Veteran polar expert invites wannabe explorers on Canadian Arctic expedition for 'world's last great adventure'

Veteran polar expert Jim McNeill is seeking 28 volunteers to join his party, due to embark next year

It is a journey that offers the prize of treading where no man has ever gone before. It also holds out the prospect of treacherously unstable sea ice, fatal frostbite and the ever present threat of polar bear attack.

But the organisers of an expedition to the appropriately named Pole of Inaccessibility high up in the Canadian Arctic believe there are sufficient numbers of wannabe explorers with the right stuff to set out on what they describe as the “world’s last great adventure”.

Veteran polar expert Jim McNeill, who has attempted the feat twice before and nearly died doing so, is seeking 28 volunteers to join his party which is due to embark next year.

The 800 mile Ice Warrior Challenge will be made by sledge-canoe hybrids from Resolute Bay to the geographical centre of the Arctic Ocean utilising the all-too brief spring conditions where there is daylight but in which the sea ice has yet to melt.

Mr McNeill said there was a simple reason why no one had ever made the journey before.  “It is so bloody difficult. For my peers, of whom there are only about half a dozen, this is the last world first in terms of polar adventure,” he said.

The adventurer will lead four teams with little or no experience of polar exploration in stages of the 80 day trek.

Sir Ernest Shackeleton Sir Ernest Shackeleton (Getty Images)
“Twenty days is the most they will be able to take psychologically. It is still pushing the boundaries to people’s spirit and endurance and their mental capacity. The conditions can be very nasty. You have to be trained to resilient and resourceful to survive in these situations,” he said.

Sir Ernest Shackleton had intended to reach the point 411miles from the North Pole but lost the support of the Canadian government and instead embarked on his final ill-fated mission to the Antarctic.

Last time Mr McNeill tried the journey in 2006 he reached a point 170 nautical miles from the last landfall before the ice gave way beneath him. After pulling himself from the lethally cold water he survived for three days in a raging storm sheltering on an ice floe before being able to call in air rescue.

Volunteers capable of paying the £12,000 needed to book a place and who can make it through the training will participate in a number of scientific studies including monitoring the numbers and locations of polar bears as well as measuring the thickness of the sea ice.

Global warming has made travel in the Polar Regions even more hazardous with unseasonal thaws and sudden brutal storms in which hurricane force winds can drive temperatures to below -50C.

“These days you can’t predict the weather so we want to get out here and tell it like it is. I have been doing this for 30 years and I still have all my fingers and toes. But the winds can be very nasty indeed so that you can’t get out of your tent or the frost bite will get you in seconds.”

Jim McNeill (left) and Patron of the Ice Warrior Project Sir Ranulph Fiennes Jim McNeill (left) and Patron of the Ice Warrior Project Sir Ranulph Fiennes (PA)
He said that although many of the discoveries made today were about biodiversity, pollution and climate change – they were equally important to the mapping endeavours of the golden age of adventure.

Patron of the expedition is Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of Sir Ernest. She said her forebear’s thwarted desire to make the journey marked a departure from the family maxim that “Shackletons do the white south and not the white north.”

She said:  “Everything has changed so much. In my grandfather’s it was much more dangerous. The clothes were no god at keeping you warm and if anything went wrong you had to rely on the leadership to get you out of it. There were no communications but it was very exciting. You can’t think what it is like to tread where no man has gone before.”

Supporter of the expedition Sir Ranulph Fiennes said the prospect of success was not assured. “I'm not blaming nature but if the sea ice behaves itself badly at that time in that place then it's going to be very difficult for anyone at all to make it,” he said.

To boldly go... Hard-to-reach places

March 1912 Robert Falcon Scott’s trek to the South Pole ends with the deaths of all those who made it there. Expedition member Apsley Cherry-Garrard gives a candid account of it in The Worst Journey in the World.

2008 TauTona goldmine near Johannesburg in South Africa becomes the deepest place reached on Earth at 2.2 miles underground. It takes workers an hour to reach the surface by lift.

March 2012 Film-maker James Cameron descends 35,756ft to reach the ocean’s deepest point located in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean

October 2012 Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner sets an altitude record for a manned balloon flight when he reaches an altitude of 128,100ft – more than 24 miles. He then jumps off in the highest skydive ever.

September 2013 The bulk freighter Nordic Orion passes through the Northwest Passage and into Baffin Bay, the first commercial vessel to do so.

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