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The background on this page is
a photo of the sea ice near the island of Svalbard, Norway
from about 20,000 Ft. by C. Jeff Dyrek.
This Page is your guide to the North Pole Expedition Exhibit 2003.
On the North Pole
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North Pole Expedition 2003
|Western Illinois Man makes second trip
to the North Pole.
This is my version of the expedition, everything is true to the best of my knowledge. C. Jeff Dyrek.
After three grueling weeks in an icy white world, the 2003 North Pole Expedition returns to Illinois. It is interesting that, no matter how much planning is put into an expedition, it never works out, truly, to the original plan. So to put it more clearly, this years expedition to the pole had many twists from the original agenda, making it, actually, in a big way, the worlds most ultimate theme park ride that creates a different adventure every time you ride it.
The expedition left Chicago on April 10th and returned on May 1st. We had forty six people, including five kids, all from eight countries on this expedition, making it the largest commercial expedition to ever visit the pole at one time. This years expedition met in the city of Longyearbyen, Norway, which is on the island of Spitsbergen located deep in the Arctic Ocean, far above the mainland of Norway and just seven hundred miles south of the north pole. The original plan was to go through Siberia, but, because of the changing politics of Russia and the Siberian government, at the last minute, we were diverted through Norway's island of Spitsbergen.
Spitsbergen's city of Longyearbyen is one of the most unique cities in the world. I call it "The city with a smile." because everywhere you go, in the city, everyone has a smile on their face and a polite gesture to go along with it. The city was founded by an American named John Munro Longyear who both founded the city and started a coal mine there in 1906. The city's name, Longyearbyen, literally means, Longyear Town, in Norwegian. It has a population of about 2500 people and boast the worlds most northern Post Office, Bank, University, and just about anything else that you can think of. In the winter months, Longyearbyen is only accessible by aircraft making the cost of all consumer products very expensive. For example: four liters of milk cost about nine dollars. Can you imagine paying nine dollars for a gallon of milk here in the States? One of the most unique laws Longyearbyen, is that, if you are caught out of the city limits, without a gun, you could be fined and/or put in jail. A very strange law indeed, but because of the fact that the polar bear population living on the island outnumbers the human population by two to one, it is extremely dangerous to leave town without a gun, and, obviously, they made that law for everyone's safety.
First Flight to Camp Borneo
All of the expedition members grouped up, and, so far, the expedition was gong as planned. We had the usual banquet and subsequent parties, then, after a good nights rest, we were off for the pole. Because of the size of the expedition group, we had to split it up into two flights. This was the year of the worlds first Marathon Competition on the North Pole so we put the runners, skiers and support personnel on the first flight led by Robert Russell, from Atlanta, and Curtis Lieber from Florida. This first group boarded the Russian jet, an Antinov An-74 STOL aircraft. STOL stands for Short Take Off and Landing which gives this super high tech jet aircraft the ability to land on Camp Borneo's very rough, very short, all ice runway. After boarding, the expedition members then waited for six more hours before the local weather was clear enough for them to take-off on their flight to the base camp at Borneo.
The second group was led by me, Jeff Dyrek, and was comprised mainly of tourist, who were to stay on the pole for three days and then return. After our plane was supposed to return from Camp Borneo, our second group went to the airport and waited there for about four hours when we finally found out that our Russian plane, because of bad weather, was forced to fly to Trosmo on the mainland of Norway. In other words, our flight, for the moment, was canceled, forcing us to return and stay another pleasurable night in the Radisson Hotel in Longyearbyen.
To see the reason for the delay more clearly, this is the how north pole expeditions work. Somewhere in the beginning of April the Russians fly a series of flights to the pole carrying workers, equipment and a bulldozer slung under one of the two helicopters. They, then, use the bulldozer to build a runway on the ice, which is only six feet thick and floating on more than twelve thousand feet of water. Next, the Russians set up the tents, cafeteria and other necessary survival equipment. And finally, the expedition members fly to the pole. The one thing that is really different about this kind of a base, than any other, is that the runway will crack and then break apart or the weather will go from fantastic, to you can't see anything in a just matter of minutes or the temperature goes from a brisk -14 to an extreme -40, so making an aircraft schedule and keeping to it, are two different things. However, this time, the reason our second group couldn't go to the pole wasn't the polar base at Camp Borneo, however, it was because the weather in Longyearbyen had become very bad with extreme turbulence and low visibility, preventing our takeoff. Safety is always the primary concern.
Now that, since our plane went to Trosmo, and being a Russian aircraft, politics came into play when it landed in a foreign country. Because the pilots had no Norwegian Visas, they were not allowed to leave the plane. Also, because the Russian Ruble could not be exchanged and the Norwegians would not accept the Ruble as payment, there was no way for the aircraft to get refueled . All I can say is, thank God for satellite phones and the Visa Gold Card. We soon contacted the expedition leader, Robert Russell, who was on the pole at that time, and he's the one who had to pay for the jet fuel so our expedition could continue.
Second Flight to Camp Borneo
Now that the plane was refueled and everything was taken care of, and both combined with the fact that the weather had cleared up the next day, we again boarded the jet headed for Borneo. This time everything went great. It took us two and a half hours to get to the all ice runway of Camp Borneo, which is located about sixty miles from the pole. Much to our surprise, the runway was located about five miles from the actual base camp. We found out that the reason for this was because the first runway, that was built at the base camp, cracked, split, then was pushed back together forming high pressure ridges, making it impossible to, either, land an airplane on the runway or repair the runway. After landing and leaving the Antonov 74, our group boarded a Russian , Mi-8, heavy lift helicopter for the final five mile journey to base camp.
