The North Pole: A Psychological Entity - Page 2

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When's the best time to head north?
There are six months of darkness and six months of light at the North Pole, and you can't go during the darkness. The sun comes up over the horizon at the end of March, but the weather's pretty funny for a couple of weeks. April 1st we go up there and put up the drifting ice base, which stays up until the end of April, and then we have to dismantle it and take it back because by May the sun is up so high that it breaks through the ice and the ice falls apart.

What exactly is the drifting ice base?
The history of the drifting ice bases has to do with the history of polar exploration. In the 1930s, the Russians left six sorry souls at the North Pole, at a location they called "North Pole Base One," and said they'd come back. Of course, the ice moved around and they couldn't rescue the guys because the main boat froze too far south, so the men were left drifting around for two years, until they were eventually found and rescued. Since then, the Russians left men [on research expeditions] in the North Pole every couple of years up until the 1970s. In 1992, we started using the drifting ice bases again, as a landing area for our expeditions.

What kinds of reactions to arriving at the North Pole have you witnessed?
I've seen people break down and cry, I've seen them jump around, everything. Perhaps the oddest thing that I've experienced is someone asking where the bathroom and the showers are. Or asking where the "pole" is—they think that there's this "pole" up there. Even if you put a pole in the ice, the ice floats around, and where that pole was would not be the North Pole.

How do you transport people?
We used to go through Moscow, then into Siberia, and up through the archipelago in Russia, on to the North Pole; but, as a business we try to decrease the flight time, due to the weather window. If the aircraft flies for two hours and during those two hours a whiteout occurs at the drifting ice base, we have to turn around and come back, which is expensive. We've started leaving from Svalbard, the island north of Norway, in the town of Longyearbyen. We pick the clients up at the airport in Longyearbyen, then we fly a special aircraft to the North Pole, an Antonov-74, that has the jets on the top of the wings. It can take off on 800 feet of runway and land on 700 feet of runway—at the drifting ice base you have about 800 feet of runway.

What clothes and gear do you recommend?
We cover all the arctic clothing, the snow pants, and the boots because we just can't take the chance that some hoo-ha brings their dingdong windbreaker up there. We supply all that. We've refined the trips to be a little more comfy for the guests. We've got heated tents, with plywood floors and cots and sleeping bags and a mess tent. But back in the 1990s, we had little two-man tents and you froze in them.

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