Icetrek North Pole Ski 2017

Apr 08

arctic nav

Published at 19:45
Dispatch created from email
On my recent South Pole expedition I wrote about natural navigation - using sun/shadows, wind and surface features to lock in on due south. Here on the Arctic Ocean all of those things apply but with a rider - ice drift.

Antarctica is stable, the ice sheet moves perhaps 10 metres per year but the ice veneer lying on the Arctic Ocean can move that distance in seconds. So the bearing you ascertain from natural features may only apply for a day or so, less in strong east-west wind or current and much less the closer you get to the pole.

Unlike Antarctica, wind events here can come from anywhere therefore you can't rely for any length of time on a wind tell-tale attached to your ski pole or on surface features for clues of direction.

As for the sun and corresponding shadow that shifts 15 degrees per hour, they are the most trustworthy so long as you keep an eye on your longitude and adjust your sun reference to suit you bearing.

Want to know more? Come and join me next year!



We are back in our little tent after another day and although I am exhausted it was a really good one. Taking advantage of the excellent weather we pushed on and covered 18km today which we are really pleased about. We have now passed half way and are well ahead of our expected schedule.

The temperature has risen noticeably and is now 'only' -28C. This is still pretty cold I know but actually the change is really noticeable when hauling the sleds but even more so inside the tent where we have heated up more quickly tonight. Dramatically different...

Despite the warmer day I still have not been able to resolve my icing problem. Even though I have removed a layer and now only have an inner fleece next to my skin and a shell jacket outside,
when we stop at the end of the day the two are welded together with a sheet of ice and Eric has to try to tear the outer jacket off. The inner fleece next to my skin is covered in ice so as soon as I get in the tent I change to a dry fleece and then try to dry the other one out over the little stove. At least now I have got one set of leggings and one top dry so as soon as I change out of the iced up ones I warm up OK in the tent.

Our routine continues to improve in that we did 7 one hour hauls today with mostly only 5 minute breaks which is an improvement. I have also perfected the morning ablutions ritual to a dash from sleeping bag to outside in underwear and back to the sleeping bag in under 60 seconds. Amazing what you can do when you have to. This means that our key performance measures are improving across the board!

Thanks to Eric's diligence and care and my taking every effort to be careful as well we seem to have been able to manage the cold reasonably well. Although bitingly, oppressively cold we check each other's fingers and toes regularly and so far so good. I have to do a visual inspection of my toes each evening as there is so little feeling I can't tell without looking at them that they are still there! There was another medevac emergency rescue flight by helicopter today as one of the other teams trying for the pole lost another member to frostbite so we are being careful and not taking any chances.

Although the warming temperature is very welcome Eric tells me that this is because there is a strong wind and likely blizzard on the way in a couple of days. This is added impetus to try to make as much mileage as we can now while the weather is fine as even with Eric's second nature navigation skills, when in a white out blizzard with strong winds progress can be very slow.

Only 43 km to go - still full of secret self doubt that I will make it all the way but the odds are improving and it is exciting. If we can keep this pace up before the storm we may get there in three days or so. Here's hoping.

Do please keep the messages coming if you have time - can't tell you how great it is to receive this limited contact from home. Eric and I switch on the satellite system every morning quickly to see who has been in touch...
  • Name:
  • Elevation: 1 m
  • Latitude: 89° 3714North
  • Longitude: 126° 3325East


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    2017-04-12 21:44:41 MERI says: So loving reading these blogs! You are an inspiration John Mullen! Huge hugs xxxxxx
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    2017-04-09 16:48:24 Julie says: John, The gangs been kept up to date. The overwhelming response to your efforts and progress is that you are an inspiration to us all to pursue our dreams with mind, heart and body. Trek on knowing we are all with you...
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    2017-04-09 10:40:23 Anne Chappel says: Its a strange beautiful harsh world you are struggling through. Thank you for sharing the experience with us - in our comfort at home it makes us realise what strength lies within us all.
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    2017-04-09 08:33:58 Emmy says: So excited to get the daily blog - you both write so well you really give us a feeling of what it's like to be there. The intensity of the cold would be too much for me - also no mention of polar bears - have you seen any? Keeping all crossed that the weather front approaches slowly and you continue the excellent progress you have made so far. Stay really alert for frostbite and stay safe. All love xxx
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    2017-04-09 07:15:42 Lorenz says: Great blog! Reading it every day with great pleasure! Here in Switzerland we also face dramatic temperatures in the 20ties. But not below zero, above zero. This is quite crazy for the month beeing. Another sign of earth warming. Did you already think about things you will do with the spare time on northpole arriving there ahead of shedule? Polo with polarbears, tea with sea lions? Did you see any polar bear tracks???
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    2017-04-09 06:48:27 Andrew says: Wow up to a balmy -28 !When it gets to +28 the A team will be on standby !So impressive doing 18k in a day.Get there before the blizzard arrives .Bon chance mon brave
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    2017-04-09 05:19:15 Jen says: Wow 18km in one day! How phenomenal!! Well done :) So glad that the weather is slightly warmer and I hope you're feeling a bit better. Be careful with your icing problem and keep watching out for that frostbite!!! I hope you're able to beat the blizzard and please stay safe. Thinking of you and sending strength, warmth and healing for the next few days! Love you xoxox
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    2017-04-09 05:11:22 Jake says: Just so you won't miss the N Pole too much, I have ordered a heavy sled with a harness to take on walks and runs with you and your undies are in the freezer! Blowing away the Blizzard and wishing you great weather for the remainder of the trek! Awesome progress! Loads of love and Golden Circles xoxox
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    2017-04-09 04:32:45 Brett says: Incredibly impressive John. Have told all the young guys here what us old guys are capable of, I'm riding on your coat tails, so I need you to finish it off for me now and nail the Pole for us geriatrics. Proud of you bud. Envious too.
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