Geographic North Pole wrap-up: Tom Smitheringales frostbitten thumbs; Weber team in 88°N; and Barneo is open

Geographic North Pole wrap-up: Tom Smitheringales frostbitten thumbs; Weber team in 88°N; and Barneo is open

Posted: Apr 05, 2010 07:55 pm EDT

Tom Smitheringales frostbitten thumbs caused him a lot of pain, so much so that he decided to ask for an evacuation. After several phone calls and some rest he cancelled his decision and is more than ever determined to carry on.

Poor visibility and a southerly drift (2 to 3.5 nautical miles) slowed down progress. Fortunately the wind died down.


The Russian Ice Camp, Barneo, opened on March 30 when the first plane, an Antanov-76, landed on the 1.6 meter thick ice.

On March 16th, the first group of parachute jumpers began their journey from Murmansk to set up Barneo camp near the North Pole. Two MI-8 helicopters made their way to the North. An Ilyushin-76 air dropped fuel at two locations along the way so that the helicopters could refuel.

At the first refueling location the tail of one of the one helicopter hit a pressure ridge. Fortunately nobody was injured. Another helicopter was send as a replacement. When the second load of fuel drums were dropped, a group of men was dropped with the drums so that the helicopters could find the floating refuel drums and to prevent the drums from disappearing in the ocean.

Suitable ice was located for a camp near the North Pole and meanwhile the staff in Longyearbyen on Svalbard was sorting the cargo and preparing it for shipment to Barneo.

In the dispatches on Barneos website they reported that when the ice camp location was identified an Ilyushin-76 flew out from Murmansk and air dropped two tractors needed for the clearing of the located space and building of a landing strip for the aircrafts. Tractor driver - Vasily Vedyanin, jumped with a parachute along with Yury Zharkov, so that they can start the work immediately. They worked around the clock on the landing strip, which is 1500 meter long.

Barneo location April 1: 89° 27 'N, 089° 05'E (about 60 km from the North Pole, and drifting)

Unassisted (No resupplies), Unsupported teams:

Tom Smitheringale - solo, Ward Hunt Island

On April 4, Day 35, Tom phoned his home team and started the conversation with, My thumbs are really quite painful and I'm quite worried about them. I've tried calling Victor at Barneo but I can't get through to his sat phone.

This means he wants an extraction, wrote his home team. Lot of phone calls were made and Ken Borek Air was willing to evacuate Tom. The situation was explained to Tom and after he had time to think, he called back from outside his tent and said, It's beautiful here, I can't leave. I'm not ready to go home yet.

The evacuation was called off. In the latest dispatch Tom reported good weather and that the ice was a bit hard, flat sections interspersed with rows of pressure ridges requiring double hauling and climbing.

Position April 5, Day 36: 85°44.279N, 076°59.091W

Michele Pontrandolfo - solo, Ward Hunt Island Start

News from Michele sent over to ExplorersWeb by Barbara DAndrea is that he is traveling faster and better since he had dropped some extra food.

On April 2 he found thin ice on which it was impossible to walk and he stopped. In the morning of April 3 he started, traveled 12 km, then he had to stop again for the same reason. He was terribly angry and nervous. During the night there was a 3.2 km drift to south.

Fortunately on April 4 the temperature was lower and he was able to travel 21 km [11.34 nm] in ten hours!

On his Italian website Michele said he had to swim across a few open leads in his survival suit and it is exhausting getting onto the ice on the other side without someone helping.

Micheles gear resupply, to replace his broken skis and boots, is scheduled for April 10, a decisive few day until then, he stated.

Latest position: 85° 09.874N, 075° 37.612W

Amelia Russell and Dan Darley - Cape Discovery Start (McClintock Inlet)

Dan said during the day they aim to maintain a steady pace, the Polar Plod. He said they don't have enough food to go fast so need to operate at a solid fat burning level otherwise we will bonk as cyclists call it.

This means plodding along over whatever terrain there is - the only exception is pressure which can require massive effort to get through and leave one quite depleted.

He added they had finished their last fuel meal, We ditched some a couple days ago and used up most of our spare food bag (from the early weeks when we ate less).

Amelia said it is pretty tough staying motivated when they are cold, tired, hungry and when it is cloudy again. She said if they don't get up in the freezing tent each morning, their position on their map won't magically shift. Have a look at their Contact5 map on their website.

Amelia also said that the five and a half weeks has seen a big change to their bodies. We're both absolutely exhausted and every day is a struggle to push on, I can't imagine dragging those two heavy sleds we had at first. The combination of hard physical exercise for 11+ hours a day, lack of sleep, hunger and constant cold is very wearing.

Dan and Amelias home team gave an overview of their progress on April 4: They had 23 days to get to the North Pole, with 197 nautical miles to cover, which requires 8.59 miles per day. They are now covering more distance per day than the required average to finish by their target date, assured the home team.

Listen to a recording of Amelias footsteps on the ice in The Polar Plod dispatch. Recording was send over by Contact5.

Position April 3: 86.8745N, 082.6130W

Assisted (Resupplied), Unsupported teams:

Christina Franco - Cape Discovery Start

Heading home. See evacuation report in links.

Richard Weber (guide), Tessum Weber, David and Howard Fairbank - Cape Discovery Start

The team managed to do a degree in four days, but then a northerly wind slowed their progress and pushed them backwards.

Howard said in his blog that they are trying to arrive at the North Pole in under 49 days. Weight of the sleds is one of the keys, and we have dumped some food and all excess clothing. One sleeping bag has been dumped, and we decided rather than dump all excess food we have increase daily rations so we can push harder on the marches. We have dumped some food, more soon, and then even some fuel will go.

