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North Pole

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For other places with the same name, see North Pole (disambiguation).
Robert Peary & co. 1909

The North Pole is the northernmost point in the world.


Map of the North Pole

Although there's more than one definition of "the North Pole", the most popularly accepted one is geographic: a fixed location in the northern hemisphere at the Earth's axis of rotation, latitude 90°N (longitude not applicable). Unlike the South Pole, which is located on the continent of Antarctica, the geographic North Pole is covered by nothing but a sheet of shifting ice on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. There is thus no permanent habitation nor even an official marker for the position, as the ice moves from year to year. Although it was once an elusive goal that took the lives of many explorers, thanks to modern aviation and other technology, it is now the destination of commercial travel expeditions.

"The North Pole" is also defined magnetically. One definition is the point on the surface that magnetic compasses point to, following the Earth's geomagnetic field. Another uses the Earth's more broad magnetosphere (which affects the Aurora Borealis) as a reference. These positions drift, and are currently off Ellef Ringnes Island (one of the Queen Elizabeth Islands in Nunavut, Canada), and off Qaanaaq, Greenland, respectively.

A somewhat arbitrary definition is the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility, the farthest point from any coastline. This is a fixed location (barring major sea level changes that might redefine coastlines) at 84°03'N 174°51'W.

The Arctic Circle city of Rovaniemi, Finland and the nearly-Arctic Interior Alaskan city of North Pole both somewhat disingenuously claim to be the home of Santa Claus, and Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada has a year-round Santa Claus park as does North Pole, New York.

Get in[edit]

The North Pole can only be reached on expeditions specifically mounted for the purpose. Most travel primarily by air, sometimes with a component traversing the last leg of the journey on the ice. This is done in April. The other alternative is traveling by boat, on an ice-breaker cutting through the Arctic Ocean during the Arctic summer.

The First[edit]

On April 21, 1908, Dr. Frederick Cook and two Eskimos, reached the geographical North Pole. There was controversy about this claim at the time but recent research shows it more likely that Dr. Cook did in fact reach the North Pole and that Robert Peary did not.

By air[edit]

Most expeditions take place in April when the Arctic night is over but the winter ice is still strong. They start from Longyearbyen in the Svalbard islands, and continue on to the Pole by a combination of plane and helicopter. They usually stop at the Russian polar research station and "ice airport" Barneo (also spelled "Borneo") which is set up each Spring at about 89°N and drifts on the Arctic ice pack. Some expeditions drop travelers here or somewhere else short of the Pole itself, leaving them to finish on the ice. A less demanding and more affordable option are flying sightseeing expeditions starting in Germany or the UK, using a long-haul aircraft to overfly Norway, the Svalbard Archipelago, and the North Pole itself, without landing but flying low over areas of interest.

  • Arctic Direct, [1]. Their North Pole Odyssey generally follows the routes of history's famous polar explorers, such as Dr. Frederick Cook who claimed to be the first to Pole in 1908 and Commander Robert E. Peary who claimed to be the first in 1909. The trip heads north via the Magnetic North Pole, Eureka and Nansen Sounds, and Ellesmere Islands, Cape Columbia. The return south incorporates Etah, Greenland, where Peary collected his Inuit support teams. A seasoned polar escort leads the Odyssey.
  • Arctic Odysseys. [2]. Offers multiple excursion. Travel via helicopter, plane, icebreaker, dog sled, skiis, or a combination for a celebration at the North Pole. Make a phone call from the Pole, enjoy a Pole barbecue, or take a dip in the frigid waters before returning shipboard or to your Arctic expedition camp.
  • Deutsche Polarflug, [3]. North Pole sightseeing flights, starting in May 2007, 11-hour sightseeing flights departing from Germany in an Airbus 330, cruising over Norway and Svalbard, riding low over special sights, and getting all the way up to the North Pole. Most passengers switch during the flight between center-section seats to pairs of outer-section seats, giving everyone in this class a window or next-to-window seat for half of the flight; a small number of tickets are center-section or outer-section only. Informative in-flight programming. €555-€1190 economy, call for first-class.
  • Icetrek, [4]. Offers day-trips from Longyearbyen, 3-4 day excursions overnighting at Barneo, and skiing expeditions up to 9 days on the ice. €7,900-€13,900.
  • North Pole Adventures, [6]. Offers standard as well as not so standard North Pole packages from special honeymoon deals to overland ski crossings to vodka tasting at 40 degrees below zero. Flights take off from Moscow and Frankfurt. Trips average about €10,000 per person, although honeymooners enjoy a two for the price of one deal.

