(ThePoles.com) I am home now in the warmth and security that most of us take for granted, wrote Canadian polar guide Richard Weber. I think about my latest North Pole trek; Ward Hunt Island to the North Pole with one re-supply. After five North Pole expeditions from Canada, Richard should not be too surprised by whatever the Arctic Ocean may throw at him. But still, he declares again being surprised at the conditions encountered. Global warming may have something to do with this.
Richards report: NP is tough even with one re-supply
At the outset, I thought that having one re-supply would make the trek much easier - and in part it did. However, it is clear now that the trek from Ward Hunt to the North Pole is never easy. It is, I am sure, the toughest trek on the planet. Even if you try to make something easier, such as having a re-supply, the Arctic Ocean is so varied and unpredictable that the trek is still a very hard journey.
The start was extremely cold, down to -60C, then several weeks in the -40s. Though it was difficult, it was to be expected. In my five starts from Ward Hunt, I have had those temperatures three times. In those extreme temperatures, I was surprised how badly even a relatively light sled slides or, in this case, doesnt slide. The weight of a sled with 55 days of supplies would be hard to move at all.
On thin ice
Climate change is very apparent at the top of the world. The ice is generally three to eight feet thick. In 1908, Fredrick Cook described measuring the ice to be fifteen (first year ice) to fifty feet thick. This year the ice was much better than in 2006; at least we had some big open pans - but still large areas are now rubble fields covered with snow.
The amount and density of the snow cover makes it easier or harder to cross. My experience has been that on a North Pole expedition one can expect zero to two, maybe three days of real blizzard weather. This year we had nine days of serious blizzard and other days of strong wind. Once again, the clear, sunny calm days of April never happened. There were just breaks between weather systems, sometimes a day or more, sometimes only a few minutes.
The drift was like I have never experienced. In the 550 plus days I have spent traveling on the Arctic Ocean, it was the first time I logged a negative day. Twelve hours of travel and a few hours of sleep and we were farther south than when we started. We were essentially stalled, walking on the spot for two and a half days.
Expectations for a globally-warmed future
In this era of climate change it seems that the North Pole traveler can expect:
- Thinner ice
- Big areas of rubble ice, less open pans
- Soft snow,
- More severe weather, ie. sometimes warmer temperatures, higher winds (more drift), whiteout
- More open water earlier in the season
- Bad weather in April
Mates keeping up
My companions were good company. They suffered through the cold with no serious injury. They kept putting one foot in front of the other during the blizzards. They took the time to enjoy the surroundings whenever the Arctic blessed us with a few hours of sun and no wind.
Once again, the Arctic Ocean didnt fail to surprise me with something new.
Canadian Richard Weber and Russian Mikhail Malakhov stood out in 1995 by skiing to the pole and back without dogs or external support; using only caches they placed out enroute for the return. Last year, Richard Weber (Canadian Arctic Holidays) and Briton Conrad Dickinson made it to the Pole in 53 days using snowshoes instead of skis. This year Weber has led Brits Iain Morpeth and Adrian Hayes from Dubai on a ski and snowshoe complete trip to the Geographic North Pole from Canada. The team achieved their goal on April 25, with one resupply on the way.
Richard has previously trekked to the North Pole five times, while Iain has skied to the South Pole and Adrian has climbed Mount Everest.
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