– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Recommended read: Modern Polar expeditions

This time the recommended read is a quick look on modern polar travel with some background information and links to trip reports and expedition homepages. With the summer getting closer, you can cool down with stories from the coldest places on Earth.

Despite the modern technology, polar travels are still very challenging endeavors, at least if you want to do them “properly”. Now days when planes and helicopters provide relatively easy access to the most remote places on Earth there are certain rules concerning what can be called a true polar expedition. But even though the technology has developed from days of the polar pioneers, the conditions are still equally or even more challenging than they were hundreds years ago. On this season all the expeditions to the North Pole had to be canceled because of bad weather making flights to the area impossible. Earlier this month three expeditions canceled their attempts and today Ben Saunders, who was trying to make a world record time to reach the Pole, announced in Twitter to cancel his attempt because of timetables stretching too thin:

“Ongoing blizzard at N coast of Ellesmere Island = no flights this year. Time to go home and have a cup of tea. Will update the site tonight” by polarben at Twitter. Ben Saunders has some cool videos of the preparations in Resolute Bay so check them out from the expedition homepage (recommended videos).

Geographic North Pole

Hauling sleds in pack ice. Image by Poppis Suomela.

The Geographic North Pole is a coordinate  point in the middle of ever-changing sea ice of the Arctic ocean and the commonly accepted rules define that a journey to the Pole should start from land (not from sea or sea ice) and of course reach the 90 degrees North. Nowadays most expeditions to the Pole start from the Canadian Arctic by flying with ski equipped charter plane from village of Resolute Bay to the Ward Hunt Island in the far North and skiing from there some 800km to the Pole. This is a challenging journey through packed ice, open water leads and extreme cold. And as a bonus the currents and winds may drive the ice floes away from the Pole adding the challenge even more. The extraction from the Pole is usually done with helicopters via temporary Russian station called Barneo. Barneo si a science and expedition camp that is annually built on drifting sea ice in a massive airborne operation. The station remains active for a month or so and is then dismantled.  This year the Russians haven’t yet been able to start building the station because of, yeah you guessed right, bad weather. The other way to get back home from the Pole would be charter flight to Canada. The only problem is that is costs six figure sum…

Crossing open water on the way to the North Pole. Image by Poppis Suomela.

In 2006 The expedition of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland reached the North Pole after a very challenging journey. The expedition homepages are still online and include a lot of background information and diary and can be found from www.pohjoisnapa.fi (recommended read). Truly recommended read. IT is fascinating and exciting story (though I killed some of the suspense by telling that they got to the Pole…)!

Geographic South Pole

Skiing in sastrugi (rock hard snow drift formations). Image by Poppis Suomela.

The Geographic  South Pole on the other hand lies in a middle of huge ice sheet of the Antarctica. It is equally hard to reach and even getting to the starting point is extremely expensive as there are no permanent settlements (well, many research stations are manned the year round) and everything, including plane-fuel, have to be flown to the continent. Most often it is agreed that a journey to South Pole should start from the edge of the landmass of the Antarctica. This doesn’t mean the true coast as the ice sheet expands well over the underlying continent. The stricter definition says that the journey should start from the edge of the ice further away from the Pole. Vast majority of the expedition fly from Punta Arenas Chile to Patriot Hills summer vamp in Antarctica, take a short charter flight from there to the Hercules Inlet ant start the over 1000 kilometer ski over the ice plateau to the South Pole. The Amundsen-Scott base lies in the immediate proximity of the South Pole and during the summertime there are regular flights from the Pole but those aren’t cheap either as the fuel to fly out has to be first flown in to the Pole…

In 2008 Kari “Poppis” Suomela and Pasi Ikonen became the first Finnish expeditions to reach the South Pole unassisted and unsupported. At the same time Poppis became 11th person in the world to ski to the Geographic North and South Poles unassisted and unsupported. The expedition website with diary can be found from here: www.thepole.fi (recommended read).

Poppis is also a reporter and nature photographer and he has written books about both expeditions. The books are great with amazing photos. You can order them (in Finnish, Swedish or English) straight from the man himself by clicking  here. There are also some free sample pages to take a look at.

What is unsupported and unassisted?

The purest form of polar travel is considered being unassisted and unsupported. This mean using only human power (no motors, no dogs, no wind assistance) and being totally self-sufficient for duration of the journey (not receiving any outside help or supplies). Being self-sufficient is quite understandable as there are no supply points en-route and charter flights for supplies cost a truck load of money. On the other hand being self-sufficient is very challenging and many expeditions rely on resupplies on the way. Both Expeditions linked above were unassisted and unsupported, pure human-powered polar traveling.

Some might say that it is cheating to fly out from the Poles. There is a certain point in the claim but on the other hand, expeditions almost always fly to and from their starting and ending points so it is more a matter of definitions. Only a few phenomenal expeditions have done unassisted and unsupported full crossings of the Arctic Sea (Gjeldnes & larsen, 2000) and the Antarctic continent (Skog & Waters, 2010 – over 1800km and 70 days!). There  has also been one unassisted and unsupported return-trip to the North Pole  (Weber & Malakhow, 1995) but dispite attempts, no one has ever managed to ski unassisted and unsupported to the South Pole and back. That would be well over 2000km of skiing!

For more information about “the rules” of polar travel, expeditions and historical statistics, see Explorersweb.


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