North Pole Expedition: Skydiving into the Top of the World


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There are many ways to get to the North Pole: You may go by dog sled in April, by ice breaker in August, you can even cross-country ski. Don’t try it in winter—when it is dark up there. Savvy people fly. In fact, of the few people who have made it to the North Pole, most went by air.

There is no airport at the North Pole. The polar ice cap is more than 1,000 miles across in winter. The North Pole is in the Arctic Ocean. It freezes over to 6-18 feet thick. The water under the ice is 14,000 feet deep. In April, the ice is still firm and the sun is always shining. The ice begins to compress and expand (break up) in late April.

During this expedition, the sun was at 16 degrees above the horizon; it circled around and never set. The North Pole is as dry as a desert; nothing lives there.

Dan Poynter is past president of the Parachute Industry Association, past chairman of the Board of the U.S. Parachute Association and past president of the International Hang Gliding Commission. He has written more than 120 books; seven on parachutes and skydiving. A pilot, skydiver and master parachute rigger, this Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) is a frequent speaker at aviation and other events.

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  • Let’s talk about challenges.Life is full of challenges. Most challenges are thrust upon us. Some we design for ourselves. The best challenges are the big ones because there is such a feeling of personal accomplishment when we triumph over them. Whatever your challenge, you must assemble the right people, obtain the best equipment and get organized to meet and beat your challenge. The buck stops here. Only you are responsible for your future. The first challenge is to get to the North Pole. We are going to use Russian aircraft to save money. We are going to skydive in to save time.It is going to be cold. Only 30 below if we are lucky.It is going to be uncomfortable: The wind will not be too strong if we are fortunate. Wind makes landing in a parachute tricky and even dangerous. There are no hotels for shelter.There are no restaurants for food.There are no medical facilities if we are injured.  We have a second challenge: Once we get to the North Pole, the trip is only half over. We still have to get back.  It is going to be cold, remote and inhospitable. We have to do it right and we have to do it ourselves. There is no one to call if everything does not go exactly right. 
  • The North Pole is at the top of the world:90 degrees north latitude. Middle of the Arctic Ocean. The smallest ocean. 3,662,000 sq. miles.3,922 miles north of SBA.
  • No one owns the North Pole and no one lives there. There is no land, just ice. Ice cap is 1000 miles across in winter.
  • Magnetic North is near EllesmereIsland, Canada. BTW, Magnetic North moves in a oval pattern 6-25 miles/10-40 kms each year.
  • Why? When you have done it all and have seen it all, the Arctic is one of the last great frontiers. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the Pole. It is not easy to get to. There are many interesting challenges.
  • Who else has been there? 1909: Robert Peary and Matthew Henson by dog sled from Ellesmere Island over the frozen Arctic sea. (rough going for 420 miles: up to 25 miles per day) (Maybe).1926: Admiral Byrd and Floyd Bennett flew over the pole.1931. Graf Zeppelin flew over the pole. Can’t prove who was there first. A cairn or marker would move with the ice. Today, we have GPS.
  • 1958: Nuclear subs Nautilus and the Skate surfaced there. Very few people have gone to the pole and they have not been going there very long.
  • BTW, polar bears eat seals.Penguins are in the southern hemisphere and south pole.
  • The North Pole is dark in winter. Sun is in the southern hemisphere. 21 September to 21 March. The sun is in the northern hemisphere in the summer—turns the ice cap to water and icebergs. The peak travel season to the North Pole is in April. May: Pressure ridges and cracks. Average temperature: -30 F. in winter and +32 in summer.  
  • April: sun is 16 degrees above the horizon. Doesn’t rise and does not set. Just goes around.
  • Jumping in: There is no faster, cheaper or more exotic way to visit the world’s most unusual travel destination.Dressfor the cold. Adapt to the situation. I do not like cold weather. I grew up in SFO. Left when I was 21. Discovered I had been cold my whole life. Polypropylene mittens and hand mitt shells. 2 chemical warmers in each one. Gloves look like something you might pick up a barbecue grill with. Jacket is 1” thick. Will keep you warm in 35 below.
  • Had to extend the harness 4”. Suit cost about $1,100. You can use ski gear if you are tough. Goggles - peripheral vision challenge. SOS system. Sea level and very dry: Packed the main to open softly.
