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Geomagnetic Pole 2006

Crossing the frozen landscape of the Canadian high Arctic

This would be my second expedition to the Geomagnetic North Pole and on this occasion I co-led the expedition along with Dave Hughes who had been with me on the successful 2004 expedition to the same Pole.

The flight itself was good: we passed through Gris Fiord on the way and refuelled before heading north and flying over the mountains on Ellesmere Island (or, ‘the horizontal Everest’, as it has been described). Watching the landscape below from the window set the seeds in my mind for the route of what would eventually become the ‘Our World Expedition’ in 2009.

Once we landed the route took us from Flagger Bay on the east coast of Ellesmere Island, across the Bach Peninsula and then north along the coast, heading from point to point up the Nares Strait. Somewhere, to our right, was Greenland. So far we had made pretty good progress in what, for the Arctic, were warm temperatures. Minus 15 to minus 20 sounds as if it should be rather pleasant in an extreme climate, but actually such warmth brought its own set of problems. When the body is moving through this sort of terrain, it generates heat – and sweat. However, when you stop, even for a short while in temperatures of minus 20, the body starts to cool very quickly. Any sweat on the body will then freeze which in turn lowers the body’s core temperature and can lead to hypothermia. Therefore, it is vitally important to be able to vent body heat on route to prevent the sweat from building up.

To try and make things easier we started earlier in the mornings. As there are twenty four hours of light at that time of year it does not really make much difference as to what time you travel, in terms of visibility. However, by moving before the sun has any warmth to it, the ice is crisp like the top of a crème brulee as opposed to the slushier sort of ice you get when it’s mid-day. In other words, it is easier to travel on first thing in the morning. We hit ice rubble about sixty miles from the Pole itself. It is normal to get some ice rubble situated on the coastlines of peninsulas, but this stretched along the coast and out into the Nares Strait for about forty miles. We had no choice but to go through it. Finally we headed into Dobbin Bay and set up a forward base camp. Early the next day we set out with only our backpacks on the final push towards the Geomagnetic North Pole. It had actually drifted northwest since the last time I was there in 2004, which meant that we had to take a different route, passing over areas of land. It was a long, hard slog but finally, after fourteen miles of skiing, the GPS registered our position at the Pole.