English 29

North Pole

“Mine at last,” declared a triumphant Robert Peary on April 6, 1909 as he planted the American flag firmly in the arctic ice at 90 degrees North. Peary’s discovery marked the end of 15 years of attempts to reach the North Pole. A century later, adventurers are still powerless to resist it’s1 magnetism; the idea of traveling over the frozen ice of the Arctic Ocean to the northernmost confines of the earth appeals to the pioneering spirit of a select few each year.2

In April 2001, twelve women ranging in age from late twenties to mid-forties were among them. They made up the first female group to make it to the Pole with no one being replaced.3 Michigan State University professors Sue Carter, and Frida Waara4 recruited a motley group of teachers, financiers, and journalists, who were guided by Canadians Jennifer Buck and Josee Auclair. With fitness levels ranging from Olympic rowing champion with5 the occasional hiker, training got underway two years beforehand. But attitude rather than physical strength was finally what defined the group.

The first day of the trip was fraught with6 false starts. The global positioning system (GPS) device they used was left out in the cold too long and gave a false reading. [7] More determined than ever to meet their goal, the team pushed on. The women continued virtually without incident, however, their progress hampered8 only by the large number of leads they encountered. Leads are large rifts in the ice filled with open water, the largest of which was discovered in 1906 of the coast of Greenland.9 Negotiating a way around them without going too far off track proved laborious.

On April 24th, the women arrived, exhaustedly10 but elated, at a patch of floating ice which their GPS identified as 90 degrees North. Most people imagine that the North Pole is marked by a flag, a cabin or some equally tangible object. Not so: the North Pole, unlike its southern counterpart, is frozen ocean and is therefore11 constantly moving. Five minutes after you get there, because of the ice drift, you’re already no longer at the North Pole!

Buck’s first words from the North Pole, which she said through chattering teeth,12 were to her grandmother, who didn’t quite understand where Buck was contacting her from. One of the other team members called a wrong number in Germany. An incredulous German man picked up the phone to a triumphant, “I’m at the North Pole!” He thought it was a prank—until he turned on the news.

Looking back, the most important thing about the trip according to Buck was the goal had been achieved, this by the women who set it.13She’s adamant that almost anybody who has the determination to see through two years of training, can go14 to the North Pole. “The most important thing is attitude. Even people who are physically weak, if they have the right attitude, well, that makes it15 almost irrelevant.”