Presenting Polar Pook

On Thursday 20 March I gave a presentation to staff at City Hall on my decision to train for the Pole of Inaccessibility with the Ice Warrior Project.

Talking water, snow and cooking

I’ve never been one for presenting, especially in front of people I know but I have received some great feedback on my presentation and more importantly I got a few laughs… in a good way.

I took staff through the how and why I signed up for ‘quest’, basic training and the intricacies of the expedition – polar bear watch, nutrition, keeping warm, training and kit.

My top facts went down well:

  • In the run up to February 2015 I will be eating 6 times per day
  • On the expedition I’ll be pulling 60kg behind me every day
  • I will have to take my turn doing bear watch every night for 2 hours
  • 40kpm is the speed of a polar bear
  • My sleeping bag goes down to -40’
  • Each leg of the expedition is 200 miles
  • I will need to consume 6000 calories per day on the expedition
  • On average I will cover 10 miles per day ski-walking

If you want to take a look at my presentation, you can do so here. I’ve even added some notes so you can understand what the images are representing.

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Two weeks today

Morning skiIt has just dawned on me that two weeks today I will be on my way back to Svalbard for another dose of Polar Training with the Ice Warrior Project. I wasn’t sure that I could survive the basic training, but I did, and now I will attempt to survive the advanced training.

One problem for me at the moment is my dislike for ski-walking. I am a runner, a cyclist, a lover of the warm. Getting to grips with skiing was very frustrating for me on the basic training. I swore; at the beginning I threw myself on the ground to stop, my skis got tangled and I felt like an idiot.  One evening my route back to base camp went a bit Pete Tong – I ended up having a bit of a paddy, so someone else took over at the front. We headed up an icy path with our pulks. I kept falling over and getting annoyed with myself as I couldn’t stop sliding backwards – I took my skis off and decided to walk back to the base.

I can laugh about it now, but when those skis are attached to my feet in two weeks time, I need to be having a word with myself. To be fair, I had never skid before the 17 February so I can only improve. My old trainer from school said ‘practice makes perfect’ quickly followed by ‘perfect practice makes perfect’. I just need some more practice – and to be fair to myself, I did have good days on the ice; the memory of which has temporarily been superseded by the bad days.

Basic training was tough, tiring and demanded huge concentration. As well as learning how to ski, I found myself learning about polar bears and how to deter them, knots and their different functions, belaying, pulk packing, the science behind the expedition, storm proofing a tent, nutrition, the daily regime when on the ice and ski signals blended together with scenario training such as ‘the tent has blown away, how are you going to shelter’.

Two weeks today, I will be on my merry way, back to the ice, with a view to keep learning and progress to the next stage. Topics include GPS and navigation, critical crisis management, building on the basic course and more scenario training which will include sitting outside in my thermals to the point where I get mild hypothermia … just to know what it feels like.

Taking a dip in the Greenland Sea

As part of my basic polar training in Svalbard I took a dip in the Greenland Sea. The idea was to see how my body reacted in the cold water. It was very cold, and no, I am not wearing a wet-suit. I am in my thermal trousers, thermal top and a pair of socks. Not even merino could make this dip warm.

What is a carabiner?

Upon making the decision to do my basic polar training, I had to go and get my training kit. I visited Polar Jim and spent a few hours trying on down jackets, trousers, gloves, hats, windproofs and boots which made me shudder just by looking at them (see pic).  Polar Jim asked me if I had any carabiners. My confused face was a tell-tale sign that I did not have a carabiner.  Jim showed me this ‘carabiner’ and I shuddered once more. I believe the words “what the heck do you do with that?” came out of my mouth.

Learning what to do with a carabiner was not the only challenge to overcome in order to survive the basic training – I had never skied, I had forgotten my knots from my days as a brownie, I didn’t want to buy OR use a shewee, I had no neckgateor suitable for -25 and apparently my waterproofs were not going to cut the mustard. This was starting to seem like challenge upon challenge upon challenge.

“I do love a challenge”, is what I told myself. I also told myself “try the basic training and if you don’t like it, at least you will know and you have tried.”

This was my mind-set for Svalbard.

Flying out from Gatwick with a ridiculously large bag (see pic), I flew to Oslo, stopped the night as my friend Ange would say, and left on the 9.55 flight the next morning to Longyearbyen.

At the airport I met Polar Jim, and 5 other ‘trainees’; Rob, Nathan, Sonia, Cat and Adrian. These people knew each other and had done elements of training together (including knots!) so there was only one thing for it…. introduce myself and get involved.

The moment when I saw Svalbard from the plane, a tear surfaced. “I’ve made it to the arctic”, I thought to myself. Ticking off a bucket list item was the coolest thing of the year…. so far!

Upon landing and getting my huge bag, we made our way to guesthouse 102 – a quaint guesthouse 1km from the airport. That afternoon, my brain was being tested some more.

I’ve never skied, but 3 hours after landing, I had a fresh pair of skis, a drill, some bindings and my polar boots – the combination of these items would allow ski walking. I was about to enter another unknown.

The next morning, my freshly made skis left the guesthouse for a training session. 9 falls later; I swore, I laughed, I imitated Bambi on Ice but decided that I could and would get better.

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What is the Pole of Inaccessibility and why go there?

There are four ‘North Poles.’ The spot on the Earth’s surface toward which all magnetic compasses point is the Magnetic North Pole, the point located directly above Earth’s geographic axis is the Geographic Pole, the spot which relates to the Earth’s magnetic axis is the Geomagnetic Pole and the northernmost point in the Arctic Ocean at a distance farthest from any land mass is the Pole of Inaccessibility, or the Arctic Pole.

The Pole of Inaccessibility is constantly shifting due to the pack ice – right now it is situated at 85°15‘N 176°09’E. There have been expeditions to the Pole of Inaccessibility before; 1927 saw Hubert Wilkins fly over it, 1968 saw Sir Wally Herbert reach it by dog sled, but no man, or woman has walked there.

Polar Jim has made two attempts; in 2003 he was scuppered by contracting Necrotising Fasciitis (a flesh eating disease) of his left ankle before he departed, and in 2006 he fell into a lead (a fracture of water in the sea ice) which forced him to stop the expedition.

In February 2015, Polar Jim and his team will challenge the theory of ‘third time lucky’ and set off from Ellef Rignes Island in Canada on an 80 day trek to the Arctic Pole, a mere 800 miles away.  Jim has split the 800 mile journey into four sections and is selecting 6 people to accompany him on each leg of his journey.  He describes this quest as ‘Modern-day Exploration – Ordinary People Taking the Pulse of the Planet.’ I am not sure if I can, or should be described as ‘ordinary’ but I am putting my hat into the ‘training to be an arctic explorer ring’.

For me this expedition is not about being part of a world first, although that would look great on my CV. This expedition will allow me to be part of a team who will gather crucial data sets from the Arctic, to evidence how the Arctic (the thermometer of the earth) is responding to Climate Change.

We will monitor the Arctic sea ice, we will survey polar bear movements, we will report back on the dynamics of sea ice, take ice cores and collect ground truth data which will be used in combination with NASA’s satellite images for the Arctic. These scientific measurements will be fed into the Royal Geographical Society, the MET Office, National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute, The Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute and The Norwegian Polar Institute. This expedition will lead to an up to date record of the Arctic region and how it is responding to the ever increasing demands of us, the human race.