14-Apr-2004 -- Other than summer camping, I'm not what would be considered an outdoors sportsman. Going the North Pole has been a dream for as long as I can remember. Although I had researched ways of getting there, for financial and other reasons I was never able to fulfill my dream. Just after Christmas I finally decided that memories are better than dreams. So I contacted an expedition organizer (based in Florida of all places) and put the plan into action.
I learned that there was an expedition going to the Pole in April. It would be made up of people from all over the world including researchers, professional explorers, enthusiasts and adventurers. I was the only Canadian.
It was made clear (by the many waivers I had to sign) that they were not responsible for my safety nor was there any guarantee that we would reach the Pole. Basically "you pays your money and you takes your chances".
The expedition started from Svalbard - an island about 1,700 km north of Oslo, Norway. But I had to get myself to Svalbard. The final route turned out to be Toronto; London, England; Oslo, Norway; Tromso, Norway; Longyearbyen, Svalbard.
From Svalbard we took a Russian cargo/passenger plane and flew three hours to a Russian Base camp on the ice about 100 km from the actual pole. The plane was probably the scariest part of the trip. 25 people were crammed into this relatively small aircraft and shared the space with all the gear and 45-gallon drums of fuel. Safety standards as we're used to are not common in that place.
From the base camp, we flew by Russian helicopter (40 years old and even scarier than the previous flight) for about 40 minutes to the Pole.
Upon stepping onto the Pole, I, as well as most people, found it to be a very emotional and humbling experience. Partially due to the fact that I had been waiting for this moment for so long and partially because I realized just how vast and isolated this part of the world is - it's very awe inspiring. We spent an hour right at the pole taking pictures and doing silly things. For my part, I finally got the opportunity to walk in every time zone of the world -it took 5 minutes (all the time zones converge at the Pole).
Unfortunately, attempts to take an exact GPS reading was unsuccessful. Even at the best of time one will not get an exact 90 degree reading since the ice moves relatively quickly. Never-the-less we were definately within meters of the Pole.
There was a disappointing part. We originally planned to "camp" at the pole for two days. However, it was unusually warm, -22°C. It may sound cold but for the Pole it was a real heat wave. The ice was moving very fast and cracking. It was too dangerous to stay so we had to fly back to Svalbard the same day. I was disappointed but elated that we were at least able to step on the Pole even if it was for a very short time.
There's no land at the Pole (about 3 meter thick ice floating over 4,000 meter deep ocean). No country owns it since it's in international waters.