North PoleIn April of 1995 took a little sojourn to the top'o'the'world. Why you ask, would a person who grew up in the rather tropical southern town of Houston want to go to a place where the mean temperature in April is 40 degrees below zero.
Why not? Besides, it's on my list.
The trip started with a visit to lovely, downtown Moscow. We stayed there for a couple of days before getting on a Topolov 154 (a Boing 727 clone).
From now on, when a whuffo asks me why I jump out of airplanes, I can say: "Simple, I've flown Aeroflot." Here are the tires of the Topolov.
After a few terrifying hours in the Topolov with a fueling stop (meaning a landing on those tires), we arrived in the bustling metropolis of Khatanga, Siberia. This is just about the entire town except for the runway and fuel tanks. After getting a good night's sleep, we got onto our plane.
This is an IL-76; the Soviet Air Force's answer to a C130.
Wow, impressive isn't it.
It's a little hard to see in this picture, but I'm the guy in the red jacket on the left.
Here is a picture taken out the one window on each side of the IL76 shortly after we get over the ice cap. This time of year it begins to break up. To give you an idea of how big those cracks are, we were at 35000' when this picture was taken.
Jump Run!!!There are even some Russians doing static lines using WWII vintage equipment. shudder
Here is the circle of flags we erected around The Pole.
I don't normally drink, but how often does one get to The Pole. At least I didn't have any trouble chilling the champagne. In fact, it chilled so fast the last couple of sips more closely resembled a champagne slushy.
About 1/2 mile from The Pole was a large crack, called a "lead." It was about 10 feet wide and several miles long. The water in it had frozen to a thickness of about 6 inches. (2 inches are needed to support a human)
While I was there, it opened up another couple of inches. If you look closely near the middle of the picture, you can see the crack. It took about 10 minutes for this to happen. While it was opening, it made a deep rumbling sound that is rather hard to describe. One person had a video camera with them. If I can get a copy of the tape, I'll put a sample here.
Growing on the surface of the newly frozen ice were ice crystals about 1/2 inch high. Pictures don't do them justice.
Here are some really neat formations in the ice:
The trip organizer, Bill Booth, sitting on his thrown.
Shortly before leaving, I felt a little meditation was in order.
It was fun, but we had to leave eventually.
We then went to an ice airport about 75 miles away. Shortly after arrival, the wind kicked up and created near white out conditions. This is a picture of the sun.
Everyone's got to eat, even if it takes heating the food with a blowtorch. I'm not making this up, you try any other method when the temperature is a balmy 40 degrees below zero.
The camp even had a mascot. He would lick scaps of dropped food off the ice. If he didn't do it in a couple of seconds, though, the food would be frozen to the ice. Don't ask me what kept his tonge from freezing to the ice as well.
After about 16 hours at the ice airport, an AN74 landed. This is a baby brother to the IL76 we jumped out of. It landed in near zero visibility on it's forth attempt at the runway. Many of us were lining the runway with flares for the pilot to see.
He really didn't have a choice about landing; he didn't have enough fuel to get back.
Here we are jocking for position so we wouldn't have to wait any longer for the next load.
After a little rest back in Khatanga, we flew via helicopter to a nearby eskimo village. After we had all arrived, we then took back off to do a little jumping.
The village is the small group of dots just below the center of the picture. The dark, wide lines in the snow are the path of the reindeer herd.
Here's one of the group comming in for a landing.
Isn't that special...
Shortly after the jumping, the aforementioned herd arrived.
I took this picture to give an idea of the size of the reindeer. They are actually rather small.