  • How to get there. We will go from the opposite side Peary and Henson did. We flew from California, to New York, to Moscow, to Chatanga, Siberia. Five hours from Moscow. 14 time zones from California. Roughly north of Mongolia, China, Viet Nam, Singapore and the west coast of Australia. Chathanga. On upper coast of Siberia, above the arctic circle. About as far north as Barrow, Alaska. Port open 2 months each year.
  • Bill Booth organized the expedition several times
  • Moscow stopover to gather more supplies and meet with our Russian support team. Cold: 20-30 degrees. St Basel’s. Red Square. Kremlin  GUM Department store. Like a mall built in 1925. Hotel Russia. Huge cannon inside the Kremlin. How many serfs to lift that cannon ball?
  • ilyushin 76. Tailgate.US uses forklift.Russians use internal crane. Weight penalty.
  • The Flight Navigator’s cockpit is below the Captain’s cockpit.
  • We boarded an Illushin 76 and flew to the Chatanga Airport. We are way above the Arctic circle. River leads to Artic Ocean.Chatanga. Established by Stalin to populate Siberia. No roads out. Just an airport. No commercial flights. Air-traffic controller there for a 3 year hitch. Boss had been there for 18 years. April: Near zero every day. Dark just 1.5 hours each night. We had no concept of time.
  • Helicopter across Siberia. Tested our cold-weather suits and parachute equipment in sub-zero temperatures.
  •  Helicopter: more Siberia. We learned more about the terrain and the elements.
  •  Jumped in to visit a nomadic family of reindeer herders.
  • Jumped into a Siberian village. The whole village turned out. They could bear their faces. I could not for more than 30 seconds. That says Aeroflot on the helicopter
  • Sleds and homes are pulled by reindeer.
  •  Reindeer. They herded them over to us. Reindeer eat the lichen under the snow. Houses are like camper shells on skids. Module housing.
  • Then back to Khatanga to prepare for the flight north.
  • See the pressure ridges and cracksSe the target and the sun. Memorize the angle in case you land out.
  • The jump aircraft: Ilushin 76. Size of a 707. Nice condition. 5 seats up front. Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, political officer. Loadmaster (flies the jump-run.) . Instruments. Line on window. We boarded the aircraft.
  • 2.5 hours from Khatanga to the Pole.
  • I gave an airline safety briefing.  (Airline safety briefing.)Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome aboard Polar Airlines flight 001 with single-class, nonstop, one way service to the North Pole. My name is Dan and I’ll be your flight attendant in coach today. It is certainly a pleasure having you aboard.  Please direct your attention to the safety information card. There may be one on the floor under your feet. Pick up the card and follow along as we point out the important safety features of this aircraft. This briefing will be followed with a short quiz. Passing is 70 percent. Those scoring less than 70 will be reseated outside.  If you are seated in an exit row, you may be required to select the exit point. If you are unable to spot or wish to be reseated, please advise a flight attendant at the conclusion of these announcements. By the way, on our flight to the Pole, all rows are exit rows.  Your carry-on luggage must be stacked neatly in the center aisle.   Small children are best stowed in the enclosed overhead bin. If you are having any difficulty stowing your luggage or children, please contact a flight attendant.  There may be 50 ways to leave your lover but there are just 2 exit doors in this aircraft: one small one forward and one humungous tail gate at the rear. In the event an evacuation is necessary, put on your parachutes, get into the aisle, face the rear of the aircraft and run like hell.   Smokingis permitted aboard this flight and there are no pesky smoke detectors in the lavatory.  In fact, there are no lavatories. Please use your empty water bottles. Polar Airlines believes in recycling.  There are no seat belts on this aircraft. So there will not be a seat belt demonstration. You are not even required to sit down for takeoff and landing.  This no-frills flight is overbooked and we are carrying a lot of cargo too. Please make yourselves comfortable wherever you can.  (Me again) Our frequent flyers will receive 1,500 points for this flight. If this were a round-trip flight, you would receive 3,000 points. If you are not a member of our frequent flyer program and would like to join, ask a flight attendant for an application.  If you are not listening to this briefing and we crash, do not come crawling to me. Now, in preparation for takeoff, please return all seatbacks to their full, upright and most uncomfortable position.  Ladies and Gentlemen, we are ready for immediate departure. Flight attendants, prepare the doors for departure and cross check please.  We thank you for your attention and once, again, welcome aboard Polar Airlines flight 001 with nonstop, single-class, one-way service to the North Pole.
