Geomagnetic Pole 2004

Bears, storms, cold weather - the usual suspects of a polar expedition

Geomagnetic Pole

Our team had flown out to Eureka weather station; a fully manned base situated about one thousand miles inside the Arctic Circle on Ellesmere Island. We had been in the air for five hours as we headed across the white void from Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island – next to the north west passage.

Despite Eureka’s isolation, it has its own landing strip which allows for a safer landing in adverse weather. This is where the expedition began.

We headed south along Eureka Sound for seven days in some of the coldest temperatures I have ever experienced. It seemed as if the Arctic was trying to throw everything at us in that short space of time: not just the weather, but also polar bears.

Our first encounter came within three days of setting off – I have come close to a total of eighteen bears while on expedition. Thankfully I’ve never had to harm any of them; a mixture of luck and also of understanding the bear’s behaviour. In most situations, as in this one, they are just being inquisitive – although this does not mean that they are no less dangerous.

During the first few days we had to weather a storm out, followed two weeks later by another one that had us laid up in Bay Fjord for three days. We had travelled over one hundred and seventy miles on land-locked sea ice by then and some of the team’s members were suffering injuries to their feet.

The next part of the trek was along the Sverdrup Pass (an old trading route from Greenland to the Canadian Arctic) and here we encountered ice walls and fallen snow from the top of the canyon. At some points the pass was only as wide as our sledges but in others it opened up to the width of two or three football pitches. For me, this was one of the most beautiful sections of the journey.

Emerging from the pass onto Flagger Bay, we now had less than a week to cover the eighty miles north to the Pole. Having survived the tests the Arctic had given us so far, we felt confident that we could do it. And then we encountered the ice rubble along the coast in the Kane Basin, which slowed us down drastically.

To give us a fighting chance of actually reaching the pole, we decided to set up a forward base camp and make the final assault carrying only our back-packs with enough supplies to last us the next few days. We left our pulks (sledges) and tents behind and skied the remaining sixteen miles to the Pole, which was located at Joy Point.

After heading slightly uphill on Ellesmere Island we finally sat and enjoyed the views of Nares Strait and the coast of Greenland.