North Pole Dreaming: Journey to the Top of the World

February 7, 2019 Doug O'Neill

The North Pole has occupied the imaginations of adventurers and explorers for hundreds of years. But only a tiny percentage of world travelers have actually set foot on the northernmost point on the Earth. This remote, near-mythical, ice-covered domain in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, almost permanently covered in constantly shifting pack ice, is known to a relative few.

Reaching the North Pole is something only a handful of people experience – yet legions
of travelers dream about. (Photo: Samantha Crimmin)

Yet there’s an incredible legacy of hardy souls who’ve pretty much stopped at nothing to reach this austere, majestic region of snow-capped ice ridges, massive crevices and cracks, and turquoise waters inhabited only by seals, walruses, whales and polar bears.

Actually standing at 90 degrees north is an achievement only a handful of travelers can boast. Reaching the North Pole is the dream of a lifetime for travelers from around the world. (Photo: Allan White)

In 1991, Quark Expeditions co-founders Lars Wikander and Mike McDowell finally realized a dream to visit the North Pole, one of the few destinations the seasoned travellers had ever reached. They were determined to bring other adventurers like themselves to one of the last unspoiled places on Earth.

The two successfully undertook the world’s first-ever tourism transit of the Northeast Passage, the historic route across the Russian Arctic, aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz. That first journey in 1991 cemented the role Quark Expeditions would play in polar travel.

Modern North Pole expeditions

Cruising through the Franz Josef Land archipelago on the Russian icebreaker NS Yamal.
(Photo credit: Allan White)

In 1926 Norwegian Roald Amundsen was the first to fly over the North Pole in a dirigible, a light balloon-like aircraft that navigates through the air under its own power (think of the Hindenburg).

Amundsen’s heroic feat was followed by other equally passionate adventurers, such as Soviet scientists Vitali Volovich and Andrei Medvedev who, in May 1949, became the first to parachute onto the North Pole. (They jumped from a military transport aircraft.) In 1968, Minnesota native Ralph Plaisted led a small team of snowmobilers in what was the first successful attempt to cross the ice to the North Pole. In 2014, polar explorers Erik Larsen and Ryan Waters skied, walked, and swam the 480 nautical miles from Cape Discovery, on Ellesmere Island, to the North Pole, hauling essential supplies on sleds. Scores of others, of course, reached the North Pole in much-publicized journeys, mostly scientists and researchers.

The very first cruise expedition to the North Pole

But it was Quark Expeditions’ Transpolar Bridge Cruise launched by Wikander and McDowell from Murmansk, Russia, on July 27, 1991, that enabled world travellers to realize their dreams of visiting the North Pole – in a much more comfortable style of course than their predecessors.  The ship was the nuclear-powered icebreaker Sovetskiy Soyuz, an older sister of 50 Years of Victory which is a much-loved vessel in the Quark Expeditions fleet today. That very first group of passengers sailed across the top of the world through Franz Josef Land, the North Pole, the New Siberian Islands, the Wrangel Island area and the Chukotka Peninsula.

Polar bears are among the majestic creatures who inhabit the North Pole.
(Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin)

Only about 500 people each year get to visit the North Pole. That’s only 500 people on a yearly basis who realize their dreams of standing at 90 degrees North. Most of them get there with Quark Expeditions.  

The leader in polar travel

Quark Expeditions has the most experienced expedition team, and has helmed the greatest number of voyages to the North Pole. When prospective polar voyagers think of the North Pole they think of Quark. Our milestones speak for themselves: in July 1999, our expedition company achieved the first circumnavigation of the Arctic Ocean. In 2008 we hosted the first maiden voyage to the North Pole of the nuclear ice-breaker 50 Years of Victory. World-renowned travel authorities acknowledge our leading edge in transporting travellers to the Arctic: In 2000, National Geographic Traveler ranked our Three Arctic Islands trip among the 50 Tours of a Lifetime.

And this year, in 2019, Quark Expedition sets forth on its 60th expedition cruise to the North Pole.

North Pole adventure: trip of a lifetime

Passengers onboard  50 Years of Victory during this 14-day voyage journey will have the experience of crushing through multiyear Arctic ice, sightseeing by helicopter on the lookout for iconic wildlife, and possibly taking a tethered hot-air balloon ride at 90º N. Guests will get an incredibly unfiltered up-close look at the wildlife of the Arctic on Zodiac outings. Plus they’ll get to visit the iconic Franz Josef Land archipelago of 191 islands.


Reaching the North Pole is a one-of-a-kind journey. Ice-breakers clear a path through ice that’s almost 2.5 meters (9.2 feet) thick. (Photo: Samantha Crimmin)

The ice-breaking aspect of this North Pole journey will provide an unparalleled experience for travelers. Imagine if you will the vision – and the sounds – of the world’s largest nuclear ice-breaker clearing a path through ice that’s almost 2.5 meters (9.2 feet) thick.

With limited expeditions to the North Pole each year, and only 200 or so passengers on each journey, reaching this destination is truly an exclusive feat. While it’s not too late for 2019 (we do have a few spots available), Quark Expeditions is excited to announce two more departures in 2020, making it possible for approximately 500 more avid travelers to set foot on the North Pole.

The North Pole has been called “the land of silence and endless white.” At Quark Expeditions, it’s the place where dreams come true.

 

Reach out to us for details and rates

About the Author

Doug O'Neill

Even though I’m a seasoned traveler and travel writer, I was 27 years old when I hopped on an airplane for the first time. As one of eight children in a rural Ontario family, travel was limited to road trips to Wasaga Beach – in a very crowded Pontiac. But I eventually caught the travel bug and have now visited 40-plus countries. Landing at Quark Expeditions as Brand Copywriter seems like a natural step on a journey that started with a degree in Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo followed by a Certificate in Magazine Journalism at Ryerson University, which ultimately led me to a print-and-digital publishing career at various Canadian magazines. One of my most fulfilling career experiences was launching a travel blog that I produced for several years at a national magazine. Hiking (or simply time spent in nature) tops my list of passions. In 2015 I completed the 800-km Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain. I’m a certified hike leader with Hike Ontario and I volunteer with the Bruce Trail Conservancy. I’ve co-authored a nature book, “110 Nature Hot Spots in Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” released by Firefly Books in April 2019.

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