  • Jumprun. Clam shell opens, pressure door goes up, tail gate goes down. Looking down on the Pole from 10,000 feet. Prepare to exit. Get on to the ramp. Plane was doing 175 on exit. Exit. The horn goes off and out you go. Hold on to your goggles.
  • 5 seconds before the blast hits you. Blue above and white below. Flip over. Stable out. 40 second freefall. 56 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 175 knots. Accelerate for 11 seconds to 110 mph. Terminal velocity: 5 seconds per thousand feet. I could not find my pilot chute handle with heavy gloves. Could not see it.  
  • A Tandem in freefall over the Pole. Louise Ryle, 62 years old. Retired in DeLand, Florida. Not a skydiver but she was up to the challenge. She is living her passion. Rather than dreaming, she is doing. See the pressure ridges and crack .
  • Tandem (Louise) descending at the Pole.
  • See the target, compass rose and flags.See smoke for wind direction and speed. Note the uneven terrain 
  • Tandem (Louise) nearing the DZ.
  • Ground (ice) shot. Good weather. Looks like a normal ski outing. We picked the day—just part of good preparation. 26 degrees below zero on the ice. You could throw a hot cup of tea into the air and it would freeze before it hit the ice.Now, you have achieved your goal but you still have to get back.
  • BTW, From the top of the world, all directions are south. Wind always blows from the south.  It is very lonely to see your aircraft flying off toward the horizon. Yes, it is Lonely at the Top (of the world).Your aircraft can’t “fly into the sunset” because the sun does not set in April. Sun was 16 degrees above the horizon. It does not rise, it does not set, it just goes around. What time was it? 9 AM in Canada and 9 PM in Siberia. Fortunately the champagne landed at 5 o’clock. hey say that if you run around the pole, you can become one day younger for each time you cross the international date line. Be sure to run in the right direction.
  • Crippled Russian. He could barely walk but he could skydive. Anyone can fall. He spent most of his time lying in the snow contemplating what he had just accomplished. I had to congratulate him.
  •  Helicopter takes some of the ground crew up for a jump.Too cold to pack parachutes there.
  • Russian. Poor gear. One had a loose pocket so he hand-tacked the ripcord handle to the harness. Malfunction. Rig frozen. Cutaway. Opened at 200 meters/600 feet. 3 seconds from impact. Under reserve. The bagged main is catching up with him. 
  • Rough going. Remember, a Dog sled can only make up to 25 miles per day. Went for a walk to assess the terrain. Great photography. No air pollution. Cold and dry. -3000 feet. Wind was blowing 9 mph for the jump. Then it dropped to 4-5 mph. Perfect weather. Cold. Camera batteries give up in 20 seconds. . I used 2 cameras.
  • Standing on snow covered ice. One large chunk. The ice comes together and pushes up these chunks and ridges.
  •  Climbing a small hill. Note the terrain.
  •  Jumping off.
  • Posing in front of a big chuck of ice. Biting cold. We spent 9 hours at the Pole. You could take your headgear off for photos for about 20 seconds. Blue and green ice.
  •  Ice cave. No footprints. Entered from rear.
  • Wind-blown and refrozen snow. Small, about 12” long. Interesting hanging formations
  • Perhaps an icebreaker went through here last summer.
  • Reading The Santa Barbara News-Press. Santa Barbara: 3,922 miles south. Took several magazines and signs on the back of my jacket
  • Soccer. Our own World Cup. Soccer.
  • Russian igloo-shaped, double wall tent.
  • Ice is 6 feet thick in most places. Water below is 14,000 feet deep. Broke through. Just inches thick. Very salty.
  • Inside the igloo - warming hut. 30-35 degrees F.
  • Santa Claus. I knew you were curious.
  • BTWAbout 5 miles from SBASanta Barbara, Santa Claus, why not?
  • Elvis. Smiling.
