What’s at the North Pole?

It’s that time of year when youngsters (and the young at heart) start writing out lists to their favorite jolly fellow, Santa Claus. And unless you’re truly unfamiliar, you know that the legend states that old Kris Kringle lives at the North Pole where he and his elves work all year long to make the toys and treats that he miraculously passes out to every child in the world in one night, just in time for Christmas Day. Implausible plotlines aside, that got us wondering about what else there is to do at the North Pole. Will you really find Santa’s house? Or is it just a barren and frigid wasteland?

What Is the North Pole?

Icebergs at the geographical North Pole
Credit: Christopher Wood/ Shutterstock 

Before we can talk about what’s there, let’s define the North Pole. For starters, there are actually two North Poles— and no, we’re not talking about random towns in the northernmost parts of countries named after the locale. There’s the geographical North Pole and the geomagnetic North Pole. The geographic North Pole is what you see on most maps, fixed at 90 degrees north latitude. The geomagnetic North Pole changes regularly due to magnetic activity beneath the Earth’s crust. But for the purposes of this article, we’re always referencing the fixed location of the geographic North Pole.

The North Pole is so perfectly north that the star Polaris (the North Star) appears fixed directly above the North Pole and does not “move” in the sky like we expect stars to do as the Earth rotates. While you can walk on it, the North Pole actually consists of shifting ice that ranges from six to 10 feet in depth and floats on top of the Arctic Ocean. And most importantly, it is a land without a country as no nation has any legal claim to the location. Even though the North Pole could be considered inhospitable, in the summer, you can expect the weather to be a balmy 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Getting to the North Pole

Icebreaker through the North Sea
Credit: Avatar_023/ Shutterstock 

Now that you know that the North Pole is literally due north, and a frigid place, how exactly would you get there? The sheer distance, frigid weather, and the limited ways and travel windows to reach this location mean that very few people travel to the North Pole. It’s estimated that only 1,000 people visit annually. For the most part, any guided tours to the North Pole take place between April and September when the weather isn’t as harsh.

If you want to reach Santa’s house, the best way is either by an icebreaker ship or to fly via a charter plane or helicopter. You’ll need to start your trip in Helsinki, Finland, and then travel to northwestern Russia, from which you will make the long journey to the North Pole. Expect to spend 14 days traveling and be sure to bring your wallet because an adventure trip to the North Pole could set you back by almost $25,000.

Once I Get There, What Will I See?

Snowy wilderness with icy lakes and glacier cliffs in the Arctic north
Credit: Denis Burdin/ Shutterstock

We’re not going to lie to you: The North Pole is pretty desolate. Most of what you’ll see in terms of wildlife will be on the journey to or from your destination. As is to be expected, you’ll see plenty of polar bears, walruses, seals, whales, and aquatic birds. In particular, you could spot more elusive aquatic life like the narwhal, also known as the unicorn of the sea. However, depending on the route you take to reach this distant area, you could come across indigenous communities such as the Inuit people who live near the Arctic Circle in parts of Canada and Alaska.

But if you’re into science and discovery, you’ll be happy to know that many countries send drifting research stations to the North Pole to gather information on climate, ecology, and other pertinent topics. Russia holds the record for the most consistent use of a drifting research station called North Pole (NP for short), which they deploy almost annually.

What Is There to Do at the North Pole?

Credit: Denis Burdin/ Shutterstock 

This will depend on the time of year that you go. While there is a very short window during which you can safely travel to the North Pole, there are legitimate events that take place every year. For example, if you travel in April, you could catch the North Pole Marathon, which takes place on an ice shelf. Just like any other traditional marathon, you’ll run 26.2 miles — but on pure ice.

Running aside, most of the other activities that you can do at the North Pole center around observing wildlife and ice. This can include helicopter or hot air balloon rides over the ice shelf. If you’re feeling truly brave, you can try your hand at diving in frigid waters.

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