gadget shop
Skiing unsupported to the North Pole is regarded as probably the “HARDEST EXPEDITION IN THE WORLD”. Conrad and Richard will face many challenges and dangers if they are to succeed. It will be a mental and physical battle with many obstacles: -
The Arctic Ocean is home to thousands of polar bears, who are constantly on the look out for the next meal! Lone, older males, inexperienced youngsters and protective mothers all pose a potential threat. Polar bears have no natural enemies and are therefore bold and aggressive; although they will show caution when confronted with the unknown. A rifle and flares will be carried to scare away inquisitive bears. Marc Cornelissen, the famous Dutch explorer had an encounter last year as he went to the toilet behind an iceberg. Fortunately, the bear backed off when Marc ‘lunged’ at it with his shovel! – Brave man. As well as the physical dangers, sometimes the psychological pressure of ‘strange sounds’ outside the tent can be intense. Richard and Conrad encountered many Polar bear tracks and discovered a bear's breeding den whilst training in Ellesmere Island..
The cold in the arctic can be extreme, particularly at the start of the expedition when there is little sunlight. Temperatures could drop to -60°C and even in the tent could be - 25°C. The constant cold makes the simplest task difficult such as dressing or going to the toilet. Butter shatters at extreme temperatures and equipment is more prone to break. Sleeping bags provide less warmth as condensation forms into chunks of ice in place of the fluffy down. Any exposed flesh is at risk of frostbite or windburn, particularly if there is the slightest breeze. Fingers and toes must be constantly protected against frost bite that could effectively end the expedition as happened to Sir Ranulph Fiennes during one of his North Pole attempts. Should Richard or Conrad fall into the water they will immediately roll in the snow that will soak up the moisture like a sponge. They will then have to erect the tent to warm up and dry their clothes, as they have no spares. This is to be avoided at all costs.

The ice upon which we are skiing is floating on the Arctic Ocean and, as a result of currents and winds, is constantly moving. The end result is a hideous building site of broken chunks of ice, formed into massive pressure ridges up to 5 metres tall, that we have to drag our fully loaded sledges over. Some days we will be struggling over acres of ridges. This is an enormous physical challenge and on the first 1/3 of the trip, where the ice is most disturbed, we will have to ferry our 4 sledges one at a time through this horrendous maze. During the full moon phase, the sea ice can move dramatically and at alarming speed combined with a large degree of noise. This moving obstacle course can only be described as very disturbing psychologically.

Skiing from the Canadian side is much harder because the pack ice is much older which means the pressure ridges are bigger, the cracks are deeper, and the ice has many more obstacles to cross.

When the ice is forced together it forms pressure ridges and when it is forced apart it forms leads. Numerous leads will be encountered on the final stages of the trip. The smaller ones can be stepped across or bridged over using our strengthened skis made by FISHER especially for the expedition. Slightly wider leads can be crossed by using small ice chunks as “stepping-stones” or using our shovels to fill the gaps with snow. Often the leads have steep sides greater than 1 metre high, that would make it very difficult to extract oneself in the event of a slip. A lone Japanese explorer died a few years ago by not being able to extract himself after falling in a lead, We will always travel close together.
Wider leads provide a more serious obstacle. Some expeditions use a dry suit to try and swim across leads but this can waste time and means more equipment to carry. Others try using their sledges as canoes, but often the water/ice is too slushy to make any forward progress. Our option is to firstly follow the lead until we find a natural crossing point, or wait until the lead refreezes and then cross on the newly frozen ice. Newly frozen ice is unnerving and must be first checked for strength by its colour and successive prodding with a ski pole. Skis should be worn at all times and one must keep moving. The ‘ripple’ of the elastic sea ice moving in front of your skis is a disturbing sight.
Skiing to the North Pole from Canada is much harder than starting from Russia, because you are skiing against the prevailing current/drift of the Arctic Ocean. Basically, you are going the wrong way on a moving escalator. When you are sleeping in your tent you are generally moving backwards overnight and on some days you can ski many kilometres with virtually zero northerly progress. The negative drift is worse during storms and the full moon period; especially near the end of the expedition when we will have to put in longer days to combat the negative drift. This “backwards” pull is very demoralising.
To finish the expedition at the North Pole before the ice melts, one has no alternative but to start in very early March, when the hours of daylight are very few and much of the time one has to use a head torch to make progress. The dark, combined with the extreme cold, adds to the physical difficulties and stress. Fortunately, the days start to get lighter quickly: eventually culminating in 24 hours light.