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Prince Harry and Walking with the Wounded's Arctic Expedition to the North Pole

The flight from Spitzbergen was due to carry Prince Harry and the Walking with the Wounded team to a temporary runway at Barneo Ice Field in the Arctic on Friday 1st April 2011.  From, there the team's intrepid 200 mile walk to the North Pole would begin .  Gale force winds at the landing strip meant that the runway wasn't ready in time though, so the flight to Barneo was delayed until Monday 4th April.  Even a Prince has to wait for the Arctic weather to calm down!  Whilst a group of Russian engineers were trying to create the artificial runway at Barneo on just 2 metres of ice, a spokesperson from St James Palace back in London told of how Harry was "chomping at the bit" to put his training into practise.

Finally, on Monday 4th april Prince Harry and the team landed on the ice of the frozen Arctic ocean at Barneo.  A quick 10 minute helicopter hop from there took them to the starting point of their 200 mile trek to the North Pole.  On the first day, Harry said in an audio diary of how everyone was really excited to be finally going, having been sit around in Svabard in Spitzbergen for longer than had orginally been planned.  He described the support that people had given for the expedition as being "truly inspirational".  

The third day saw the team navigating fjords the whole day, making progress slow in temperatures of about -30 degres centigrade.    

Harry was due to leave the team on day 4, the Thursday, to get back to a vital stage of his helicopter tyraining with the Royal Air Force, and later in the month to be best man at William and Catherine's wedding, but the ice at Barneo's temporary runway had split with huge cracks in its centre.  Another had to be built, causing even more delays for the Prince but extending the time he was able to continue on the heroic trek North.  The team made good progress on better terrain, and Guy Disney helped keep spirits high with a malt whiskey to accompany their supper.

The following day eveything at the airfield was fixed.  Harry, who had by then trecked almost a quarter of the total distance to the North Pole, said his farewells to the Walking with the Wounded and was taken by helicopter back to Barneo Ice Field.  From there, a plane picked him up on the start of his journey home to England. Simon Daglish described the Prince as having been a "real tremendous help" and said how it was great to have him with the team.  Simon had his first experience of putting his foot through the ice into the chilling sea on that day, but described it as "more amusing than dangerous".

Martin Hewitt told in the team's diary of how pressure ridges were a bit of a challenge for him trying to balance with his single arm. He fell five times that day, once face-first onto a lump of ice (at the amusement of Guy Disney), cutting his face and giving him a bit of a black eye.   

Ed Parker told on the sixth day of how the team were definitely feeling the effect of pulling their sleds which carried between 100 and 150 kg of qquipment and food, and of all the other hard work in the bitter cold.  Sleep was poor for all except Steve Young.  In their tent, a washing line in the centre was used for gloves and socks whilst a heater warmed them.  

On Saturday, the seventh day, the team had pulled their sleds an impressive thirteen and a half miles, taking them to a total of a whole day ahead of their schedule.

Sunday 10th April was a fantastic day too, with 12 and a half miles being covered even though the route had to be changed a bit during the morning to allow for tricky open water leads.  Clear blue skies in the afternoon saw the team progress further in a temperature of -25 degrees celsius, or around -35 taking into considertion the wind chill factor of the south-easterly wind.  Martin Hewitt told of how the team had telephoned and ordered a curry from a London curry house.  The member of staff at the curry house  said he couldn't find the co-ordinates on his sat-nav and asked for directions.  They told him to just head North!  

Having covered a very decent 12 miles on Monday, the team crossed 89 degrees North.  Ed Parker received a message from his family in a sachet of special high-calorie horlicks.  He replied that he was missing them and didn't quite look like Hagrid, the hairy giant from Harry Potter yet!

Nature helped the team on the Tuesday.  During that day they covered thirteen and a half miles by foot, but a drift took them an extra three miles toward their goal.  Totalling sixteen and a half miles travelled, this was their best day so far.  They were finding more open water however, and tricker ice, making them anxious that the arctic would bite back at them.

A number of tricky pressure ridges cheated challenges for the team on the eleventh day, whilst they simply ploughed on through some others.  Despite this and a few aches and pains, a good rate of travel was achieved.  

A large rubble field slowed the team's progress on day 12.  Combined with what Ed Parker described as "clinging cold" weather at a temperature of -24 degrees celsius (minus 34 with wind chill taken into consideration), the team were pleased when it was time to set up camp at 6 o'clock. Jaco Van Gass talked of how he it was so cold that he found it reall difficult to leave his sleeping bag in the mornngs, and how he looked forward to sleeping in a nice comfortable bed again.      

At 4:30pm on Saturday April16th, after 13 days of trekking through ice, snow and temperatures as low as -38 degrees celsius, the team reached the geographic North Pole.  Their meteoric feat achieved, they celebrated with hot chocolate and a little whiskey at the very top of the world.  They have set a world record by becoming the very first team of unsupprted war-wounded amputees to ever reach the geographic North Pole.  The amazingly quick time of 13 days is less than many an able-bodied team could hope to cover such demanding terrain.  

North Pole Route Map
Route Map of the Walking with the Wounded Team's Arctic Expedition to the North Pole
Click to enlarge in a new window.

Jaco Van Gas had brought a set of darts and a specially made lightweight dartboard to celebrate the occasion.  Whilst he had been recovering from his afghanistan injuries in hospital, some of the world's top darts players had come to lift his spirits, and he had quickly become hooked on the game.  Right at the top of the world, the Walking with the Wounded team had a game of target darts - nearest the bull would win.  In tempeatures of around minus 40 degrees celsius, the tungsten darts stuck to their hands but they succeeded in finishing their game.  Steve was closest.  Then after the most Northerly game of darts ever, the team buried the darts to mark the spot of the North Pole. Jaco later said "heaven knows what they will make of it if they dig it up 100 years from now"!         

Prince Harry was the first person from the outside world to congratulate the team by satellite telephone.  He described them as "true role models" and joked that to reach the NorthPole so quickly was "just showing off"!  David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, had sent a letter to the team which they opened at the North Pole.  The letter congratulated them on literally reaching the top of the world, and told of how David Cameron and so many people back in the UK had been following their adventure with awe, respect and pride.  To top off their celebrations the team toasted the Queen with a bottle of Pol Roger champaign which they had pulled the 190 miles through the arctic.  

The next day two helicopters picked them up from the North pole to take them back to Barneo, from where they then flew to a warm hotel back in Lonyearbyen on the island of Spitzbergen, Norway.

The team finally returned to England on Saturday April 23rd in the middle of the Easter weekend, and just in time to see Wiliam and Catherine's wedding the following friday, 29th April.  Arriving at the airport dressed in their orange arctic suits, they were greeted by friends and family.  

At the airport, Steve Young described it as a rollercoaster ride which he was glad to have been there for. He said that to stand on top of the world was the end of a long journey for himself and an awesome way to end what had happened over the last 20 months.  Speaking of Prince Harry, he said that as soon as he came on to the ice he was part of the team and he got treated no differently from the rest of them.  He described the pressure ridges as quite tough to get over, especially for the lads with one arm, and Harry was straight there mucking in, helping the boys to push over and wasn't afraid of a bit of hard work.        

Well done to everyone involved.  Huge credit for such an amazing feat of endurance and determination.

Photos and route map are courtesy of Walking with the Wounded.