There was a time, not too long ago, when it was nearly impossible for an average person to travel to the North Pole. If you weren't an Arctic explorer there simply was no way to get there. With the advent of polar tourism in the 1990's that all changed, and nowadays there are a few different ways to reach the North Pole. Here they are:
Thanks to a basecamp that exists near the North Pole for several weeks every April it's possible to fly all the way to the North Pole. The Barneo Ice Camp is one of the most unusual basecamps on the planet mostly because it's built on floating ice. It exact position changes on a daily basis with the drift of the ice. On days with heavy drift (caused by currents, wind, tides and the phase of the moon) the camp can drift over 10 miles! This camp has an ice runway and there are a handful of commercial flights to and from the camp every April from Longyearbyen, Norway. From the basecamp travelers reach the North Pole by helicopter, typically a flight of 20-40 minutes each way. The price changes annually but you can expect to pay around €23,000 per person as of 2021. PolarExplorers has been guiding this adventure since 1993. It's a great way to experience the North Pole when you don't have the time, energy or desire to join a longer expedition. Once you're at the North Pole there are a few things to do. Most people bring banners or signs with which they take photos. You can call home to say "I'm at the North Pole!" presuming you have a satellite phone (and BTW, Iridium is the only network that covers the North Pole). You might be able to participate in a citizen science project, you can arrange to skydive from a helicopter, get married, run a marathon, go for a hike, look for leads, etc. Importantly you'll want to stay with a guide for protection from polar bears, and also for guidance about ice safety. For more information click here, or watch this short video.
2) Ski If you're looking for more of a challenge you can ski to the North Pole. The duration and distance varies depending on which expedition you choose, but the most popular expedition covers the "last degree" of latitude, which is 60 nautical miles (as the crow flies) or 111 km. But skiers at the North Pole rarely travel "as the crow flies." There's a lot of zig-zagging to avoid open water "leads" or "pressure ridges" which are caused when two large pieces of ice collide. And then there's the drift. It's possible to lose mileage during the night if the ice that you are camped on is drifting to the south. You can even lose mileage during the day if there is a southern drift that's faster than you can ski to the north. This frustrating phenomena is called "The Polar Treadmill" and it's one of the greatest challenges of any North Pole expedition. Ski expeditions carry all their supplies in individual sleds that each person pulls. The sleds typically weigh between 60-80 kg for a Last Degree Expedition. PolarExplorers guides Last Degree Ski Expeditions every year. The price for the Last Degree Ski Expedition changes from year to year but you can expect it to be in the ballpark of €48,000 EUR per person as of 2021. Click here for more information about the Last Degree Expedition or watch this short video.
It's possible to ski a much longer distance, all the way from the coast of Canada or Siberia to the North Pole. These expeditions are among the most challenging expeditions on the planet and they have become increasingly difficult to organize due to climate change and a lack of charter air support. PolarExplorers has also guided the Full North Pole Expedition, from the coast of Canada. Click here to get a taste of what it takes to do the Full North Pole Ski Expedition.
3) Dogsled If you like the idea of doing an expedition but want to have dogs join the team you can dogsled to the North Pole. Most people erroneously think that dogsledding will be easier than skiing with an individual sled or pulk. That's not true. The dogsleds, which are packed with all the expedition supplies, are extremely heavy and the dogs often need help getting the sleds up and over ridges or across areas of deep snow. There's very little "riding" on the back of the sled, and if you do get a moment or two to catch a quick ride on the back of the sled you'll soon get cold! Remember, you need to keep moving to stay warm at the North Pole. A lot of the time you are skiing ahead of, or alongside, the dogsled. The dogs make wonderful team mates and it's awesome to work alongside these four legged companions. Dogsledding to the North Pole is more unpredictable than skiing with a sled. Dogsleds can't always go where smaller sleds can go, and having 15-20 dogs in camp be loud and, at times, chaotic. But it's all a part of what makes this expedition so unique. Dogsledding to the North Pole is more expensive than skiing to the North Pole, in part to cover the expense of flying all the dogs (and dogsled equipment and dog food) up to the vicinity of the Pole. The price changes from year to year but you can expect a Last Degree Dogsled Expedition to be in the ballpark of €59,000 per person as of 2020. Click here for more details about dogsledding to the North Pole or watch this short video.
4) Ship During the northern hemisphere's summer months it's possible to take a nuclear powered icebreaker to the North Pole. The durations of the voyages vary but are typically in the ballpark of 2 weeks, usually departing from Murmansk. It's a good option if you enjoy traveling by ship for 10+ days . Be prepared for the pulse of the engines and the ram of the bow when you enter the pack ice. The price changes from year to year but you can expect to pay around $30,000 USD depending on which type of cabin you choose. Request more info here.
(photo by Christopher Michel)
5) Research One of the benefits of studying Earth Sciences is being able to do fieldwork in amazing places. The Barneo Ice Camp is often home away from home to scientists from around the world who are studying sea ice. For more details about this type of research check out this page from the University of Washington's Polar Science Center.
There are a couple other ways to see the North Pole. If you'd like us to write a "part 2" for this blog with more information write us and let us know! Arctic Stewardship - The Arctic and the North Pole are being affected by climate change more quickly than any location on the planet, and travel is a contributor to the rising co2 in the atmosphere. When traveling (anywhere!) please consider your options for offsetting your travel or going one step further by removing carbon from the atmosphere.