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Pole to Pole

Day 1: The North Pole

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThis time there is no pull-out. Six hours after leaving Eureka Base on Ellesmere Island, Canada, the wheels and skis of the Twin Otter find the ground, bounce, hit, bounce, hit, swerve, slide and finally grip the slithery hummocked surface. We are down and safe. I check the time on my watch, and realize that at this point it could be whatever time I wanted it to be. Japanese time, Indian time, New York time or London time - they're all the same at the Pole. It is ten o'clock at night in London.

Home seems impossibly far away as we step out onto a rough base of ice and snow. It looks secure but water channels only a few yards away and the fact that Russ will not risk switching off the aircraft engines in case the ice should split reminds us that this is a lethal landscape. Finding the highest point in the vicinity - a pile of fractured ice-blocks, soaring to three and a half feet, I plant our 'North Pole' (kindly loaned to us by the Canadians) and we take our photos. The air is still, and a watery sun filters through grey-edged cloud giving the place a forlorn and lonely aspect. The temperature is minus twenty-five Centigrade. This is considered warm.

After an hour's filming, we defer to Russ's polite impatience and return to the aircraft. Concerned about fuel, he takes off quickly and unceremoniously, as if the North Pole were just another bus stop.

We have planned to follow the thirty degree East meridian all the way to the South Pole, but straight away there are problems. There is only enough fuel left to reach the nearest airstrip, a Danish base in Greenland. Even this is 480 miles away, and beyond radio range at the moment. We have no option but to fly in hope.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 1
  • Country/sea: Arctic Ocean
  • Place: North Pole
  • Book page no: 12

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