On May 6th 2014, I reached the Geographic North Pole after what I can only describe as the most difficult 53 days of my life. Sitting in my chair now, with the perspective of time and distance, I am amazed that I was able to persevere long enough to be successful. After all, no one had completed a North Pole expedition since 2010 and comparatively few over the span of polar history.
In 1995, Reinhold Messner, easily the most accomplished mountaineer of all time, called his unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole, the horizontal Everest. While over 6,000 people have summited Everest only 250 people have traversed the Arctic Ocean from land to the Geographic North Pole—less than 50 of those traveling unaided and un-resupplied (meaning pulling all your food and supplies from the start without the assistance of sled dogs, kites or any mechanical device).
To understand why this particular adventure is so difficult, you need to know a little more about the Arctic Ocean itself. It’s huge—5 and a half million square miles (that’s larger than all of Europe) and plunges to the depth of 14,000 feet. Temperatures range from a balmy just-above-freezing in the summer to nearly 80-below in the winter. Eight countries frame the Arctic Ocean: Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada and the USA (Alaska), but perhaps the most unique feature of all, is the fact that nearly the entire ocean is covered in a thin sheet of ice. Because all that Arctic ocean ice is floating on water, it does all sorts of crazy things due to wind tides and ocean currents. The ice is broken up into sheets or pans that can be up to several miles wide. Pans can crack and form open sections of water called leads. Or they can collide together. Freeze and refreeze forming pressure ridges, rubbled ice, vertically heaved slabs and every other possible combination.
Oh yeah, and there are polar bears. Hungry polar bears.
What follows is a photo journey of our 480-mile journey from Cape Discovery on northern Ellesmere Island to the Geographic North Pole. My hope is that by looking at these images you will gain a more in-depth perspective into what I believe is one of the most difficult expeditions on the planet, to a place that few people understand and that may be the last of its kind in history due to climate change.