Extreme Arctic Race Preview

By Michael Leigh Hoyer

Tuesday, March 4, 2003 The Polar Race, a grueling 350-mile arctic trek to the North Magnetic Pole, is scheduled to launch April 9th from frigid Resolute Bay in Nunavut, Canada. Thirteen men and one woman will travel on foot and by ski across the Arctic Circle's hazardous shifting ice, each dragging a 150-pound sled in polar temperatures dipping below -40 degrees Fahrenheit over the 30- to 40-day course of the race.

The competitors, who are all British, will include seasoned athletes and novice adventurers, an arctic warfare specialist, and a famous jockey. The only woman in the race is a (self-proclaimed) housewife with little expedition experience.

This diverse group will compete in five teams of two or three people, accumulating points as they reach the four supply stations along the route to Isachson, the abandoned Canadian base that will serve as the finish line.

Race organizers David Hempleman-Adams, 46, and Jock Wishart, 51, are both record-setting explorers who hope that this race will inspire other would-be adventurers to undertake arctic expeditions.

Hempleman-Adams became the first person to walk alone to magnetic North in 1984, and remains the only person to top the Seven Summits and walk to all four poles—magnetic and geographic, north and south—a record that has stood since 1998.

Among Wishart's long list of accomplishments are racing in the 1980 America's Cup, rowing the Atlantic in just over 63 days in 1997, and leading an expedition across northern Russia in 2000. Wishart and Hempleman-Adams joined forces in 1992 as members of the first team to walk unsupported to the North Geomagnetic Pole.

"We were throwing ideas around and it went off like a light in my head," says Wishart. "Everything else has been achieved. We want to establish a new goal for all to reach."

Great care has been taken to insure that The Polar Race proceeds safely. In addition to four medical and supply checkpoints, each team will have an Iridium satellite phone that they will use to report twice daily to the race's operations base in Resolute Bay. For added safety, each racer will also carry a Personal Locator Beacon connected to a handheld GPS. In case of medical emergencies, an Inuit rescue team and doctor will be present during the journey.

"A lot of people say to me, 'Hang on a minute, you're going to send these novices out there totally unprepared?'" Wishart muses. "And my response is, 'They're better prepared than we ever were.'"

The teams will travel to Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital city, on April 3,where they will undergo two days of training with veteran polar explorers Matty McNair and Paul Landry. The pair will give them a crash course in navigation and surviving the pole's bitter cold.