Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Arctic 2016: North Pole Team Changes Direction, Now Heading South Instead

Back in January I told you about the Race Against Time team, a group of three polar explorers who were planning on skiing to the North Pole from the Russian side of the ice this season. They had originally planned to set out this month on what promised to be an arduous journey that has become increasingly more difficult in recent years due to climate change. But now, the objective of the expedition has changed, as has the direction they'll be traveling.

This past weekend, the team – which consists of Mark Wood, Paul Vicary and Mark Langridge – announced that instead of setting out from Russia in February, they will now fly to the North Pole in April, and ski south to Canada instead.

The expedition remains aptly named, as the trio of explorers will still be racing against time. If all goes according to plan, they'll set off from the Pole on April 1, and will have just 35 days to reach their pick-up point at Ward Hunt Island, which falls just along the Arctic Circle. Why they tight constraints on the travel? Because after May 5, the Canadian aircraft won't be able to land on the ice as the spring thaw begins. That leaves them no choice but to cover the 470 nautical miles (870 km/540 miles) in just 35 days, which would beat the current record for this route by 3 full days.


I've said for sometime now that the toughest challenge in exploration and adventure right now is a ski expedition to the North Pole. It has only been done once in recent years, and as the Earth's climate changes it is only becoming more difficult. So, when this expedition was originally announced, I was looking forward to seeing how this team would do. Now, their entire journey has changed dramatically, and as a result this will be a very different one than was originally proposed.

That isn't to say that traveling south will be any easier. The team will still face massive challenges on their expedition, including melting Arctic oceans, unpredictable weather, massive ice flows to overcome, and more. But heading south does allow them to use negative drift to their benefit, as they'll often continue to make up ground even while sleeping as the ice they camp on floats away from the North Pole.

As of right now, I'm unaware of any other teams that are planning expeditions to the Arctic this season. If more come forward, I'll be sure to share their stories and follow them as they make their journeys. But considering the costs, challenges, and dangers of such a trip, I don't anticipate too many others joining the party. We'll have to wait to see however, as there will certainly be "last degree" skiers and a few other unique expeditions.

In the meantime, we'll have to wait to see how things unfold.

1 comment:

Andy Madeley said...

The Last Pole expedition hopes to set out in Feb next year to reach the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility. Hearing news like this is not very encouraging but we hope starting in winter will increase our chances of making it! Wish the team all the best.