The Row To The Pole – Ice, timing and nerve
From Day 12 of our 2011 expedition we were constantly on the alert for opportunities and hazards posed by the ice floes, particularly at narrowing points in the coastal channels. At these places the ice can pack in tightly and bar any potential to move northwards. The Grinnell Peninsula posed a major challenge. Using any high vantage point we could for a glimpse of the floating sea ice, we managed to inch our way round to the top of Devon Island with the prospect of making a dash across the main body of water by dodging the ice. To do that was a waiting game. But wait we did, scanning for any change to the volume of ice out in the channel. Weather forecasts and satellite images from MDA helped us to anticipate when our best chances were going to come from winds blowing ice out of the next areas we needed to row. We made it to Table Island and waited for a further two days as fog made progress impossible. However on August 17th, the weather lifted and we made a speedy effort to reach Cornwall Island. It was a miraculous good fortune that on reaching this point, we discovered the waters had opened up and the ice had cleared ahead of us. We calculated that, however punishing, it made sense to row on as far as we could to Ellef Ringnes Island. Twenty five hours later we reached the southern shore of Ellef Ringnes Island. Exhausted, but feeling we had cracked a major barrier. Certainly a psychological one: we had proved that our wait and watch approach was working.
Despite the exhaustion, we opted to continue, but it soon became obvious that our luck had run out as we probed for hours trying to find an opening in a dense, impossible, wall of ice coming from the north. Eventually, we decided to row west, trying to outflank the main floes. Thirty six hours of rowing later and we reached King Christian Island. We had rowed 60 nautical miles and were within a a tantalising 5 miles of our target, the 96 Magnetic North Pole. The question we all had in our minds was, could we get any further? There was a high chance that ice might block a move north or south, effectively trapping us at exactly the time we felt within touching distance of our goal.