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We slept well in our tents last night protected from the strong North wind by our snow block walls. None of us slept well as the surface was quite uneven and uncomfortable. Today is our last day and we hope to soon hear the drone of the Twin Otter coming to pick us up.
A call back to the flight base did not provide a glowing review of the weather. Resolute was clouding in fast and they were holding off coming to get us until they knew they could get in and out safely. On Isachsen we were cloudy with some blue sky. More cloud than blue and there was a strong wind still blowing.
At about 9:30 the pilot felt the odds were in his favour and took off for the 2 hour flight to our location. While we waited for the plane we took down one of the tents and 5 of us packed to leave. The other 4 would need to wait for the second flight and we were all hopeful that would be this day and not some other day.
We had about 60 minutes to explore the base some more. I walked up to the large building with the radar dome on the roof. The door was open inviting me in for a look. As I walked in a few steps I looked down and saw paw prints and thought Puppy had already been in here. Then I looked more closely. These prints were a day or 2 old and they were huge. A local wolf had been exploring this building very recently. I was a little spooked by this but the prints did look old and Puppy was beside me and I know he would detect and wolf presence long before I could.
We walked in together and entered a world literally frozen in time. Chairs, tables, lamps, desks, magazines all set up just as you would have in a lounge, but this lounge had not been used in over 40 years. Everything was covered in a later of snow and it looked like a scene out of Stephen King’s The Shining. I expected an insane caretaker to pop out at any moment.
Spooky or not my curiosity was stronger and I walked further into the building. I explored the kitchen and another lounge area. I walked through a workspace and found the nowhere near current building code stairs to the radar dome. The very steep and narrow stairs were covered in snow and I crept up carefully. Afraid I may slip or they may snap under my weight. Safely to the top I stepped into the dome. No equipment or machinery was left in here and I stepped out the open door onto a small deck from which I could see most of the base. I could see 10 or more building of various size scattered about. I could see to the Arctic Ocean where there was a small port once used to supply this base and I could see the mountains that framed the base to the North West.
After a few moments I gingerly walked down the stairs and started to make my way out of the building. Several of the buildings were connected with a long steel tunnel and I started to walk down one. With no light it became dark fast and I turned on the light on my phone. The tunnel was choked with snow and there was no passage. When I looked down I saw the wolf prints also walking this path. To my relief I saw the go in and go out again.
I went to one more building and the door was so full of snow I had to climb up this small hill and slide through on my belly to access the building. This appeared to be the main living quarters. There were several lounge areas with the usual furniture and a set of stairs going up. I went up and entered the sleeping wing. There appeared to be about 20 rooms. Each like a small hotel room with bed, desk, armoire, and closet. Part way down the hall was a large shared bathroom with showers and a water fountain in the wall. There were two larger rooms with attached sitting areas and I assume these were for the base leaders. This space had all windows and doors in tack and no snow was present. We would easily have spent the night in here.
Before long my time was up and we needed to head to the air strip. We looked on our sleds for ne last ski 1km mostly up hill. At the airstrip we came across several more buildings that looked like shipping containers. Most were almost completely buried in snow, but a couple stood out on huge tires like a mobile base of some kind. The first looked like a generator plant and the second was living quarters. The door to the living quarters was closed, but unlocked. We dug it out and entered.
The inside had been well used over the years. At first by the researchers, scientists, and base workers, and more recently by explorers like us and the local Inuit Rangers. There were 2 sleeping areas with bunk beds, a small bathroom, a kitchen, a store room, and a lounge/dining room. The area was scattered with food supplies. Some original from the 70’s and some newer and left behind. Many who had stayed in this camp had written their names on the walls and we saw messages from 1977 right up to 2018.
At 11:30, exactly when we were told, we heard the Twin Otter buzz over the building. We rushed outside to see the pilot make a few observation passes and then land smoothly right beside us.
