For some time now I’ve been saying that the most difficult expedition in the world of outdoor adventure and exploration is a journey on skis to the North Pole. Anyone who undertakes that challenge faces an incredibly hostile environment that includes harsh weather, subzero temperatures, and surface conditions that are nearly impassable. Throw in the occasional encounter with polar bears, and a phenomenon called negative drift that actually causes skiers to lose ground while they rest, and you start to see why it is such a difficult undertaking.
In recent years climate change has made that journey even more perilous, causing the ice to become more unstable, and opening large sections of open water in the Arctic Ocean that must be swam across or skied around. Additionally, those same climate forces have created storms that are more dangerous than ever.
The last team to complete a full expedition to the North Pole was Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters, who did so back in the early months of 2014. Their struggles have been well documented, and have prompted some to say that they might be the last two men to make the trek to the North Pole. But this year a team of three British adventurers will attempt to replicate that feat, albeit from the opposite side of the ice.
In February of 2016, Mark Wood, Paul Vicary and Mark Langridge will set out from Cape Arktichesky in Russia in an attempt to cross the Arctic Ocean and ski to the North Pole without resupply. The journey is expected to take 60 days to complete, covering more than 600 nautical miles (690 miles/1111 km). They’re calling this expedition the Race Against Time, and their website can be found at NorthPole16.com.
The goals that the team has set for itself are many. In addition to attempting to raise funds for the Hire a Hero program in the U.K., the three men also hope to raise awareness and educate the public on the growing threat of climate change. To that end, they’ll also be working with researchers at Warwick and Exeter Universities, as they collect data on their journey north. The trio also hopes to inspire a new generation of explorers to continue to search the planet for new discoveries as well.
All three of the members of this team have already completed full distance ski expeditions to the South Pole, but they’ll find that the Arctic Ocean is a far different place than the Antarctic. For reasons already mentioned above, a ski journey to 90ºN is far more difficult and dangerous than one heading to 90ºS.
The expedition has picked up a couple of prominent patrons from the polar exploration world. Sir Ranulph Fiennes has given them his stamp of approval, as has Henry Worsley, who even now is working to complete his solo and unsupported traverse of Antarctica. The team also received some much needed support from British businessman Mark Tweddle, who stepped in to provide funds when it looked like the project could fall apart before it even got started. Without his aid, the explorers would have been forced to abandon their efforts altogether.
I was certainly amongst those who thought that a full-distance North Pole expedition probably wouldn’t happen again in my lifetime. It remains to be seen if Wood, Vicary, and Langridge will be able to ski all the way to the Pole, but I definitely applaud their efforts. It will be interesting to follow their progress when they get underway on February 20. It could be history in the making for sure.