Trip to the North Pole: A Difficult Target
For most destinations in the world, you can easily have a photograph taken with you in front of a recognizable famous place. As an example, you can go to the Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, stand in front of this mausoleum and ask a friend to take your picture with the famous domes behind you. When the prints are processed, you can impress your friends and they will never doubt that you have been there.
You cannot do the same at the geographical North Pole. The landscape you see there at a given moment will be gone in a matter of hours. The background of the picture of you taken at the North Pole will always be different. Sometimes, you encounter ice; sometimes you encounter water. It is tough to predict.
Philippe with the Yamal in the background—somewhere near the North Pole.
How can you orient yourself to go to the geographical North Pole?
Hmm… No, you may be a couple of thousand miles off.
Watching the stars
It is tough during the summer when the sun never sets. When you do not see the sun, the sky is often cloudy. You cannot see the stars either.
Global Positioning System technology
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a worldwide radio-navigation system formed from a constellation of 24 satellites and their ground stations. It calculates positions accurate to a matter of meters. GPS receivers have been miniaturized to just a few integrated circuits and so are becoming very economical. This technology is accessible to virtually everyone.The basis of GPS is "triangulation" from satellites. To "triangulate," a GPS receiver measures the distance using the travel time of radio signals. To measure travel time, GPS needs a very accurate timing and an exact knowledge of where the satellites are in space.
When my GPS read 89° 59.975’, how far were we from the North pole? We were missing only 0.025 nautical mile, in other words 25 x 1.852 m, or 46.3 m.
In case you find an ice floe when you reach the pole and decide to commemorate your successful trip by landing on this floe, after a few hours of partying, you can be only sure of one thing: you will no longer be at the Pole. The Pole does not move, but the comparatively thin floe is moving like a film of cream on milk. Fridtjof Nansen, a famous arctic explorer, used the ice drift to his advantage. He stuck his specially designed ship, the Fram, in the ice and the drift brought it closer to the Pole.
Admiral Robert Peary had the bad idea to get his picture at what he claimed was the geographical North Pole. All you can see on the picture is a heap of ice, the American flag, and some unshaven people wearing Eskimo outfits. Unfortunately, analysis of the picture, and especially of the shadows, demonstrates that it was definitely not taken at the geographical North Pole. It is unlikely that Admiral Peary ever reached the Pole.
Conversely, when Roald Admundsen arrived at the geographical South Pole, he left a note to Captain Robert Falcon Scott along with a Norwegian flag. Because Antarctica is a huge land mass, the note stayed exactly at the same spot. In summary, when you are at the South Pole, you are at the center of a continent. At the North Pole, you are at the center of an ocean covered with thin layers of ice.
Philippe tries to find the elusive the North Pole. The ice we were walking on was drifting at a speed of 0.5 nautical miles per hour.
To go to the North Pole you have a choice of taking a plane (with a lot of kerosene and the ability to land on water), flying by balloon or zeppelin, going by foot (but do not forget a kayak for the huge puddles), or via submarine or boat. A normal boat cannot reach the pole because beginning about 500 nautical miles south of it, ice presents an impenetrable barrier. An icebreaker may be able to penetrate the ice. If you have the choice, select a really robust and powerful one. For our trip we chose to travel in the Russian icebreaker Yamal.