The pilots had to re-fuel from two 45 gallon drums of aviation fuel they had brought with them and we were soon jamming our sleds and skis into the fuselage and climbing aboard. The pilot Mike said he would be back for the rest of the group in about 5 hours. He was experienced and was going to fly when some may not.
All 5 of us fell asleep on the plane and we were soon landing on Resolute. We were shuttled to the hotel and had a late lunch of pizza and wings. Much better than freeze dried I must say. After a quick shower and shave I was in the gear room unpacking, sorting, and drying gear for our quick turnaround tomorrow.
The rest of the group arrived at 8:30pm and we had a late dinner together and wrapped up the trip with a great debrief.
We now have a series of flights to get us home: Resolute – Arctic Bay – Pond Inlet – Iqaluit – Ottawa – and finally Toronto.
This has been a very difficult but rewarding trip. I hope everyone on the trip enjoyed it as much as I did and I hope the blog readers enjoyed following along.
We are now safe and snug in our tents at the Isaachsen weather station. More to come on that later.
The day began as the rest. Up at 6:30 am. Spark the stove. Eat, drink and pack. The wind had been high all night and the constant flapping of the tent made it difficult to sleep. Ear plugs helped a bit. Most of us find we fall asleep quickly around 9 pm because we are so tired and will sleep well until about 2. Then it is off and on for the rest of the night.
The wind was not too bad as we packed the tents and the sun peaked through the clouds enough to cast a shadow. The wind had shifted direction and would once again be just off our port bow striking us in the face all day.
Visibility was good and I could see our destination 17km away across the frozen sea. It is amazing how much distance one can travel by foot given enough time. What was once just a shape on the horizon would loom huge in front of us after 5 hours of skiing.
As we travelled the wind picked up in intensity and was soon blasting us full force. It was so strong that it slowed our forward progress and I had to put my full ski skins on to combat the force. If this wind were at our backs, we would cover our daily distance in no time. But alas it was not.
The tempest increased to the point it was blowing us around. It was quite strong but it was a relatively warm wind, so the wind chill was not an issue. We were hoping to lose the wind when we got in the lea of the mountain, but instead it just changed direction and instead of being slightly from the side it has head on in our face.
The surface was quite smooth today as it is constantly scoured by the driving Arctic winds. As we got closer to our destination the wind had blown most of the snow off the ice and we were crossing the most beautiful blue ice.
After about 5 hours we saw our goal in sight. Although we had made it to the Pole yesterday we wanted to make it to the old Isaachsen weather station. Our pilots also wanted us to come here as there is an old airstrip and they like the safety of this over landing on the ice.
This station was built in 1948 as an early warning station and weather station similar to others across the Arctic. The base was closed in 1978 and the basically just walked away. Everything is as it was in 1978. We have only explored a little so far. There are about 20 buildings including a huge garage with about 10 vehicles in it (2 bulldozers, several tractors, and a few dump trucks), there is a mechanic area with a truck mid service with the hood still up. There is a barracks, about 10 snow cats, and several office and maintenance type buildings. It is quite fascinating and I am glad we made the effort to get here.
Our first pick up flight will be about 10 tomorrow morning and the next about 4-5 hours later. It will be nice to sleep in a bed, change my clothes, have a shower and eat non freeze dried food.
It has been a difficult trip but very satisfying. More on that from the comfort of Resolute.
Last night as we slept a new weather system moved in. The tent started to shake from the wind and the clouds started to form. By morning the wind was blowing maybe 25km and visibility dropped to about 2km. We packed camp and by the time we were ready to go the wind had picked up more, the clouds filled in and dropped to surface level and the snow began to blow. This all resulted in near zero visibility.
I pulled out the GPS to find our direction of travel and tried to set my compass by it. However, the compass basically just spun in circles and was useless. I tried to find a landmark and set off and was almost immediately off course. The plan we developed was for Angus to lead and I would hang back and off to the side to direct him and let him know if he was veering off course.
