Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Russians put Arctic Expedition on Ice

The expedition to reach the Geographical North Pole that included Gibraltar based businessman John Harrison, did not get under way due to a whole range of problems with and between the Russian authorities.

The expedition group arrived at the forward base in Spitzbergen on Friday April 2 and after travelling all day were greeted by our expedition leaders with the devastating news that the Russians had withdrawn all helicopter rescue and support services from the Polar region. Furthermore, they had not established their weather monitoring station which is set up under an international treaty for the month of April.

There were only 48 individuals going to the North Pole this year, from all over the world and anyone who had started their attempt before the April 2 was airlifted off the ice and readers may have seen in the papers or on the BBC news that this included Ann Daniels who was attempting to be the first female to undertake a solo crossing from the Russian side. She, understandably, was devastated.

“Nearly all of the 48 people were also at Spitzbergen and I was privileged to rub shoulders with two Americans who last year had successfully ‘summited’ Everest and were now doing the same thing as us! Other people there was like a who’s who in Polar exploration! ‘Political Meltdown’ was what we have called our predicament. The frustrating thing about all of it was there was nothing we could do. We, as everyone had, had already paid the Russians in advance for their rescue and pick up services and thankfully we took out insurance to cover all expedition losses,” explained John by email yesterday

Their food supplies, which amounted to a staggering 900,000 calories (20 days supply between us) were donated to the Norwegian Red Cross.

“Not to be deterred, we undertook three days of testing our kit and clothing in what I can only describe as the most hostile environment I have ever experienced or seen.

The temperature was down to -51.5 degrees! In this temperature, it was essential to keep all parts of the body covered to keep frostbite away. I did take off my 3 layers of gloves for 30 seconds to see what it was like and I was surprised to feel how numb my fingers became in such little time!

On a positive note, our kit and clothing performed very well indeed and after a 9 hour session on the ice it was clear that our fitness training had paid off well,” he said.

“We knew that such a trip would not be considered as a ‘walk in the park’ and that we would have many obstacles outside of our control. We knew the weather would be one and we had planned for this.

The Russians, on the other hand we knew we could not plan for and at the end of the day they let us down. Postponing the Expedition was a major blow to us and all of you who were kind enough to support the charity.”

John says that they have re-scheduled the expedition to the same time next year as April is the only month when conditions allow any attempt to reach the North Pole.
April 2006 ........ round 2!!

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