To The Pole
I actually wake up at 5.30 a.m. but knowing it’s going to be a long day, I rest until 6 a.m. I then shave and shower, dress quietly and finally wake Harry at 6.30 a.m. It’s misty outside and snowing slightly but Harry says it’s going to lift. That’s good enough for me. We can shortly take off from here and then the big question is whether it’s going to be clear enough to land at the Hazen airstrip. But I’m very optimistic. I try to wake Fabian and Erik but they don’t want to get up and prefer to wait for the 7 a.m. call with the weather conditions, to definitely know if we will be able to take-off. I go down on my own to have breakfast; plenty of toast, scrambled eggs and coffee. I’m then told Luis has shot his bear. It is disappointing news but part of the Inuit/Arctic life I suppose. The others also appear finally but no telephone call comes through with the weather conditions. It’s a nail-biting time.
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Then at 7.20 a.m. the telephone rings. We all look across at each other but at first no one moves. Slowly, nonchalantly, Harry gets up from the table still clutching a piece of toast. ‘Hurry up, quickly, before they ring off,’ I want to scream, but keep my words contained. I don’t want to risk antagonising Harry again. It’s all up to him. Although the weather will decide, in this instance I know it’s Harry who will decide. The telephone is upstairs on the landing, and it seems like ages before he returns. His face seems to show disappointment. I hold my breath. Then he announces, without the glimmer of a smile, that it’s clear enough to take off and to land at Hazen. An involuntary cheer goes up from the four of us. It’s very exciting news!
Almost in a flash of inspiration I suddenly realise Harry’s real situation, what’s going on inside his mind. He’s been flying these Pole trips regularly since the 1970s. There’s no excitement for him anymore and every new flight is one he would rather not do. He’d jump at any chance not to have to undertake yet another one. I guess any expectation of mists, fog or high winds would be seized upon as a reason not to go this time around. Whether Resolute Bay had been closed in or not yesterday and then re-opened or not, I am now convinced that if I hadn’t persisted with Fabian in taking over the arrangements and contacting Ken Borek Air and being insistent with them, Harry wouldn’t have flown back in the evening. We certainly wouldn’t have him here with us now getting ready to depart. His personal flight times would involve him flying around one and a half hours from Resolute, two and a half hours from Grise Fiord, then possibly four hours from Camp Hazen to the North Pole, plus fuelling and preparation time, then all the flights back. Certainly a tremendous pressure on him not to fit in yet another series of similar journeys, probably the last ones of the season. I wonder how many people may have been disappointed in the past, when he had decided it was impossible to fly on. Much later Penny confirms my thoughts by telling me she was also convinced that only my intervention made the final flight legs happen.
We quickly rush upstairs to our rooms to put on all our layers of undergarments and our thickest clothes and bring down our bags. I put the secret I’ve carried with me all through the Arctic under my top T-shirt, held in place by my heavy coat. A few quick goodbyes all round but we are very keyed up and our thoughts are already far ahead. Fortunately Luis is still sleeping so we don’t have to say goodbye to him. Assuming he has bagged a polar bear I certainly wouldn’t have been able to congratulate him on his kill. I decide it’s as well to go to the toilet before we set off. I am, of course, well layered up and in my haste had put on one of the pairs of underpants back to front. Therefore I have to take off about eight layers first. Better before we start out on the plane, even if there are facilities on board, which is doubtful, or even more so when we land. Everyone has started walking to the tiny airstrip and I am left far behind. Fortunately Cecil is still to start out and has the luggage buggy attached to his ski-doo. I have learned my lesson with him, if you don’t ask you don’t get he never volunteers anything I quickly ask if I can ride pillion on his ski-doo. He reluctantly agrees. We sail smoothly past the others, they wave but I don’t suggest we carry their hand baggage. Of course it means we are the first to arrive at the plane and I help in loading up.
We take-off at 8.15 a.m. We are really on our way! It is immensely exciting even though in flying time alone we are still seven hours away from the Pole. Our take-off is over a range of mountains; the scene is rugged, powerful, extraordinarily beautiful, to me it is an exquisite sight but the mountains have seen it all before, so many times. I need to sleep and doze for over an hour. Then I wake and decide to write down some notes. There are so many thoughts and incidents and I must put them down before I forget or they will become jumbled. I take the top off my pen and ink explodes everywhere. Probably a combination of the constant shaking of the tiny plane and the air pressure. I mop it up and continue with a pencil. We are now flying high above the clouds and there is just a pale sun reflected across them. Through occasional breaks I sometimes see the endless, white, flattened plains and plateaux beneath us. Finally we arrive at the Camp Hazen airstrip at 10.45 a.m. We are not visiting the base itself, there isn’t any time. We must keep tightly to the schedule, otherwise we won’t make it. We refuel and additionally heave on board two huge drums of spare fuel. That’s mostly the key to surviving out here, being able to fly on in time and comparative safety, particularly if the weather changes, as so often happens.
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