By the second ski block I could actually see a landmark in the distance, but I could see nothing at my feet. The light was so flat and there was no horizon that it was like skiing inside a ping pong ball. The effort was huge and since I could not see I continually tripped over and slid off snow ridges. I plugged forward trying to make some distance towards our goal.
By 2:00 we hade travelled 10km. We were moving slow but getting closer to our goal. At around 2:30 we arrived at the magnetic North Pole location in a blowing storm. Fortunately, it was not too cold, and we enjoyed about 30 minutes savouring the time and taking photos. We gathered in a circle, read Heroic Hearts by Ulysses and sang O Canada.
We were excited to have achieved our goal, but our journey was not done yet. We need to get out of the broken and piled up ice to find a place for the plane to pick us up. We set off and soon realized we were not going to get far in these extreme conditions.
I angled us back closer to shore to find a sheltered spot. After a while I found a large ice block that had created a wind block and drifted snow. We stopped and with teamwork we were able to excavate two holes and build 4’ snow walls to protect our tents. It took us about 90 minutes but when we were done we had two solid tent set ups.
Everyone is now in the tents and dinner is done. I have the stoves burning to give us some heat and we will soon go to bed. Tomorrow we will hope the weather clears so we can travel to our next and last location.
We slept in until 6:30am and started to ski by 9:00. Last night turned out to be a pretty warm night. The clouds came in and insulated the earth and held in all the solar heat from the day.
The morning was not too cold. Maybe -15 but we had a fairly strong head wind that made it feel much colder.
Right out of camp we started up. We climbed for what seemed like a long way until we hit a drainage valley that we knew (hoped) was flowing to the ocean. We followed it as it snaked back and forth and after about 5 hours of skiing we emerged onto the ice.
Crossing the peninsula was one of the most beautiful parts of the trip. The variety of topography, the rocks, cliffs and hills were quite striking.
The going was quite tough much of the time and we alternated from good hard packed snow to loose and crumbly snow that was hard to pull through. Some sections had a slight downhill grade to them, and the pulling was a little easier. Although much of the time it felt uphill.
As we pulled out onto the sea ice we were happy to be on the flat surface once again. Hazy Cape which is where we are heading seems to always be basked in sunlight and looks quite beautiful from our current vantage point.
We are in the tents now and comfortable, but it is quite windy and cold outside. Dinner is done and we will soon get ready for bed. Tomorrow we should hit the Pole location just after noon. The weather will dictate how long we stay and what we do.
We are sitting in the tent with wind burned faces. We decided to wake at 6:15 and work hard to be on the trail for 9:00.
The sky was blue with no clouds and it was about -20 with a light head wind which dropped the windchill to around -30.
We set out on hard backed and relatively flat snow. There were a few sections that required route finding, but much of the day was pretty straight forward allowing us to get in some good distance.
We started with Thor Island way off in the distance and by the end of the day it was behind us. We did 6.5 ski blocks for 19.5km.
We can see the peninsula of Ellefringis Island where we will enter our land crossing. Everyone is doing well and we are comfortable and warm in our tents.
One element that adds a lot of fun is our polar bear dog names Puppy. Puppy is 5 years old and is a very nice Husky. For the first few hours on day 1 we tried to ski with him on a leash and it was very difficult as he kept getting tangled in all our sleds. After a while we just unhooked him and he took off. Pretty soon all we could see was a small black dot on the horizon. We were a little worried he was heading for him, but after a bit of exploring he was back.
He now walks beside us all day and sometimes goes ahead to explore. Every now and then he stops and watches everybody ski by getting a little scratch from each person. At night we build him a little sleeping spot with some
snow blocks and a insulation pad. He has become a great part of the team and fits in well.
The landscape is stark, but beautiful. It has been consistently cold and a light wind each day. Everyone is doing well.