By sea[edit]

There are two commercial sea vessels making regular trips to the North Pole, the nuclear-powered Russian ice-breaker Yamal, and 50 Years of Victory, operated by the Murmansk Shipping Company. They depart from Murmansk (tour packages beginning in Helsinki and in Moscow), making several two-week journeys in the Summer (when the ice is easier to get through). Yamal is equipped with 50 cabins and suites with private bathrooms and exterior windows, fine dining, heated indoor pool, gym, library, etc. 50 Years of Victory, the largest icebreaker ever built, has 64 cabins in five categories. Voyages are booked by a variety of tour operators (including some of the air-excursion outfits, plus several others), generally at about US$18,000-US$25,000 per person (double occupancy). Vessels are taken on charter from the Russian government and are operated only by two companies in the world:

  • Poseidon Expeditions, [7].
  • Quark Expeditions, [8].

There are also agents who resell these voyages:

  • Adventure Life, [9].
  • Arctic Direct, [10].
  • Journeys International, [11].
  • Polar Cruises, [12].

Get around[edit]

Crosscountry skis and dogsleds are about the only viable transportation option near the North Pole; staying with your tour group is advisable.

See[edit][add listing]

The ice terrain at the North Pole tends to be rather flat, though some interesting formations of snow and ice can be found. There's only one protracted sunrise and sunset each year (which will not be during your visit). Tour operators stick a sign pole into the ice, but that's unofficial and purely for photographic purposes.

Despite their name, polar bears don't usually venture this far north (preferring the southern "coastal" parts of the Arctic ice cap, with better swimming opportunities.)

Do[edit][add listing]

There are few formal recreational opportunities at the North Pole. Each year, however, there is a marathon foot race called the North Pole Marathon organized by Polar Running Adventures. Adventurous types may try searching for Santa Claus but it is highly unlikely you'll be able to locate him, as blizzards are common in most areas.

Buy[edit][add listing]

It is impossible to buy 'anything' at the North Pole; you should bring 'everything' you might need for your expedition. A small variety of beer, vodka, and whiskey is available in the Camp Barneo dining tent, at reasonable cost given the location (e.g. $5 for a beer, in 2013), as are souvenir t-shirts, until they sell out.

Eat[edit][add listing]

You or your tour operator will have to bring along all of your food. Celebratory caviar is traditional upon arriving at the Pole itself. Camp Barneo, if you stay there, serves three hot meals each day, at specific times. Typical fare is basic, including mashed potatoes, stew, sliced lunch meat and cheese, crackers, pretzels, and coffee/tea. There is usually another item or two for variety.

Drink[edit][add listing]

The North Pole's ocean-formed ice contains salt, making it unsuitable for drinking, even when thawed. BYOB. Celebratory champagne is traditional; vodka at -40°C while standing on an iceberg is also quite appropriate.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Although there are no permanent accommodations at or near the Pole, temporary camps can be set up, providing heated shelter for one or more nights. Barneo has semi-permanent heated shelters, which are commonly used by expeditions spending more than a day on the ice.

Stay Safe[edit]

Dress warmly and travel outside in the cold only when necessary. Temperatures can reach the negatives easily and long exposure to the cold can lead to hypothermia and frostbite. Also be aware of your camp's location, bring a second person with you to help if something goes wrong, and notify your travel group before exploring so they know when to send a search party.

Get out[edit]

As the North Pole is the northernmost point on Earth, it is impossible to go further north. Everyone heads south, typically via the same expedition team they arrived with.

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