The Expedition to Reach the “Unconquered Pole” and Save the Arctic Sea

An iced tent after a night out in -20′. (Photograph by Lisa Pook)

By Lisa Pook

I didn’t know I wanted to reach the ‘unconquered’ before January, but then I met Jim McNeill and learned about his Ice Warrior project.

There are four ‘North Poles.’ We often hear about explorers trekking to the North Pole, but what they mean is the Geographical North Pole—the point located directly above the Earth’s geographic axis. There is also a Geomagnetic North Pole where the geomagnetic field is closest to True North. Then there’s a Magnetic North Pole with a wandering location at 90 degrees to the Earth’s surface where lines of magnetic force exit. But there is one pole that is barely mentioned—the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility, also known as the Arctic Pole, which is at the very center of the Arctic ocean, at a distance that’s the farthest from any land mass.

The Pole of Inaccessibility has this name for a reason. Its location is 85°15‘N 176°09′E and right now it is an 800-mile trek from high arctic Canada. It can only be reached when the arctic winter is in full force and when the worst possible weather conditions are occurring. Think -40’c, extreme blizzards, wind chill, darkness, and whiteouts. Many explorers wouldn’t dream of reaching this pole. It is a long, mentally challenging, physically draining, and possibly life-threatening journey.

If you were going to reach the ‘unconquered pole’ you would need the world’s top polar explorer, someone with over 30 years of polar travelling experience and thousands of expedition miles under their belt. Someone like Jim McNeill.

"X" marks the spot of the Arctic Pole. (Photograph courtesy TKTK)
“X” marks the spot of the Arctic Pole. (Photograph by Lisa Pook)

I met Jim in January and was intrigued by his ambition. I was in awe that I’d met someone whose job title is ‘explorer.’ The more I learned about the Arctic Pole, the more I wanted to go. I started dreaming about traveling there across the frozen sea ice.

Since January I have been on a steep learning curve, as I have been training to be a polar explorer and am now part of the Ice Warrior Expedition team to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility. I have learned how to ski and I’ve gotten myself in a twist learning different knots including the alpine butterfly, the bowline, the thompson, the clove hitch, the munter, the sheet bend, and the overhand, to name a few. I’ve also learned the art of putting up a tent in silence, how to deter polar bears, and how to navigate the equivalent of a blank sheet of a4 paper.

The Arctic sea ice is under threat, due to an increase in global temperatures. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), the Arctic ice has been gradually decreasing since the 1970s. Winter sea ice in the Arctic generally covers 14-16 million square kilometers, with a decrease to 7 million square kilometers at summer’s end. In 2012 Walt Meier and his team at NSIDC noted a record low at summer’s end. There were 3.41 million square kilometers of ice.

This is worrying as the lack of snow cover and diminishing ice in the Arctic alters the Earth’s natural cycle to reflect the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere (the albedo effect). With less snow and ice, the sun’s radiation is absorbed by the land and ocean. This positive feedback mechanism is increasing polar temperatures.

The science behind this trip is important. Our principal objective is to further knowledge on how the ice breaks up, to look at sea ice mechanics, and to inform scientists on ice types, distribution, thickness, and density. This information will be used to verify satellite data and give an up-to-date picture of the Arctic region.

A selection of the team in training for the Ice Warrior Project. (Photograph courtesy TKTK)
A selection of the team in training for the Ice Warrior Project. (Photograph courtesy Jim McNeill)

So what’s next? The team is currently in training, learning first aid, crisis management, and a variety of skills to make us safe, competent, polar explorers. We are ordinary people—a mix of men and women of all ages and backgrounds. Some people have joined for the challenge, some for the adventure, and some because it’s a world first, but I have joined for the science.

We hope to depart in February 2015 with a hunger to reach the ‘Unconquered Pole.’  If you would like to know more about the expedition, click here.