The North Pole - 90 degrees north - Where all the lines of longitude sweeping up from the equator converge onto one spot the size of a coffee table. This is the only spot on this great planet of ours from where everywhere you look is south. There is not & can never be another spot like this. There can only ever be one place that is THE NORTH POLE - Top of The World.

Elsewhere I'll talk about this mystical place, a frozen ocean, endlessly shifting with the currents & the ever present winds that threaten to blow anyone & anything that tries to invade its icy barriers. Here in this section, I want to try & relate to the challenges, dangers & difficulties involved in attempting to reach the NP under your own steam from whatever distance back from it you start, be it a Last Degree, Last 2 Degrees or a full traverse from Ward Hunt Island in Canada or from Siberia.

Just like probably only a handful of places on Earth where humans cannot survive 'naturally' for any lengthy period of time, the Arctic Ocean is a most inhospitable place where anyone attempting to tame it will be severely tested. Think death-zone above 8000mts on Everest, deepest Antarctica, deep in the world's great deserts. The Deep Arctic ranks well with these hell on earth places & that is why so few have ever ventured there. Just like any great mountain, you do not conquer the Arctic. Some are lucky to be allowed to enter its world for a period of time, just long enough to thrill you with the great sense of achievement derived from overcoming the challenges & standing at the North Pole before the door closes again. That door can only be opened by those who seek & thrive on the challenge of attempting to achieve something which they initially believe they cannot do.

"Accept challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory" - George Patton

The first challenge to overcome is in deciding whether to attempt it or not. You do the research, you weigh up everything involved & initially you think, 'No I don't think I can or want to do this'. But admitting that even to yourself is like 'failure' so you start looking at it again & you're thinking, 'I've done the Last Degree South Pole, survived Vinson, so why can't I do this? Of course you can do it but do you want to? That is where the challenge is. I believe that most people can do pretty much anything, if they want badly enough to do it.
You have to want to do it & that's all there is to it.
If you want to cycle 500kms across the country, or run a 42km marathon, you can do it, if you plan & prepare. But you have to passionately want to it & be prepared to put yourself through the pain of preparing & actually doing it.

But did I want to do it? That's where the issue was. I was thinking that I couldn't do it, that it was just a step too far but I quickly realised that I was thinking this way because I hadn't ever really had any desire or passion to do the North Pole. I still don't really have any deep passion for the Arctic & the North Pole but I'm not going to let that stop me from accepting the challenge of actually doing. Arriving at the South Pole was a deeply moving & emotional experience for me because of the history & what it all meant to me personally but I'm not going to feel the same way about arriving at the North Pole. But I'm going to do it & I will get there & I'll be emotional / glad to have done it but I think I'll just want to get the hell out of the place ASAP.
Challenge accepted - mission accomplished - Last Degrees to the 2 Poles done - can we go now!

Now, if you don't 'get' what I've said above, then you need to go back to chapter one.

Navigation for the South Pole is relatively straight forward especially on a LD journey. You're generally on reasonably flat or gently rising ground so you point your compass at 90 degrees south, take regular bearings & corrections, avoid obvious dangers & just keep going day after day & you will get there. There are now reasonably good survey maps showing all the danger areas & there aren't any other natural dangers to be wary of. Sound easy? is until you're trying to find your way in a white out where you can barely see your ski tips!
Navigation for the North Pole is completely different. Firstly, you're using inaccurate sea charts & not maps. They are inaccurate because the ice upon which you're 'walking' is constantly shifting in the wind & current. Maps, GPS, notepad & pencil are all used extensively as you calibrate your position, checks distance travelled etc. Unlike 'South' you rarely get to go in a straight line for too far because of the physical obstacles that have to be navigated around, over or across - open or semi frozen water leads & pressure ridges of varying height & difficulty.

Dense Fog is another serious challenge that is unique to the high Arctic. Heavy, dull-grey fog with damp air can materialise in minutes out of nowhere sometimes reducing travel time dramatically as you move cautiously to avoid hidden dangers.