Just before our helicopter took off, the engines were started and the aircraft began shaking and making incredible noises from its huge jet engines which were located just a couple of feet above our heads. Looking around, I noticed that one of the five kids, that was on our trip, started to cry in total fear. His dad had to hold his little ten year old son very closely, and just wait the tribulations to pass, there was nothing else to do. The helicopter started to vibrate as the power was shifted to the large five bladed propeller and the throttle was increased. For a little kid, this is a fantastic experience, and as I looked around, I realized that it was a fantastic experience for the adults too. Everyone's eyes were very big and no-one was talking. Our lives were, literally, in the hands of the Russian pilots and crew as we flew across the frozen landscape.
This five mile flight only took a couple of minutes, so soon after we took off, everyone's hair raising experience was over and we were safely at base camp. The temperature at Camp Borneo was a brisk -23 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chills exceeding -50 degrees. Now this seems cold, but for North Pole standards and because of the super warm moon suits we were wearing, it was a pretty nice day. Normally, temperatures at this time of year can easily drop below -40 with wind chills down to -100 degrees so we were very lucky. The base camp humidity was about 29% which is much higher than I thought was possible at these low temperatures. The sky was clear and the ice appeared as beautiful blue and green jewel like formations surrounded with every shade of gray to blue snow that you can imagine. It was very beautiful and awe inspiring, unlike any other place on the planet earth.
As we walked from the helicopters, we were told that there was a new crack that formed. This crack was between the base camp living quarters and the landing pad where we landed. Russian Ground Crew members had to help everyone exit out of the helicopter and they also had to help us across the cracked ice too. There are basically three different ice formations that you see on the North Pole. They are Flat Ice Areas, cracks that are called Leads and Pressure Ridges. A Lead is where the ice cracks and separates allowing the water to come to the surface. These Leads can be over a thousand feet wide and a hundred miles long. Pressure Ridges are large areas of floating ice pushed high into the air forming long ridges of ice debris. These ridges are formed from the extreme pressures being exerted on various sides of the ice floe. In our case, the lead that we crossed was about eight feet wide.
The Russians did a lot of work to make everyone comfortable. They already had all of the tents set up with large kerosene heaters to keep them warm. They had a cafeteria tent set up with a cappuccino machine, an orange juice machine, and hot food for everyone. This is a big difference from last years expedition where we had to carry all of our own food all the way from Moscow, across Siberia, to the Severnaya Zemilya, (Severe Land) islands and on to the pole. Then we had to set up everything ourselves no matter how bad the conditions were. However, this years expedition was just about like going to a hotel floating on the ice.
Before being assigned to our tents, the Base Commander gave us a long lecture about the hazzards on the pole and the safety requirements and procedures in a polar ice base. The first thing that he told us was that this is an extremely dangerous place As he continued speaking, he told us that there are nine beds in a tent and that everyone should form up into groups. We were also told that anyone who wished to leave the base camp, would be required to sign out on the clipboard hanging in the command tent and sign back in on return. On this clipboard we were to list the time that we left and when our expected return time would be. He went on to say that if we were fifteen minutes late from our expected time of return, that he would send out a search team looking for us, and charge us for the search effort that ensued. We were also required to have a rifle in every tent and also have a rifle if we left the base camp. The reason for this is that the dog sled leader, named Dag, spotted a polar bear near the camp and when a bear is this far north, he would be very hungry and extremely dangerous.
Ice Movement on the North Pole
It was the second night on the pole
now and I was in the cafeteria talking to the Russian galley crew.
As I was talking and eating a snack I left my GPS sitting on the table
and watched the movement of the ice. We were traveling at a steady
two tenths of a mile per hour. Suddenly, I noticed that the
direction changed sharply about thirty degrees and we were now traveling
at only one tenth of a mile an hour. Then, just as suddenly as the
first change, we changed back to the original course at two tenths of a
mile an hour again. This sudden change in direction and speed were
caused by a new lead opening up just fifty feet from our camp. The
lead from a day before froze over and was solid, terra firma ,again but
the new lead that opened up was even wider exposing a much larger area
of open water.
It is not difficult to see that everyone had a fantastic adventure and a great time on the 2003 North Pole Expedition. This is really, if you think about it, the worlds most ultimate theme park adventure that takes you to the top of the world.
I left Chicago on April tenth and returned on May first, making a total of about three weeks of extreme adventure, but I couldn't have done it without the help of my sponsors. In Macomb, Illinois, my sponsors were Nelson's Clothing, the Hong Kong Express, Roger Smith at Smith Aviation, Pauline's Leather, River Bend Construction, JC Auto Parts, and Stan Speer and Family. My sponsor from Avon was John's Cycle and Marine. Every one of these people helped me either financially or with a lot of work putting my equipment together, or with helping take care of my 87 year old mom who was left at home.
You can see all of the pictures of the expedition at http://www.YellowAirplane.com and pressing the 2003 North Pole Summary link on the home page. If anyone wants anymore information or would like to join me, next April, for the 2004 Expedition they can also visit the Yellow Airplane web site and contacting the webmaster, which is me.
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