Last Degree North Pole Expedition Cancelled
17 March 2020 | Crested Butte, Colorado
I received an email this morning confirming what I already knew was going to happen: The North Pole season is cancelled. With Norway closing it's borders and Svalbard, our jumping off point for logistical flights, removing all non residents, it was only a matter of time before the official word came down the pipe. It was the right decision.
While no one has completed a North Pole expedition from land since 2014, partial and Last Degree expeditions have been ongoing since that time. While I guide expeditions to the South Pole as well, the Arctic is much more challenging as the environment is considerably more harsh and constantly changing. Guiding the week-long Last Degree North Pole adventures is on of my favorite 'jobs'. During one trip, temperatures dropped to -45 degrees Fahrenheit. On another, I fell through the ice up to my waist. Polar bears, pressure ridges, you name it... something is always trying to kill you (which is kind of why I like it so much).
For many of my clients, this will be the second year that our North Pole season has been cancelled. Last year, it was due to an ongoing political dispute between Russia and Ukraine (it's a long story). These are people who have invested a considerable amount of time, energy and financial commitment into this journey. For them, to not able to reach this goal that most have dreamed of for years, is heartbreaking. For my guiding business, it's a financial disaster.
Of course, all this is insignificant in comparison with the state of the world right now. This is such uncharted territory that I don't even know what to say. My only consolation is that I am home with my wife and kids. To be stranded on the ice, with no ability to help my family would be devastating. I hope that you are close to your loved ones now.
I have skied to the North Pole six times. And none of them went smoothly. My first attempt was in 2005. Our plan was to complete the first ever summer crossing of the Arctic Ocean, something that had never been done before. Departing from Cape Arctichesky, Siberia we had behemoth loads that surpassed 400 pounds of food and supplies that were supposed to last for 100 days on the ice. I also remember getting the flu right before we were dropped off on the ice. I was so sick and tired and I kept falling through the ice. I honestly thought I was going to die. We made infinitesimal daily mileage. It only took a little over a week before we pulled the plug. Looking back now, we should have kept going but there were so many unknowns as no one had ever done a summer Arctic expedition previously... and I had very little (at the time) Arctic Ocean experience.
While I always dreamed of doing big expeditions as a kid, there was never any clear path so I kind of just made my own over time. It took a lot of effort and hard work. For most of my adult life, I have been broke and homeless. Still, I wouldn't trade any of it. But maybe not for the reasons that you think (although who knows - you may know me better than I think). Adventure and expeditions have taught me so many beautiful lessons: tackling the unknown, working as a team, patience, enduring hardship and deprivation... Over the years, I've dealt with so much uncertainty and fear, that being scared is more like hanging out with an old friend than anything else.
I'm not going to lie, I'm nervous and scared right now. I have no idea how all this is going to play out. But I do know that people have an amazing ability to persevere and succeed. No matter the odds.
After calling for a rescue in 2005, we still had to wait nine agonizing days on the sea ice in a small two person tent before getting picked up by a Russian MI-8 helicopter. Coming back home as failures, we vowed to keep trying and on July 1st, 2006 we reached the North Pole. It took 62 days and I cried a lot, but we made it.
Image: Getting picked up at the North Pole in 2017.