many little tips that polar adventurers have picked up and adapted over the years all of these small time saving tips can make life a lot easier on the ice especially when you are in an Arctic storm. Use trusted satellite communications systems on your expedition, there is too much at stake to be trying something new for the first time. There are many great combinations of satellite phones cameras and data transfer equipment currently on the market, which can be charged through solar panels. These can be a great tool to keep your sponsors and supporters happy if used effectively and you take the time to understand how they work. Modern communication systems can now be used to help feed school outreach programs and bring the expedition to millions of children around the world. This is a big commitment and extra weight in your sledge will be required so think long and hard if you are going to go down this road. Take your team through the necessary drills to be efficient camping, cooking and repairing equipment. Rehearse tent routines and all worse case scenario planning.

Embrace the risks and ALL learn how to manage adversity, do not reply on one person to manage everything as that person is human too and may have a bad day or worse your most experienced person on the team may be in the adversity. Logistics If your budget allows I would personally leave one person in Resolute Bay as your base camp manager in situ on the ground able to be on call 24/7 or if you are departing form Siberia make a deal to leave one English speaking person as a rear link detachment who will act as liaison with the Russian authorities and your logistic supplier. For your logistics I would strongly recommend using local ground handlers who have many decades of experience just in case you get in to trouble on the ice local knowledge is priceless. One important note is to ensure you and your project has enough funds to be able to pay for any extraction needed through commercial Search And Rescue via Ken Borek Air. DO NOT rely on being evacuated and rescued by Military SAR from Alert.

In the past some adventurers have put themselves in jeopardy by starting their expeditions with insufficient funds and relying on Alert to get them out of danger at the Canadian Tax Payers expense. This is strongly frowned upon and lacks professionalism. If you chose to venture form the Siberian coastline you will find a matrix of legal Russian Visas and permits needed not just for your journey on the ice but every part of your journey just to the start point. The paperwork and permits to travel from Siberia will need plenty of time and patience to wade through and successfully complete. So start early on in your expedition planning time line and like departing from the Canadian Coast employ local ground handlers who have many years working in this environment and knowing their way around the legalities of the Russian authorities. If you want to gain some experience on sea ice and be guided the last degree to the North Pole before you attempt a longer journey either guided or on your own, invest in a company with experience and heritage who has insurance both for you and your project. Travelling on the ice without insurance or through a company that doesn't have insurance can be extremely costly especially if for any reason your logistics are cancelled.

This is a great way to experience life on the ice and what it is like hauling your supplies 100 kilometers to the North Pole but with the safety of a base camp on the ice. The facility is only available for one month a yearApril. Not only do you get to the top of the world but also you have earned it and you will soon see if life on the ice is for you and would you be able to withstand up to three months doing the same thing every day. When choosing your logistical provider and travel company see this as an investment not as a transactional venture if you are serious about getting the most out of your time on the sea ice you need to be working with professionals in polar adventures not just outdoor travel companies. Prepare Mentally Travelling on sea ice isnt for the faint hearted, there are many obstacles and challenges to conquer on a daily basis not just physically but mentally and emotionally. You must prepare mentally for the journey and become fitter than you have ever been.

Your fitness will always improve on a hauling journey as you are doing so much exercise each day but your mental strength can quickly deteriorate - dont push aside how important it is to prepare emotionally for life on the ice. My advice would be to work out why you want to go? This will help determine which way you plan fundraise and execute your strategy. I was given some great advice as I started my polar career Never drag a sledge with the aim to make money how true that is.

For me the completion of the project is what should drive you everyday to crawl out of a frozen tent at minus 50 degrees to light your stove, and walk all day for up to 70 days. North Pole Checklist Travel on the ice for the right reasons Plan, plan and plan some more Speak to experts and take their advice Get involved in all aspects of the project, understand everything Train on the ice - experience the conditions before you go Test your clothing and equipment before you go. Raise enough funds for the worse case scenario and any SAR Break down the challenge and plan each stage Be realistic with what you can achieve. Don't under estimate the conditions you will be in Prepare mentally as much as physically If you take a guide find one with genuine polar experience Respect where you are and appreciate what an incredible part of the planet you are on.

Enjoy every step written by Alan Chambers MBE@AlanWChambers