Today was quite a good day. We woke at 6:30 as usual and started in to all our chores; eating, getting dressed, packing up, and taking down the tent. We were good to go at 9:30.
Last night was a cold night. Likely In the -30 neighbourhood. I was a little cold in my -40 sleeping bag and that is unusual. The morning was about -24 with a good wind making for a very cold windchill. But it was a bluebird sky and the sun was warm and the wind was at our backs.
The trail started out ok, got really rough and then turned quite good. We made good time as the snow was wind blown hard packed and the ice surface was relatively flat. After 6 ski blocks we covered about 18km.
The excitement for the day was seeing Thor Island. All day yesterday we were traveling pretty blind and today it was nice to see a landmark to confirm our location and direction of travel.
We are camped in a beautiful spot in the middle of the sea ice. Inside the tents with the stoves going it is quite warm. Almost too warm. After our freeze dried dinner, drinks and dessert of chocolate we are just about done for the night. I have just a bit more water to do for hot water bottles then I will shut the stoves off which is always nice as they are so loud it is difficult to talk.
Today was our first full travel day on the ice. Everyone slept ok last night. Not the best sleep ever, but sufficient. Some people were a little cold as it dropped to about -28C over night.
We woke at 6:30am and started the stoves for hot drinks and breakfast. It is quite comfortable in the tents once the duel stoves start pumping out the heat.
We had camp packed by 9:30 and hit the trail. It was about -20 but little wind so it was pretty comfortable. The terrain started out pretty good but quickly deteriorated into tough to navigate multi year ice that had been
pushed up into a jumbled mess. As the day went on the clouds built and visibility dropped with very flat light conditions. It was difficult and time consuming to weave through the ice with poor visibility.
We skied in 6 one hour ski blocks with a 10 minute break after each block. Late afternoon we seemed to emerge from the worst of the ice, but our speed did not pick up due to the flat light conditions.
We stopped to make camp at 4:30pm and by 6:30 we were cozy in the tents having dinner. After dinner we plotted our location on the map. We traveled about 16km but veered a bit east when we should have stuck due north.
Tomorrow we have the same plan and may add in a 7th ski block if conditions are good and people are feeling good.
We are on the ice at the Northwest tip of King Christian Island.
Outward Bound has a double meaning for today. This trip is part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Outward Bound in Canada. If you do not know what Outward Bound is you should check out the website. OB is where I got my start as an outdoor instructor 30 years ago.
Outward bound is also the term used for a ship leaving port and leaving the safety of the harbour as we have done today.
As is typical, our departing flight was off and on several times this morning based on high winds. We got the call at 11:30 to be at the airport and ready to go for 12:00.
The first group took off at 12:45 for a 90 minute flight to our drop off. Unfortunately due to rough ice conditions we could not land where we wanted and were forced to land about 20 km further away.
When we landed we set up both tents and I taught the group how to cut snow blocks to build a wind break for the tent. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light wind and lots of sun. It was about – 24C but felt warmer with the
We got in the tent and started the stoves to make water and wait for the second group to arrive. We had hot drinks, snacks and then dinner and the second group landed at 7pm.
Now we are all together and everyone is settled into tents for the night. Since we have a longer distance to travel than planned we will wake at 6:30am so we can get on the trail early and hopefully make some good distance. However the ice does look pretty rough so we will see how fast we travel.
It is quite beautiful out here. There is nobody in any direction for hundreds of kilometers and everyone is excited about the adventure that lays ahead.
Day 2 was a day of team formation and skill development. At Summit we specialize in helping corporate teams develop and it is no different on an expedition. If anything, it is life and death critical and it has to happen very fast. Right now we are in the Forming stage. Our first day on the ice will bring out the storming. Day 2-3 will be Norming and then if we have focused and planned well we will hit Performing around day 4 and stay there. I woke at 6am with the sun blazing in the sky. We have about 20 hours of sun right now and by the time our trip is done it will be pretty much 24 hours. It was a cold -24 in Resolute today, but when the sun was out and the wind was still it was quite comfortable.
