This was my very first question when I first heard about the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility. Where the heck is that?
The name itself made me laugh. As a friend of a friend said in a text, when he heard where we were headed;
“The clue is in the name, ladies. I think you better check with your travel agent!”
It certainly seems to have been pretty inaccessible to date, as no-0ne’s made it there yet. The leader of our expedition, Jim McNeill, has had a few goes. Once in 2003 when he contracted a flesh-eating disease and never made it out of base camp. And again in 2006 when he set out, but fell into the freezing water and, after hauling himself to safety, had to concede that the ice was just too thin that year.
To get me in the arctic mood, I’m reading a history of Arctic exploration at the moment, which I thoroughly recommend (‘Ninety Degrees North’ by Fergus Fleming). It’s full of tales of Arctic explorers sailing as far north as they could, getting their ships frozen in the ice, continuing north on sledges in unimaginable conditions, travelling tiny distances through the snow and ice and generally getting nowhere. Inaccessible.
Here’s one quote that explains why it was so hard;
“One literally had to climb out of the holes made by each foot in succession, the hard crust on top, which would only just not bear you, as well as the depth of the snow preventing you from pushing forward through it; each leg sank to about three inches above the knee, and the effort to lift them so high to extricate from their tight-fitting holes, soon began to tell upon the men.” (A quote from Beaumont in Nares, G “Narrative of a Voyage to the Polar Sea” 1878).
Most of these tales end with the ships getting broken up, the crew piling onto a floe of ice and drifting about on it for months in makeshift shelters until it finally starts to drift south, warm up and break up. Then they all pile into a small boat they’ve kept for that purpose and head back home to raise funds for another trip. Absolutely barmy. I should fit right in, I think.
Nares, a British Captain, en route home from one such expedition in 1876, sent a telegram back to the Admiralty, when he stopped off in Ireland. It read “NORTH POLE IMPRACTICABLE”.
However the Brits, being Brits, refused to buy this and poor old Nares got the blame for the failure of his expedition and the outbreak of scurvy that contributed to its failure. (History has shown that it was actually the Navy’s fault for concentrating the lime juice by boiling it in copper kettles which destroyed the vitamin C).
But I’m not buying it either. Hey! I’m shouting, It’s not impracticable, It’s only Inaccessible!
Of course the North Pole these guys were heading for has long ago been conquered. We’re trying to grab another one. There are actually a few North Poles. There’s the Geographic North Pole. This is the one most people visualise. Its the one right at the top of the globe, where all the lines of longitude meet. It’s 90 degrees north and is the one these chaps in the 19th century were heading to. Then there’s the Magnetic North Pole, where all the compasses point to. The Magnetic North Pole changes its location from time to time, just to confuse us all, I imagine. And then there’s the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility. This is the furthest point from land in the Arctic Sea – so basically we will have to wait until Winter, then travel across the ice, with the sea swirling beneath us, until we’re as far away from any actual land as is possible, and then stick our flag in the ground!
Of course, time and technology have moved on since those early feats above. For this I am very very grateful. So how are we going to reach the pole? And what advantages have we got over these earlier explorers? Click here to find out.
And why bother, I hear you ask?
Well, because we’re British, I’m shouting, and we’ve haven’t bagged one of these Poles yet, dammit. (To find out who has and how close we’ve got, click here). Lets have this one!