Journey to the Top of the World
Just a century ago, no man had ever stood at latitude 90 degrees north. Today the North Pole, a spot that fascinated generations of explorers, is a tourist destination, albeit a rarefied one, and officially part of Norway.
Sailing from the mountainous, heavily glaciated Norwegian island of Spitsbergen or from Murmansk, Russia’s northernmost port, special nuclear-powered icebreaker ships negotiate the Arctic Basin’s ever-changing panorama of wind-polished ice, navigating at speeds of up to 20 knots.
Aboard ship, a series of lectures and presentations by on-board specialists punctuate days when the sun never sets, and passengers stay on the alert for sightings of polar bears, seals, walruses, and Arctic birds. Inflatable expedition boats and helicopters are used for the reconnaissance essential to icebreaker navigation, and also to give passengers the chance to experience the area up close.
When the ship reaches 90 degrees north it finds a suitable parking space, lowers the gangway (ice conditions permitting), and allows passengers to descend for a walkabout, a barbecue, and, for the truly hardy, a quick plunge into the Arctic Sea.
Champagne flows, dancing and celebrating begin, a crew member rides his bike across an ice floe, another begins a game of Arctic golf (using Day-Glo golf balls), and everyone remembers the great names who came to this place through so much adversity. “The Pole at last!” wrote Robert E. Peary on April 6, 1909. ‘The prize of three centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last.”