At 13:15 on 23 April 2010, my team mates and I dropped our sled harnesses and took our skis off one last time and stuck them upright in the snow at exactly 90 degrees latitude. A few moments later it had already moved and we scampered forward to capture the moment again, to look down at our GPS screen showing 90.00 00 000 000.
The first thing I have to express is an immense amount gratitude foremost to God for blessing us with good weather and allowing us to pass through one of the harshest environments created. The Arctic could have easily chewed us up and sent us packing back home.
The evening of 22 April we were all in such good spirits. We knew we only had five miles to travel, therefore, not only was the next day due to be our ‘summit’ day, it should also be an easy day. But of course its never that smooth sailing out here. We got a call from Borneo Ice Station saying a huge storm was coming in on the 24th, the ice was breaking up rapidly and therefore Borneo would be dismantled early this year. We had to be picked up the next day early afternoon.
On 23 April we woke up at 6am and found we had drifted south just short of a mile. We therefore had less than five hours to cross six miles, working against a southerly drift. What was supposed to be a relaxed pace turned into an adrenaline packed rush to make it to the Pole before our helicopter came to pick us up. We skied five hours with no breaks. Amazing how elusive a goal can be at the last minute.
Three miles into the ski I was exhausted, soaking wet and cold and I did not want to arrive at the Pole in this mindset, struggling, worried and heart pumping with adrenaline. I wanted to arrive there peaceful, aware, grateful, leaving a lasting memory of the scene around me as I approach the top of the world. In those moments, I could hear the voices of all the friends and family who wrote little notes of encouragement to me in my journal. I could sense a group of people who perhaps were waiting for the next blog post, telling of success. I felt the prayers of my family for my safety and how much diligent love had gone into supporting this attempt.
How then could I not step forward with a great big smile, with this huge force behind me? In those moments, it suddenly stopped being a struggle against time, and I felt like I was skiing, no, floating on wings rather than ice and snow.
The Arctic is alive, and I can’t express how magical it is. I am not the most dramatic of people but that last mile was emotional. Turns out it was similar for my teammates. I watched Rick’s eyes glow with pride as his son Taylor switched sleds with him (taking the heaviest one) and took over the GPS and led us the last mile to the Pole. I thought about how nice it must be to be able to share this journey with family. The ever committed Ian, normally up front, dropped out of site and arrived at the pole last, wanting to savour the moment in private. Keith, my fearless guide, opted to stay standing outside in the freezing cold and appreciate the experience rather than come into the tent we erected while waiting for the helicopter.
When I read the GPS reading of 90 degrees latitude, I remember looking down at my boots and trying to sense the earth moving beneath me. I then made a wide circle around the Pole and announced out loud that I had just gone around the world (bad polar humor)! We then shot a couple of flares and two rounds from the shotgun into the air.
The pole shifted slowly away from us and we stopped chasing it – instead we savored it. I dropped to my knees and looked around. Then pulled out a small ziplock bag of sand from the UAE desert that I had been using for Tayyamum and emptied the sand from my desert that I grew up with and came to be the person I am today, at the very top of the world. My mission was complete.
Each day at camp before departing I would ask Ian where he fancied going that day. He would normally answer something like, “Errrm… I don’t know. Fishing? Swimming? Nah, lets go north.” But at 1:30pm Ian asked me where I fancied going that day. I smiled and said, “Hmm. I’m kind of done with going north. Let’s go south for a change.”
I have more to say, but it is time for me to pause and recover for a day or two.