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 North Geographic Pole

All The Way - North Geographic Pole: The Polar Travel Company 2002 Expedition

The definitive Arctic challenge - 416 nautical miles (770 kilometers) across the frozen Arctic Ocean, from the most northerly point of Canada to the North Geographic Pole.

This project offers the toughest expedition challenge made available by any organization. Significantly, it is a test more of attitude than technical skills. It is therefore for people looking for the most serious of physical and mental challenges. Characterized by cold temperatures, as low as -45░C, high winds which often produce low visibility and very high wind-chill, and the major obstacles created by the shifting sea ice - pressure ridges, open water and counter drift - the challenge is one which continues to test even the most seasoned explorers.

The successful McVitie's Penguin Polar Relay (1997), organized by The Polar Travel Co, demonstrated that with effective selection, physical training, polar instruction, and a strategic re-supply schedule, people from all walks of life, without prior polar experience, may be able to meet such a challenge. The 'All The Way' planned for Spring 2002 takes the concept one step further. Whereas the all-women relay of '97 was split into five relay legs, with a new team for each of the legs, 'All The Way' is to be undertaken by the same team in three consecutive legs with the support of two re-supplies by aircraft after the third and sixth weeks of the expedition.

Arriving at Ward Hunt Island, and fully fit for the endeavour ahead, the first task is to acclimatize to the weather conditions and become familiar with the equipment in field conditions. It is a critical ten days of training under the constant eye of the two guides, who will provide the team with basic skills and procedures to start the sledge-hauling life on the Arctic Ocean - the rest will be down to the team on the ice. Once traveling on the Arctic Ocean life soon settles into a daily routine that becomes almost monastic in its simplicity and rigour.

The highlights are often unexpected: the subtle and changing colours of the snow-clad ice; the spectacle of pressure ridges rising up and leads opening out; spotting seals or the paw prints of a polar bear. Regardless of the day's progress, which might be anything from 1-30 kilometers, the reward of a hot drink in a warm and protective tent is always there - along with frequent discussions reviewing progress to date, tactics to improve daily mileages etc.

The ice team will comprise 1-2 polar guides and 4-8 participants, traveling on foot and ski, with all equipment and supplies hauled in sledges. At the start of each leg, the sledges will weigh approximately 80 kg (160 lbs), so fitness is extremely important.

The team will set off from Ward Hunt Island off northernmost Ellesmere Island (83░ 05' North), located in north-easternmost Canada. There will be two re-supplies, the first by Twin Otter from Canada around 85║ 30' North, the second by MI-8 helicopter from Russia around 87║ 30' North. This keeps the sledge weights down to a realistic minimum.

With the weather conditions continually improving as early Spring quickly gives way to early Summer, the main factor dictating rate of progress across the ice will be the degree of compression off-shore and thus the extent and frequency of the pressure ridging. Sledge-hauling over these features is extremely hard work and can be demoralizing. Each year their extent is different. As the ridging gradually gives way to more consistently larger ice pans, so a new hazard can increase in frequency - 'leads' (open water). Some can be stepped over or jumped; others need to be circumnavigated via a crossing place to the east or west which can only be discovered by trial and error, which can take many hours before northward progress can be resumed.

With the Pole almost in sight, the last 100 kilometers may prove the longest if the frozen, but ever mobile, surface sea ice develops a counter drift (southwards). Only with the Pole reached can the team begin to relax.

More later on this Expedition and the North Pole Expeditions.

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