Icetrek North Pole Ski 2017

Apr 11

Final blog

Published at 21:44
Dispatch created from email
I'll let my companion finish up the blog with this piece written on the flight back to Longyearbyen. Thanks for following us, the messages and comments as always are wonderful and welcome and stay tuned as I cross Greenland in May with 15yo Jade Hameister and her dad Paul, Heath Jamieson and Frederique Olivier.

Thanks for your company and amazing spirit John and as always to my wonderful family for your support.


Pics of John at the pole, pickup by Mi-8 helicopter and the Antonov 74 at Barneo runway.

Well the adventure draws to a close. We have been exceptionally lucky in that the Russian helicopter was able to come and get us this morning around midday as Eric says that sometimes one has to camp at the pole for a couple of days while awaiting pick up. Even luckier, the base camp Antonov was returning to Longyearbyen today as well so I am writing these notes while on board on the way back. This is real aviation - all the sledges and Arctic gear in a pile under a cargo net, and a few seats for those on board.

Everyone is on a real high. The British team arrived at the pole late last night as well so this meant that three teams made it and flew back to Barneo base camp today. Barneo is a base built by the Russians on the polar ice cap every year only a 100 miles or so from the Pole and is used by geophysical and meteorological scientists for just the month of April. Before April it is dark 24 hours a day and too cold and by May the ice starts to break up and there are storms and fog so the season is exceptionally short. Barneo is also then the base camp from where expeditions seeking to ski to the North Pole set out, like we have just done.

We had a surreal experience on arriving back at Barneo. We were cold, tired but elated of course, and on arrival were ushered into the mess tent where a hot meal of Russian bortsch and some dubious meat product was waiting and where we revelled in being warm again - such a great feeling! The Russians had flown a Norwegian band in to the camp from Longyearbyen to entertain the base staff and scientists and they played "We are the Champions" to us as we entered the tent followed by a few other numbers. I sat there scratching my head - I am only 100 miles or so from the North Pole and it is -35C outside but I am sitting in a warm Russian mess tent eating bortsch with a Norwegian band belting out rock music surrounded by American, British, Norwegian, Swiss, German and Russian expedition members - can this be real?

Our thoughts though are with the other two teams still out on the ice. The weather is turning and they will be there for a couple of days yet at a minimum. I do not envy them.

We were lucky to make the time we did and get through to the pole so early and with no dramas. There were a number of medical evacuations - a team member from one group was hospitalised in Longyearbyen for four days but the good news is that everyone will be OK. Even in the successful teams there were injuries - one of the British team showed me his thumb earlier which has already gone a strange colour from frostbite and he expects to lose at least part of it and there were a number of knee and wrist injuries etc sustained crossing the jumbled ice ridges and other hazards. As the oldest expedition member on the ice I have been truly fortunate to survive unscathed. Thank you Eric!!!

We were also lucky not to encounter any polar bears - one of the teams still out on the ice reported on the sat phone this morning that they were forced to fire warning shots at a bear that was too inquisitive for their liking, fortunately successfully warding it off. In the day if you see them coming you can take appropriate measures (Eric and I both carried a firearm) but if you are asleep in the tent at night you of course have little chance.

As achingly tough as some moments of the trip were, I shall miss this wild, frozen, lonely, beautiful place. A place where the sun stays just above the horizon all day and night making the concept of night and day meaningless. A place so inhospitable yet full of nature's most beautiful vistas - mile upon mile of gigantic ice sculptures forced into the air by the colossal forces of the living, moving ice sheet, and a place of subtle gentle colours of white and blue. In a place where everything is measured by vastness and impossible scale one could also find extraordinary minute ice formations like tiny and perfectly formed feathers in the cracks newly made in the sea ice. Such a place of extraordinary contrast.

So in a couple of hours we will be back in Longyearbyen, the most northerly permanent human habitation in the world but where there is a hotel, mobile phone coverage, warm rooms and a bar. All these I long for but most of all I want to spend an hour in a hot bath and get warm from head to foot, to be able to know that my toes are still there without having to visually inspect them, and to sleep in a warm bed rather than in a frozen tent fixed to the ice with ice screws. Then in the morning I will be able to put warm, dry clothes on rather than having to force myself back into clothes already as stiff as a board with ice.

This is our last blog as we return to the real world and we thought that we should write it now before we get back as I have a feeling that tonight Eric and I may be investigating the recuperative powers of Norwegian vodka together to celebrate our trip.

Friends and family - thanks a million times again for all the messages. You can't imagine how much of a difference it made receiving them hunched over the sat phone together out there in our little tent.

Life is good...


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