The 2010 polar exploration season has begun with a number of solo explorers and teams setting off for the Geographic North Pole over the past couple of days. For most, the journey will take upwards of two months, during which time they’ll battle inclement weather, unrelenting terrain, and their own physical limitations, just to stand at the top of the world.
While it is possible for explorers to make the journey to the Pole from the Russian side of the planet, this year all of the major expeditions will be starting in Canada. The small town of Resolute Bay serves as the launching pad for most of these intrepid travelers. With a population of just over 200 people, Resolute Bay is one of the northernmost inhabited places on Earth. It is so far north in fact, that it has an annual average temperature of just 2.5ºF.
These adventurous men and women will make their way north on skies, all the while pulling their gear and supplies in a sled behind them. Some will go unsupported, which means they won’t receive supply drops along the way, electing instead to carry everything they need with them when the get underway. Others will have food and gear delivered to them, usually in the form of an airdrops, and considering they burn in the area of 6000-8000 calories per day, they are always in need of food.
On their way to the North Pole, the explorers will face a number of obstacles, including extreme cold, blizzard conditions, and days of solitude. The journey is also quite different then an expedition to the South Pole, as Antarctica is an actual continent, while the North Pole is located on a gigantic slab of ice. As a result, the explorers will have to face areas of open water on the Arctic Sea, which are growing larger and more common thanks to global climate change. If possible, they’ll navigate around those obstacles, but in some instances they’ll actually swim across the open water using dry suits, while their gear is pulled along in an inflatable raft.
There are other differences between travel to the North and South Pole as well. Unlike Antarctic skiers, who encounter little or no wildlife on their journey, Arctic explorers also have the real possibility of coming face to face with a polar bear. They also have to deal with a phenomenon known as negative drift, which is the process of the ice moving on its own, sometimes pushing the teams further away from their goal. It is not unheard of for a team to ski all day, cover a dozen miles in the process, and then wake up the next day to discover that they’ve moved 15 miles backwards while they camped thanks to negative drift. As you can imagine, this can be quite frustrating at times
There are a number of interesting expeditions to the Pole this year, but none as exciting as Christina Franco’s. The 43-year old Italian woman, who calls London home, will be making a solo journey to 90º North. If she is successful, she’ll become the first woman to accomplish that task, earning her way into the record books. You can follow Christina’s progress on her website by clicking here. According to her most recent updates, it looks like she’ll be departing Resolute Bay tomorrow.