Magnetic North Pole: The Idea

THE IDEA – The Magnetic North Pole 

Growing up on the Hebridean Island of Mull I often stood on the shoreline staring north to the horizon. I would turn over in my mind what lay beyond that line that separated my known world from the unknown. What would it be like to stand on the sea ice? To feel the restless movement of the ocean beneath; to listen to the gentle creaking and cracking of the pack. What would the Arctic actually be like? This world of ice bears and blizzards. I was enthralled.

Later, during my school days, I came to know the stories of the great polar explorers. Those tales of daring greatly on rock and ice had captured people’s imaginations for 100 years. Nansen’s farthest North, Scott and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole, Shackleton’s quest to be the first to cross Antarctica. I have held these stories of courage and resilience, of triumph and tragedy close to me as I have forged my own path through life, knowing that one day I would myself follow in the footsteps of these great men.

It was November 2010 in the Great Hall at Sydney University, the late afternoon light seeping through the tall stained-glass windows casting an abstract pattern across my desk. I put down my pen and closed my booklet, I had finally sat my last medical examination. It was time now to not only start a career in medicine but also to realise my ambition of joining a polar expedition. Away from the rigid structure of school and university I finally had the freedom to pursue this goal.

I decided that first I needed to prove to myself that I had the physical and mental resilience required to endure the rigours of polar travel. I signed-up for a number of ultra-marathon races, the most defining being a 250km unsupported foot race across the Atacama Desert in Chile. Soon after completing a similar race through the Annapurna range of the Himalayas, I decided it was time I turned my attention to developing my polar skills. After extensive research into polar training programs and expeditions, mostly in Norway and North America, I stumbled across the Polar Race. A 600km race across the sea ice and Arctic tundra from Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island in the Canadian Arctic to the 1996 Position of the Magnetic North Pole. The format was simple, after two weeks of intensive polar training in Resolute Bay, we would then in our teams of two, ski from Resolute Bay to the 1996 Magnetic North Pole and try to arrive first. This race had all the elements I was looking for; expert polar training followed by a polar expedition that would test and reinforce my polar skills. I immediately started looking for a team-mate.

I met Rich Stephenson through my sister, Laura. They had recently started a relationship and I was keen to meet the man who asked her to dinner via satellite phone from the top of the Matterhorn. He seemed to be made of the right stuff. We quickly became friends and he required little convincing to join me in the Arctic. We enrolled as a team in the Polar Race and began planning our first polar adventure. Little did we know that it would be the beginnings of a solid partnership and lead to a decade of climbing, paddling, skiing, exploring and adventuring all over the world.