The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility is no longer accessible, if it ever was. But, it is one, if not the one, natural challenge that is left to conquer.
Is nature turning the tide on humankind? Have we reached our Waterloo? Our Stalingrad?
By all appearances, yes. The erstwhile overland trek across the dark ice to the heart of the Arctic, at the farthest Arctic point from land, is apparently soon to become a side trip to Waterworld or, more aptly, Slushworld.
Extreme adventurer Jim McNeill, a.k.a. the Ice Warrior, first attempted to conquer the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility in 2003 and was turned back by an attack of flesh-eating disease. A second attempt, in 2006, was stymied by equipment failures and disintegrating ice.
Now, a planned 2010 attempt has been abandoned just days ahead of departure, due to the "worst conditions" for Arctic winter ice in decades.
McNeill said, "The risks of early failure, of cold injury and of needing to be rescued are too high to justify setting out. I believe to venture out in the current conditions would be foolhardy and not achieve any of the scientific and adventurous aims we have and could possibly endanger lives unnecessarily.”
The map of the route illustrates how satellite tracking has revealed a multitude of fissures still in the ice, as well as large masses of ice still in motion, rendering the crossing extremely dangerous, if not impossible.
The Ice Warrior website optimistically states that the attempt has been "postponed", as opposed to cancelled. However, we do wonder what the likelihood of this expedition ever being completed is.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center, which charts Arctic sea ice extent, has shown the ice extent in the Arctic at or near its all time low throughout the entire winter, from October onwards. Last summer's low ice mark was the third lowest in recorded history.
The likelihood seems strong that the possibility of trekking to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility will soon be gone, because the ice will never be good enough again.
What does that mean in the greater scheme of things? It certainly may signal the beginning of the end of human conquests of the natural world. Although Ice Warrior calls the Pole of Inaccessibility the last frontier, I wouldn't be so sure about that. What about the journey to the center of a live volcano? or to the worlds that exist only on microscope slides?
Whatever the case, to my knowledge, this may be the first time that the door has been slammed so rudely, with such finality, on human ambitions.
To read more into it than that may be a mistake. Is it going to mark a true Waterloo - a turning of the tide? Will it be the end of adventurers? Of adventure? Of course this event alone is not something that will change the course of world history. But the way things are going - the way individuals are marginalized in the interest of the greater good of large institutions; the way freedoms are glossed over in the interest of dubious security measures; the way public opinion is manipulated and information is fabricated... it becomes easier to imagine a world where human ambition is crudely harnessed to little more than its own demise.