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North Pole (2006)

   Tuesday, July 19

At 7:30, the bright sun illuminated the deserted ice, along which crept a layer of fog.

Northern colours
Northern colours View big version
At 9:50, fog, a visibility of 100-200 m, 0 °С, very weak north wind. Coordinates: N88°35'; E39°53'. Speed is 7 knots; direction, 8°.

For the most part, the ice is now of a two-year thickness of 2.5-3.5 m, and it’s more concentrated, but fractures can still be seen. Cracks appear in the ice both parallel and perpendicular to the path of the icebreaker.

The ice floes pile one on top of another, break apart more and more, and turn over. It is then that one can see their thickness and layered structure. Fountains of water gush from the cracks.

On the ice, there are many meltwater puddles of a beautiful turquoise color, and when the cracks pass through a puddle, a current is created in it, and the fresh water flows into the sea in a small waterfall.

Ridges of hummocks
Ridges of hummocks View big version
The ice grows more formidable; our speed has lessened, and we only pass certain zones on the fourth try… All this is not as easy as it seemed at first.

By 15:00 cracks have appeared in the ice, along which we plot our course.  Our speed has increased; now there is hope of reaching the Pole as early as today.

Pre-dinner drinks with the captain of the ship. Wine, appetizers, many questions for the captain, who takes care not to promise anything, but offers hope.

At 1:38, we reached the North Pole, news that was met with general jubilation and the drinking of Champagne. The sun appears; over the Pole, the sky is blue. There is a wall of fog around us. It is as if the place is enchanted…

We decided to take advantage of the weather and fly around the Pole. Our group turned out to be last in line.

All of a sudden, Jan Bryde made the following announcement: “There is a Russian submarine seven miles away from us! And that is not a joke!”  We ran out onto the bridge. The crew is laughing at him: it’s only a piece of dark ice. I look through my binoculars – and it’s a sub, there can be no mistake about that! I went down into the cabin and photographed it from the window. Though it was far away, the new lens allowed me to get a shot of satisfactory quality.

Submarine on the Pole
Submarine on the Pole View big version
Helicopter view (by Richard Chen, Taiwan)
Helicopter view (by Richard Chen, Taiwan) View big version

The helicopter made a flight around the submarine; it showed no signs of life. Yan addressed it via Channel 16 with the words, “Submarine, submarine! This is icebreaker Yamal!. After the third time, the sub finally responded; we invited the submariners to celebrate the arrival at the Pole, but received an assured refusal.

When the ladies from different countries stated inviting them to drink Champagne with us, they refused with evident regret. The information that among us there is a girl from Brazil aroused a real frenzy of delight in the American sailors.

That the sub belongs to the US Navy there is no doubt; though they did not introduce themselves, American pronunciation is easily recognized.

The Navy refused to tell us precisely which sub we saw: “I'm sorry but we do not comment on the movements of our submarines.” Internet searches did not turn anything up either.

   Wednesday, July 20

We stand at anchor a mile away from the North Pole, moored alongside a large ice floe. Calm, 4 °С. The crew has put out tables and barbecue grills and created places for bathing.

After dip
After dip Enlarge photoView big version
We are on the Pole!
We are on the Pole! Enlarge photo

The morning fog has dissipated. Sun, blue sky. The traditional circle dance around the “North Pole 90N” sign.

Swimming in the ocean. It’s not necessary to make a hole in the ice; the space between the icebreaker and the ice floe has created a nice pool. The water burns, the traditional shot of vodka, a second, a terry robe. To bare feet, the snow seems warm… Off with the wet bathing suit! In dry clothes, it gets hot.

Polar desert
Polar desert Enlarge photo
We arrived
We arrived View big version

The floe is covered with a thick layer of firn, under which the water shows through. Hummocks and hunks of ice are everywhere, as well as many meltwater puddles with astonishingly delicious water (the crew filled all the empty canisters). A complete ice cap does not exist even on the Pole – here and there, cracks and air holes can be seen. The ice does not stand in one place, but drifts westward with a speed of 3 miles every 24 hours.

Barbecue, mulled wine, wine, and beer.

The sun above the Pole
The sun above the Pole View big version
Toward a rainbow
Toward a rainbow View big version

At 16:00, the icebreaker shuddered, turned around, and began to retrace its course. We followed the old canal, blocked now by chunks and pieces of ice. The weather is windless, which is why the canal is well-preserved.

By evening, the fog has disappeared completely. The meltwater puddles flash in the sun. They look like countless small lakes in the tundra. Ridges of hummocks divide the ice into zones, the way stone boundaries divide fields in England. Openings in ice appear again, and there are many cracks going in all directions. The midnight sun shines from the stern, and the icebreaker moves toward a spreading rainbow (“mistbow”).

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