North Pole - A Travel Journal by Sharon Keating

Sharon is the Manager of Sales & Client Services at Polar Cruises. Here are her trip notes from her recent North Pole expedition.

"North Pole" – 50 Years of Victory July 31 – August 13, 2017

North Pole voyages are mainly about the ship and the destination, however there is wildlife to encounter as well. Our second night out we encountered a group of bowhead whales and spent the better part of an hour with blows and flukes all around the ship!

The 50 Years of Victory is a 55,000-horse power nuclear ice breaker that can move through ice at 12-15 knots and runs at 19-knots in opened water! It is quite amazing watching the ship slice through the ice from a helicopter high in the air.

In addition to the expected onboard naturalist presentations on the wildlife, history, and ice we would encounter, there were some fun additions. I learned to make a clay polar bear, there was a Russian beer tasting, and sports hour!

The ship boasts a basketball court in addition to a swimming pool, sauna and exercise space. While we were at sea there was at least one intramural game of volleyball, table tennis or some other team sport offered for an hour between passengers and crew. If you were brave enough to get in the pool while the ship was breaking ice you were treated to an other-worldly vibration that engulfed your being!

Ice and wind conditions were good enough to allow my voyage to spend time in Franz Josef Land both before and after the North Pole experience. This Russian archipelago is now a National Park. In addition to remains of historical huts used for the first attempts to reach the North Pole (Cape Tegetthoff), there was amazing scenery with tundra hikes, wildflowers, walrus. As we approached land in the dusk of one evening we encountered hundreds of walruses bobbing and diving in the water. You could see their misty breath and see their large eyes watching you.

Most people struggle to get up each morning to their alarm clocks but it wasn’t difficult at all to get out of bed for several 6:00 am polar bear wake up calls! After donning our gear, we were treated to some very cooperative bears that were as curious about us as we were of them.

With the speed, the ship was making through the ice, we arrived at 90 degrees Geographic North just before Midnight on the fifth day of our expedition. As the ship hit the point where all lines of longitude meet at the top of the world, the captain sounded the ship’s horn. The champagne corks started popping, and out on the bow it was time to celebrate the arrival at our Northern most destination.

“Trying to set foot upon it is like trying to step on the shadow of a bird that was circling overhead. The surface across which we were moving was itself moving on a planet that was spinning around an axis.” Wally Herbert (on reaching the North Pole, 1969)

Flags from all the nations represented by the passengers onboard were flying from the ships mast the next day to start a full day of fun on the ice for all. We met ashore with a circle ceremony with all the passengers and a short speech by the Captain in Russian and translated into English. Then it was time to play!

While the wind didn’t cooperate enough for us to enjoy a tethered balloon ride there were still plenty of activities to experience including an incredible BBQ on the ice. Walking on the sea ice, phoning home from the top of the world, and of course for those with the courage to dare – the polar plunge! The day rapped up with a soccer game that felt more like American football with its rough tackles and not a few felt the results the following day.

On our way back to Murmansk, we had a chance to fly above an amazing glacier face with its blue ice shaped mass flowing down to the sea. The ship encountered a massive Iceberg frozen into multi-year ice. We encountered a family walrus on ice, met a mother and cub polar bear and experienced two major bird cliffs.

On our last day of ladings in Tikhaya Bay we visited the site of the first Russian Polar Station; a meteorological outpost that was occupied from 1929-1963. The station is being refurbished and one scientist that we picked up to transport back home is studying a nearby bird cliff. We were lucky enough to have a presentation on her work with the birds.

We were also lucky to be in the bay just at the time when the young Brunnich’s Guillemot chicks make their leap of faith into the sea. The birds are not yet fully fledged or able to fly, so their fathers’ swim with them to their southern winter locations. The fathers feed the chicks for the next 30 days until they can fly. We could hear the chicks peeping and the adults calling their reply as we made our way back to the ship.

As with all voyages we ended with a farewell cocktail with the Captain, a great dinner, and a wonderful slideshow of our two-week adventure! Back in Helsinki, Finland fresh from our round-trip charter flight from Russia, we enjoyed one last night with our fellow passengers and new friends before departing for home the next day. I always miss the prepared meals and maid service when I finally get home!

50 Years of Victory from helicopter:
50 Years of Victory from helicopter

Franz Josef Land:
Franz Josef Land

Hut remains from a North Pole Expediton:
Hut remains from a North Pole Expediton

Flowers on the tundra:
Flowers on the tundra

Tegetthoff panorama:
Tegetthoff panorama

Cape Tegetthoff:
Cape Tegetthoff

Tundra walking:
Tundra walking

Morning bear:
Morning bear

Bear two:
Bear two

Close encounter of the bear kind:
Close encounter of the bear kind

90-degrees celebration:
90-degrees celebration

Getting the celebration circle ready:
Getting the celebration circle ready

Polar Plunge:
Polar Plunge

Circle reflection and self portrait:
Circle reflection and self portrait

Sharon at 90-degrees:
Sharon at 90-degrees

North Pole Day:
North Pole Day

Calling home from the North Pole:
Calling home from the North Pole

Artist at work:
Artist at work

Sculpting a polar bear:
Sculpting a polar bear

On the ice at anchor:
On the ice at anchor

North Pole BBQ:
North Pole BBQ

Mom and cub:
Mom and cub


Walrus on ice:
Walrus on ice

Helicopter over the glacier:
Helicopter over the glacier

Tikhaya Bay:
Tikhaya Bay

50 Years of Victory:
50 Years of Victory