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.

A night out in South Kensington

I’ve never shied away from a challenge, in fact, I thrive on them but 3 marathons, the e’tape du tour and a cycle to Paris is nothing compared to this …

On Thursday 17 January, my friend and I went to a talk at the Royal Geographical Society. I had no idea what the topic was until I got there as I was gifted the ticket for my birthday. Upon entering the RGS, I saw that Sir Chris Bonnignton and Jim McNeill were going to be ‘in conversation’. After a quick Google on both of the men on stage, I found out that Jim is a polar explorer and Sir Chris is one of the best known mountaineers of all time.

This excited me.

I sat through the talk listening to their adventures, stories of conquering mountains, Polar Regions and pushing their minds, bodies and spirits. After the talk, my friend and I went for the obligatory glass of wine.  Chatting about the adventures, the mountains and the Arctic, Chris Brisley came over to talk. He mentioned that he was in training for an expedition to the Pole of Inaccessibility…. What is this, I asked. I soon found out that he was part of a 28 person team to walk (ski walk) to the Arctic Pole. Questioning him more on the ‘walk’, I found out that they were heading from Canada to the Arctic Pole in February 2015 and perhaps, most importantly, that the team had not been finalised.

I sat on this information for a few days, dreaming about walking to Arctic (literally dreaming for 3-nights in a row) before I decided to contact Jim McNeill, or Polar Jim as I like to call him.

I read more and more about Jim’s training, his time in the Arctic, his Frozen Planet days and what training was involved to be part of the ‘Pole of Inaccessibility’ team. I decided that although I’m not a particular fan of the cold (I’m a sunshine worshipper, sea jumper, sun bather) I wanted to try and survive the basic polar expedition training in Norway from 17-23 Feb… ‘going to the arctic’ is on my bucket list.

In the last 4-weeks I have met Chris, met Polar Jim,  hired, purchased, borrowed, begged for kit from colleagues and friends; now I am about to embark on an adventure to Svalbard in Norway.

Quest for the Inaccessible Pole Team Selection