We previously figured out why Santa Claus set up shop with the missus and his elves and reindeer at the North Pole, and part of it had to do with the fact that the Pole gets so little visitors that it was easy for storytellers to use the area as one of wonder and magic. No one knew any better! You couldn’t very well say that Santa lived in Chicago or Cancun -- too many details to sort out.
But there’s a reason the fanciful St. Nick is pretty much the only association we have with the North Pole: It’s not exactly easy to visit. The northernmost point of the world doesn’t present much appeal. It’s dangerously cold, sparsely inhabited and there are only a handful of very specific ways you can even get there.
It’s not even really a place. No nation truly owns it, and it’s not even on a continent -- the closest land mass is about 700 miles away. The 6- to 10-foot-thick ice sheets up there are constantly shifting, so the footprint you make at 90 degrees north one year will most likely not still be at 90 degrees north after a bit.
Two ways: ship or helicopter. First of all, though, you need to mind the time of year. June and July would be your best bets on getting there, because the ice will be a bit thinner and therefore easier to plunge through on your way up. You can get away with going in a cooler month, like April, if you’re going by helicopter. But you’re not going to visit Santa at the North Pole around Christmas, I can assure you of that.
First, you need to find your way to Helsinki. From the capital of Finland, you’ll likely board a charter flight to Murmansk, Russia, which is part of that weird bit of land that’s attached to Scandinavia but not part of Scandinavia. That’s where you’ll board a ship to your final destination!
But not just any ship. You’ll be traveling on what’s called a nuclear icebreaker, which is exactly what it sounds like -- it’s reinforced and strong enough to crash through sheets of ice up to 9 feet thick. If you’re lucky enough to book passage on the 50 Years of Victory, your trip will be nothing short of a Disney cruise: It’s equipped with a sauna, pool, library and on-board helicopter and hot air balloon. But regardless, you’ll be on a huge ship.
If the helicopter option sounds a bit more your style -- or if you just have a hankering for more adventure -- you can get to the North Pole by way of the Swiss-owned Barneo Ice Camp. Instead of Helsinki to Murmansk, fly to Longyearbyen, Svalbard in Norway, and you can get to Barneo from there.
The camp is built on a floating piece of ice every spring by Russian engineers and located just a few lines of latitude away from the Pole. It’s used pretty exclusively for tourists, so there’s a landing strip on site where you can hop on a helicopter to and from 90 degrees. You’ll stay in tents with hot meals and warm bedding among research and science specialists, but Barneo is by far the more “roughing-it” option.
Whatever way to decide to get to the North Pole, be sure to book everything through a tour operator or guide service, like Quark Expeditions, Polar Cruises or Poseidon Expeditions.
Well, first, marvel at the fact that you’ll be standing atop a frozen 13,000-foot-deep section of the Arctic Ocean and take in the 2- to 3-meter-thick chunks of ice floating past. Then head to the Geographic North Pole and circle it with your fellow passengers to commemorate your journey. Celebrate your achievement!
Then, remember that helicopter and hot air balloon? Pick one and float above the northernmost point of the world (don’t worry, the balloon will be safely tethered to the ice). You may even be able to make out the changing time zones from high up, which has to be quite the sight to see.
Though wildlife is scarce, to put it mildly, at the North Pole, you most likely would have gotten to see tons of animals on your way through Scandinavia, past Greenland and on the Franz Josef Land archipelago, like polar bears, seals, walrus, whales and birds. The journey is half the trip, after all!
Oh, and try to stay warm. The weather hovers around freezing temps, of course, so keep it moving.
Mmmm, yeah, and this part you won’t like: This trip does not come cheap. According to Swoop Arctic, expeditions to the Pole can cost up to $33,000, depending on how long the visit is, the ship you embark on and the route you take. So, a year of college or a bucket list checkmark?