He added he love this race / go as fast as we can mindset. I wanted that from the beginning and now have it; it just makes the whole thing that much more challenging and exciting. It has caused some stress in the team, with not all individual goals aligned, but after a little hiccup Richard's leadership has all members totally committed to the goal.

The Weber home team reported that the team has increased their traveling time to 10 hours and explained how they are managing their time. They take four 10 minutes breaks a day. They start their day with a 3 hours march and take their first break. Then they decrease their marching time by a half hour before the next break: 3h march-break / 2.5h march-break / 2h-break / 1.5h-break / 1h march and they are done for the day!

Position April 5: 88°01'06N, 085°48'07 W

Sarah McNair-Landry (guide), Linda Beilharz and Rob Rigato - Ward Hunt Island

Yesterday the team traveled 9.04 nm in 9.25 hours. The weather was sunny with a light wind from the east. The temperature averaged about -30°C.

We had some hard snow pans to cross in the morning, reported the team, but most of the day was on soft snow and jumbled, blocky ice rubble. We had our skis on and off many times during the day to get over the pressure ridges.

Position April 4, Day 36: 86.70083N, 074.67533W

Eric Larsen, Antony Jinman an Darcy St Laurent - Cape Discovery Start

There has been an ongoing debate as to the best navigation styles, said Eric. Darcy likes to stop, unhook from his sled, climb up on some ice and scout the route ahead. For my part, I rarely if ever scout any more. Instead, I ski head up, scanning the horizon and seize clear route opportunities as they arise. AJ's style is halfway between Darcy and I.

Eric said they use a compass to navigate with because it doesn't generally freeze. Using a compass, for them, is faster and saves on battery power, too.

But they use both. We check our bearing and position with a GPS and navigate with a compass. Each day we check our declination (the difference between magnetic north and true north) on our GOS and adjust accordingly.

Position April 4: 86° 59.247N, 079° 34.666'W

Partial expedition, 85°N to 90°N

Assisted (Resupplied), Unsupported
Ann Daniels, Martin Hartley, Charlie Paton

The team received a resupply with food and gear, also new socks and glove liners. It makes quite a difference in their moral said the team.

Charlie said in a voice report that there has been a distinct lack of sastrugi on this years trek, normally a common snow feature of the Arctic landscape.

The 24-hour sun

Wayne Davidson, a Meteorological Observer in Resolute Bay told ExplorersWeb that the reporting of the 24-hour sun in the previous wrap-up was a few days late, highly likely due to clouds at midnight.

North Pole current weather is dominated by a high pressure anticyclone on the Russian side of the Pole, making a singular cold temperature "North Pole" off the true Pole towards Russia, Canadian Polar side is extremely warm.

Wayne continued, All time warm temperature records must abound. This phenomena of a dominant high near Russia is not so rare. But its causing good skiing very cold conditions near the Pole which is not a bad thing considering all the expeditions heading North from Canada, usually ice is thinner and more fluid on the Russian side, even when it warms up, this lasting High pressure will leave a better ending ice field to travel on since the Ice at the Pole usually comes from Russia.

Links to:
Polar Rules and Definitions
Polar Statistics
What is solo?

Links: Canada to Geographic North Pole (90°N)

Unassisted (no resupplies), Unsupported:
Tom Smitheringale - solo, Australia
Michele Pontrandolfo - solo, Italy
Amelia Russell and Dan Darley - UK

Assisted (Resupplied), Unsupported:
Christina Franco - UK/Italy
Eric Larsen, Antony Jinman and Darcy St Laurent - (Erics website) USA, UK, Canada
Antony Jinmans website, UK
Richard Weber (guide), Tessum Weber, David and Howard Fairbank
Howard Fairbanks blog, South Africa
Sarah McNair-Landry (guide), Linda Beilharz and Rob Rigato - Canada, Australia

Lake Baikal
Vasek Sura and Pavel Blazek - Czech Republic
Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab - Canada
Lake Baikal Winter Cycle Circumnavigation blog
Lake Baikal Winter Cycle Circumnavigation website
Pacific Environment

Other Arctic expeditions:
Ann Daniels (leader), Martin Hartley, Charlie Paton - Catlin Arctic Survey team, 85°N to 90°N, UK, Assisted (Resupplied), Unsupported
Jim McNeill and 2011 Ice Warrior Arctic Pole team - UK
Jim McNeills blog - UK
Russian Ice Station Barneo


Image by Martin Hartley courtesy Martin Hartley, SOURCE
Amelia: Some pesky Easter snow bunnies turned the treadmill on at high speed last night and we lost almost 2nm. Image sent over Contact5 (click to enlarge)
courtesy Dan Darley and Amelia Russell, SOURCE
Richard and Tessum (father and son) taking a power nap during a 10 minute break. Image over Contact5 (click to enlarge)
Image by Howard Fairbank, SOURCE
Tom: It's beautiful here, I can't leave. I'm not ready to go home yet. (click to enlarge)
Image by Tom Smitheringale, SOURCE
Two tractors were airdropped near the North Pole to build the Russian Ice Camp, Barneo (click to enlarge)
courtesy Ice Camp Barneo, SOURCE
The ice base, Barneo, March 31, 2010 (click to enlarge)
courtesy Ice Camp Barneo, SOURCE
First landing of an Antanov-74 on ice, March 30, 2010 (click to enlarge)
courtesy Ice Camp Barneo, SOURCE