The North Pole

8 10 2008

“What do you mean you locked the keys in them?”    (old whaling boats, Antarctica)

For as long as I can remember, I have been captivated by tales of the great explorers and adventurers. I grew up thoroughly addicted to the stories of Mungo Park and John Speke, of Robert Falcon Scott and John Franklin and have been extraordinarily fortunate to have visited some of the places in which their great travels took place. The world is a much different place than it was a century or more ago when explorers travelled the world with gunships and flags seeking new trade routes, wealth and riches or territory to carve and claim, but the basic desire for wanderlust continues.

 

Some years ago I was invited to join an expedition to the South Pole led by legendary polar explorer Norman Vaughan. Vaughan had been the dog handler on Admiral Richard E Byrd’s historic 1928 expedition and had an Antarctic mountain named after him – which he scaled in 1994 at age 89! He became the last surviving member of that expedition and arguably the last link to that heroic age of Antarctic exploration.

 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept Vaughan’s invitation as the cost of participation was considerable and certainly well beyond the modest means of someone fresh from school. Although I have often mused how great an experience it would have been, my regret is tempered by the knowledge that it wasn’t my choice not to go, merely my misfortune that it was simply impossible. I have been to the Antarctic since, and although it wasn’t in the company of a legend and I didn’t make it to the South Pole, it still remains arguably the greatest experience of my life.

 

There are plenty of other incredible experiences available for anyone with the desire, health, general fitness and sufficient finances…even if they’re perhaps not led by a living legend or actually blazing new trails through virgin territory. Number one on my all-time dream list is the North Pole.

 

Although I would love to climb Mount Everest, I have neither the technical skills nor lottery-winnings to achieve that particular goal. The North Pole however, is achievable, provided you have the cost of a brand new mid-range automobile hanging around.

 

While professional explorers tend to tackle the North Pole by kayak, on foot or perhaps by snow-tyred Penny Farthing, adventurers can reach the top of the world from the comfort and relative luxury of a Russian ice breaker. There are barely a handful of departures each northern summer and all sail from well above the Arctic Circle.

 

Many trips start in Murmansk in far north Russia and sail through the Barents Sea and into the Arctic Ocean. Although travelling at the peak of summer, ice conditions dictate the ship’s progress and along with sonar and radar, an onboard helicopter is used to assist the ship as it drives its way through the formidable ice pack as close to 90 degrees as possible. All being well, the gangway is lowered and the ship’s contingent head down onto the ice to stand at the North Pole – an achievement for which many sacrificed all not so long ago. Once the small group have cheered their admission into a very exclusive club led by Robert Peary, the ship is re-boarded and the journey south continues.

 

The return trip heads via Franz Josef Land and watches for polar bears, walrus, whales and seals before arriving back in Russia 16 days after the odyssey began.

 

Peary, Cook, Amundsen, Franklin and Herbert might not be particularly impressed by the lack of danger and deprivations, but the trip is guaranteed to provide enough stories to last a lifetime. Although perhaps not for everyone, the North Pole is accessible for anyone with the dollars and desire…and the Adventure Blogger is more than happy to selflessly sample it on behalf of any sponsor eager to have their flag fly at the Top of the World.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

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