We spent the morning going over food pack out and everyone gathered what they wanted for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the trip. Breakfast options include oatmeal, granola, and freeze dried options like breakfast skillet, scrambled eggs and ham, and biscuits and sausage gravy. Lunch is a mix of nuts, chocolate, cheese and salami and dinners are freeze dried options such as Chili Mac, Chicken Teriyaki with Rice, Beef Stew and more. We will also have snacks of cheese, crackers, pate, soup and various drinks.
After food pack we started to set up our sleds. We are fortunate that many of the previous expeditions over the last 20 years or so have left their gear behind (not sure why). Ozzie has stored it all in 4 sea containers that are packed with everything imaginable for a polar expedition. We dug out 9 sleds and many were the exact sleds I used when we led the True Patriot Love trip here in 2014. Several sleds still had members names on them from that trip.
I did a demo on how to pack the sled and rig it to your pack. Loaded my sled weighs 85lbs. After lunch we went out for a ski on the ice to test our systems, to review tent set up and to test our firearms and deterrent pistols for Polar Bear protection.
We skied out on the ice about 2km and then stopped at a reasonable flat spot that looked good for a tent. The ski was pretty easy. The snow is quite hard packed and the sleds glide easily. The ice in the bay did not melt this past summer so as more ice accumulated it did get a bit jumbled up and bumpy, but overall the ski conditions were quite good. I hope they are this good where we will be dropped off for our start.
We set up the tent and it is always amazing how warm it is when you get inside the tent. Once the tent was set up we all got in and reviewed our camp procedures. After about 30 minutes we broke down the tent and showed the group how to use the deterrent pistols with bangers and screamers and also our shotgun and rifle. Once on the ice we will also have a dog that is trained to be an early warning system for polar bears and to scare the bear off if one were to wander into our camp area.
The ski back was much colder as the sun disappeared behind the clouds and a wind picked up. Once back at the hotel we reviewed the excursion and answered questions. Dinner was once again great and most of us ate too much. A little more prep work after dinner and we are pretty much ready to go.
The Magnetic North Pole trip team and all our gear are now in Resolute Bay.
We did a grand tour of the North today. We began our day in Ottawa at 7am when we made our way to the airport. Check in and security was no problem and soon everyone was sitting at the gate with Tim Horton’s or Starbucks in hand.
Out 9am flight to Iqaluit went smoothly and just over 3 hours later we landed. It was cold (about -12), but much warmer than when I was here 3 weeks ago. Once inside the airport we were met by an old Outward Bound friend Meeka who lives in Iqaluit. She took us to her place for a quick visit with bannok and tea.
Our next flight at 2pm took us 2.5 hours to Pond Inlet where we had a 30 minute stop and got off the plane to stretch our legs. Pond Inlet is surrounded by amazingly beautiful mountains on all sides and from the plane you could see the glaciers snaking all around like superhighways.
We then had a 60 minute flight to Arctic Bay and this too is a beautiful place framed by huge and steep sea cliffs. We were only in Arctic Bay for about 15 minutes then we took off for the 1.5 hour flight to Resolute Bay.
Once in Resolute we were met by Angus who flew in yesterday and the staff from our hotel the South Camp Inn. We loaded our bags and were soon checked in. Resolute is basically directly North of Winnipeg and we are now on the Central Time zone. After dropping our bags in our room we met for an amazing prime rib dinner served by the Chef Josee.
The South Camp Inn is owned and run by an very interesting man named Ozzie who moved here from India 40 years ago. He came here for a job with the Hudsons Bay Company, met an Inuit woman and never left. He started the South Camp Inn and has been host to pretty much every North Pole expedition in recent history.
We will be here until Friday morning to prep all of our gear for our trip out onto the ice.
It has been a long day of travel and everyone is tired. Tomorrow we will start all our prep work.