Drift is a constant headache & it just varies according to the wind, current & even moon cycle. One thing for sure is that the trans-polar icedrift is almost always working against you, pushing you away from the direction you want to go. Some of last season's Last Degree teams ended up giving up after spending 6 days marching every day only but finding themselves 30kms further back from where they started.

Open Water Leads & Thin Ice are the biggest danger & the most frustrating aspect of Arctic travel. These sections of open water are caused by the ice floes breaking up due to the currents & winds etc. They slow you down as you decide how to overcome them. We'll be going around the big wide ones that we encounter & 'skiing' across the narrower ones. We will not be taking immersion suits so swimming across is not an option for us (thank God!) You simply do NOT want to fall into a lead or break through thin ice in all your polar clothing, with skis on & hauling a heavily laden sled. If you do fall in, you need to get yourself out, fast, or you'll die within minutes. Team mates often can't get close enough to be able to assist you so you need to act fast & decisively. If you're really brave, you can always sit on your sled & paddle across open leads.......I'll pass on that option.

Ice Ridges & Rubble are formed when once open leads are closed up with the current & wind or just from underwater currents & incredible pressure causing the ice floes to break up pushing huge blocks of ice up out of the water to form ridges like a mini mountain range. These can often be up to 4mts high & most likely the only solution is to climb up over them hauling sleds along the way. Body & equipment breaking work which could be encountered every 100mts on bad days. Rubble is similar & resembles a demolished building which again you have go around it or over it.

Polar Bears might seem cuddly from a distance & whilst we'd secretly like to encounter them in their natural environment, we'd really prefer not to come across any on our Last Degree journey. In April, we should be OK because the polar bears will generally have enough food further back from where we'll be. You do not want to be downwind of polar bears because they just won't give up on any scent that means 'dinner' & they can track you down over days. So just in case we do come across bears we're taking rifles which will be at the ready, especially while we sleep.

Temperatures are not expected to be as low as the South Pole which were down to -35c every day & -50c with the wind chill on bad days. In the deep Arctic we're expecting a chilly & damp -20c or -30c.

Frostbite can be both easy to avoid & difficult to avoid. Some degree of frostbite is inevitable on polar expeditions simply because there is nearly always one time when you let your guard down for even a few minutes & that's all it takes for frostbite to set in. Finger tips & hands are problems areas because there may be times when you need to get down to one layer of gloves in order to make adjustments to clothing, boots or when putting up tents etc. Toes are another delicate area. The nose & facial areas are also commonly attacked by frostbite. Gaps can appear between goggles & facemasks & it only takes the wind a few minutes to cause some very painful damage. I've had frostbite on fingers on both hands, a couple of toes back in 06 & some facial damage in 07 but if caught early & dealt with properly, after a few painful days it will sort itself out & within a couple of weeks it'll be gone. Having said that, my fingers now feel the cold much quicker than they used to so there is some lasting effect throughloss of sensitivity.

Sleeplessness & 24 hr Daylight are a very real problem for me. Try as you do to maintain a regular day/night routine the body & mind are not fooled by the use of eye shades & it can detect the presence of the sun 24 hrs a day. A very tired body combined with the unusual diet, the wind rattling the tent make sleep restless & not often deep. But, we'll be 'sprinting' this trip & will be hoping to complete it fairly quickly & I'll just put up with it get on with it. Plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead.

Minor Medical Issues can be frequent & whilst back home they would be to have you in bed, out on the ice you don't have that option so you regard them as irritants. Blisters, foot rash, body rash from clothing chaffing, dehydration, hygiene, hypothermia, toothache etc are all very common even on short trips. See the photos of my badly cut & blistered feet on the 07 South Pole trip? They nearly called in for emergency evacuation but I said 'No way, you're not stopping me from my dream, I'm going on'. No pain, no gain. Pain is only temporary - quitting is forever.

So all in all, not a lot to be concerned about & it's just like a walk in the park!