Monday, July 16, 2018


We’ve had a lot of people ask us questions about our latest journey.  Here goes!

What time zone is it at the North Pole?

When our ship left Murmansk, Russia, the crew kept the same time zone (GMT+3) all the way up to the pole and back, so they didn’t have to make unnecessary adjustments.  Interestingly, as passengers, we were given a schedule that was two hours earlier (GMT+1) so it wouldn’t conflict with ship operations.  The concept of time becomes meaningless at the North Pole, anyway, because all time zones converge, and the sun is up 24-hours a day!

How cold was it?

During our trip, the average high was 32°F and the average low was 28°F.  Not bad at all.  The wind chill, however, at times made it feel like single digits.  Winter is a different story, but it’s also dark all the time and not much fun.

Is there an actual pole there?

Nope.  We hoped to see one of those red and white barber poles with a sign, but all we saw was snow, ice and water.  If someone had planted one, within an hour it would no longer be exactly at 90° latitude, because of pervasive wind and ocean currents.  

Does anyone live there?

While indigenous people do live in the nearby Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, and Russia, no one other than Santa has ever made a permanent home at the North Pole.  The ice is constantly moving, making it nearly impossible to live there.  As recently as 2012, Russian scientists built a temporary research station, but had to evacuate when the ice floe it was on started to break apart.

Did you see any penguins?

No, penguins only live in the southern hemisphere.  Meanwhile, polar bears are only in the northern hemisphere.  It’s a good thing they don’t share the same habitat, otherwise there would be no penguins left!

What were your accommodations like?

Since the 50 Years of Victory is a working icebreaker, luxury is not a priority.  But the facilities are clean, practical, and are more than adequate for a journey no other type of ship could attempt.  There actually is a workout area with a pool and sauna, a gift shop, a library, a proper dining room and several bars!

Dining room
Typical stateroom

Typical bathroom

What did you eat on board?

We assumed Borscht, Beef Stroganoff and Chicken Kiev might be on the menu, but we did not expect the variety and quality of entrees that were available to us each day.  Filet mignon, lobster, Russian caviar, duck, reindeer, a variety of fish including grouper, salmon, halibut, monkfish, ocean perch and sea bream, and a wonderful assortment of soups and desserts.  Plus - wine, beer, champagne and spirits.  Na Zdorovie! 

Did you notice any evidence of Global Warming?

That’s a great question.  Standing in slush at the top of the world was baffling and actually a bit scary, even with up to 9 feet of solid ice below us.  We were told it wasn’t that way when the first ice breaker, Arktika, reached the same spot in 1977.  Aboard our ship, the crew is absolutely aware of changes to the environment, which can affect their very livelihood - in the radio room, next to the bridge, there are minimum sea ice charts showing an average of 13.2 percent decline in every decade since that initial journey.  In the near future, according to our colleagues at NOAA, we may no longer need icebreakers to reach the North Pole by sea.

You mentioned this trip is expensive.  How much does it cost?

This particular trip costs an eye-watering $37,000 per person, on average.  Since Quark Expeditions is one of our broadcast partners, we were their guests and did not have to pay the fee.  Of course, it was no vacation - we did work an average of 12 hours a day for 16 straight days.   

Who owns the North Pole?

According to international law, nobody owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it.  In 2007, Russia tried to claim the seabed under the pole when it sent the MIR-1 submersible, piloted by Anatoly Sagalevich, to the ocean floor with a titanium tube containing the Russian flag.  Incidentally, we’ve had the honor of working with Anatoly and to this day, his business card is the only one we’ve ever seen that says, “Hero of Russia” - his country’s highest honor, which he received after completing this historic dive.

Which is colder - the North Pole or the South Pole?

The South Pole is much colder than the North Pole.  The South Pole sits on top of a very thick ice sheet, which itself sits on solid rock. The surface of the ice sheet is more than 9,000 feet in elevation--more than a mile and a half above sea level.  By comparison, the North Pole rests in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, where the surface of floating ice rides only a foot or so above the surrounding sea.  Antarctica is by far the highest, coldest, windiest and driest continent on Earth.

Did Bill ever locate his luggage?

Yes, his bag was waiting for him when our charter flight landed in Helsinki.  Then he had to pack his new wardrobe into it without incurring overweight charges!  If you’ve forgotten who Bill is, be sure to go back to the earliest entries in our journal.

How did you celebrate Independence Day?

We kind of forgot it was the 4th of July until that evening, when we found our wait staff dressed in traditional outfits, dancing and singing after announcing it was “Russian Heritage Night” on the ship.  That’s when we said, “hey, wait a minute . . .”  Coincidence?  I don’t think so!

How many people have been to the North Pole?

According to ship manifests, exploration logs and official transportation documents, we are among less than 34,000 people to have visited the Geographic North Pole.  Since the first verified landing by a Soviet scientific team in April 1948, 70 years ago, that’s an average of fewer than 485 people per year.