  • In 9 hours, the ice moved 2 kms
  • Hiked 2 kms to meet it.Pole had moved.
  • Outside of the igloo. Double walled. Taking it down. Helicopter returns.  Striking the set. Cleaning up the campsite. We took everything out.
  • Serge from inside the helicopter. See ice on beard. Aircraft packed to the ceiling. Overloaded. I hoped we could burn off some fuel quickly and gain some altitude.
  • Flew to the base camp on the ice 80 km south. Pole is too obstructed with pressure ridges. The AN-26 waited for us at the fuel dump.
  • Inside the AN-26. Note the fuel drum. To Shredney Island. Russian base half way between the Pole and Siberia. Always below freezing. Polar bear. Back to Chatanga.
  • Certificate.Celebration party.
  • First day issue to commemorate the historic event.
  • Close: Life is full of challenges. Most challenges are thrust upon us. Some we design for ourselves. The best challenges are the big ones because there is such a feeling of personal accomplishment when we triumph over them.  Thank you for allowing me to bring you this expedition briefing. May all your expeditions be successful. Nothing else can compare with the excitement, significance or adventure of jumping into the North Pole.
  • North Pole Expedition: Skydiving into the Top of the World

    1. 1. Skydive into the Top of the World with Dan Poynter © 2012
    2. 2. Where is the North Pole?
    3. 3. No Land. Just Ice.
    4. 4. Magnetic North
    5. 5. Why Go to the North Pole? ✈ Everyone knows where it is. ✈ Few have been there. ✈ Arctic is one of the last great frontiers.
    6. 6. Who Has Gone There? Robert Peary Matthew Henson
    7. 7. 1958: Nautilus & Skate
    8. 8. Welcoming Committee
    9. 9. When Can You Go There? Winter Summer
    10. 10. Sun Does not Rise or Set
    11. 11. Northern Outfitters Suit
    12. 12. Rigging Innovations
    13. 13. Chatanga
    14. 14. Bill Booth
    15. 15. Moscow
    16. 16. Ilyushin 76
    17. 17. Navigator’s Cockpit
    18. 18. Open Tailgate
    19. 19. Chatanga
    20. 20. Chatanga
    21. 21. Chatanga Airport
    22. 22.
    23. 23.
    24. 24.
    25. 25. Our New Siberian Friends
    26. 26.
    27. 27. Reindeer Herd
    28. 28. Back to Chatanga
    29. 29. North Pole Briefing
    30. 30. Loading up
    31. 31. Inside the IL-76
    32. 32. The Ride Up
    33. 33. Equipment Not Tied Down
    34. 34. Flight Briefing
    35. 35. Bring Your Own Toilet
    36. 36. Chuting Up
    37. 37.
    38. 38. Exit, Exit, Exit
    39. 39. Emptying the IL-76
    40. 40. Tandem Opening
    41. 41. Tandem Jump--Decending
    42. 42. Smoke Shows Wind Direction & Speed
    43. 43. Tandem Nears DZ
    44. 44.
    45. 45.
    46. 46. Patrick with Snow Board
    47. 47. Russian Jumper
    48. 48. More Jumping
    49. 49.
    50. 50. Rough Terrain
    51. 51.
    52. 52. Climbing Up
    53. 53. Jumping Off
    54. 54.
    55. 55. Ice Cave
    56. 56. Snow Windblown & Refrozen
    57. 57. Strange Formations
    58. 58. Posing for Photos
    59. 59. Hello Santa Barbara
    60. 60. 10 Countries, 65 Jumpers
    61. 61.
    62. 62.
    63. 63. Breaking Through the Ice
    64. 64. Inside the Igloo
    65. 65. Santa Was There
    66. 66. Santa Claus, California.
    67. 67. We Found Elvis Too
    68. 68. The Ice Moves
    69. 69. Twin Otter Flew in from Canada
    70. 70. Preparing to Leave
    71. 71. From Inside the Helicopter
    72. 72.
    73. 73. Inside the AN-26
    74. 74. Certificate of the Event
    75. 75. Commemorative Envelope with Stamps
    76. 76.
    77. 77. My name is Dan Poynter and May all your expeditions be successful
    78. 78.
    79. 79. Introducing . . . Dan Poynter