The IBM Circuit Magazine

Top of the World

While most of us head for the sun and sand for vacation, Bob Antol dared to be different. He went to the North Pole.
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Interested in a fun-filled exciting vacation? Try the North Pole.
- The New York Times

Vacation at the North Pole? Well, it's hard to get a good tan in the arctic. But then, you'd never get to see a polar bear in Bermuda, or arctic wolves and musk oxen, or Eskimos and caribou, for that matter.

So why did Bob Antol answer this advertisement and opt for the dangers of pack ice and snow fields when most of us would rather be in the sun, sipping lemonade?

"I like winter," says Antol. "I do a lot of hiking in the mountains, and when I saw the ad in the New York Times, I thought, 'Hey, this could be fun.' Here was the chance to do something few people in all of history have ever done - walk at the top of the world."

The adventure began on April 18, 1985 when Antol, EDS (Engineering Design System) physical design user liaison at IBM East Fishkill, left building 503 for Edmonton, Canada where he met his companions for the journey. Among them were a retired Catholic priest from London, England, a 78-year old woman from Virginia, and two National Geographic writers, who were assigned to do a story on the arctic wolf.

Five days later, the party left Lake Hazen, the world's northernmost lake in two Twin Otter (short-takeoff and short-landing planes), and headed for the pole.

Reaching their destination was terribly exciting, Antol recalls. "One of our people went up front to watch the instrument readout. When it read 90-degrees north, he yelled, 'We're here.' We all looked out the window. Suddenly, the plane began to circle."

Because the ice around the pole is constantly moving, the pilot had to

locate a pack smooth enough on which to land.

"Finally, we found an area that looked secure. Circling it, searching the shadows, we skimmed just above the ice," Antol says.

When the pilot decided it was safe, they stopped. Antol stepped down from the plane and onto the North Pole.

"The pole wasn't what I expected. I thought it would be a flat wasteland. I was wrong. This was the most beautiful site I had ever seen.

"Ridges surrounded us. We were trapped on a floating polar ice pack with huge chunks of ice sticking from the pole."

As is traditional, the party planted a marker and pictures were taken. To celebrate their arrival, they popped open a bottle of champagne.

The 20-below-zero temperature (Fahrenheit) was actually quite nice. Antol says, considering what the party had been through the days before. "I placed my plastic glass on the ice while I took some pictures. When I picked it up in a matter of four minutes, it had frozen. It tasted very cold, very good."

After the festivities, Antol began to explore. What struck him most were the colors in the ice, ranging from dark blue to turquoise. "And the prettiest, deepest blue sky I had ever seen." he says.

At one point, he stopped to change film in his camera. After finishing, he turned to find his spare film on the ice. The three bands holding the film had frozen, allowing it to slip out. "You can't trust a simple thing like elastic in the cold of the arctic. It becomes brittle. Camera straps freeze like swords and their shutters lock."

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Another striking sight for Antol was the solid, dry snow. "It filled in hollows, creating flat surfaces with undetectable holes underneath, he says. Walking over this Arctic quick snow, the explorers sank in. To get out, they had to crawl to solid ground.

Their total stay on the pole was only one hour and 20 minutes. "Then we had to leave. The pilots didn't want the planes to freeze up," Antol says. They took off in the Twin Otters and returned to Lake Hazen.

Now that he's back home, Antol admits that vacationing in the arctic has presented another peculiar set of problems. How do you tell someone you've just been to the North Pole?

"People asked where I spent my vacation. I would say, 'the North Pole'. Of course, they didn't believe that. Who would believe someone would go to the North Pole?"

Bob Antol at the North Pole: "The pole wasn't what I expected. I thought it would be a flat wasteland. I was wrong. This was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen."
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And the day after returning from the trip, Antol left for California to attend a meeting. There was a 100-degree difference between the pole and the West Coast. "My body was still acclimated to the arctic, and whenever it got too warm, I turned a red color."

Although Antol spent only 11 days in the arctic, the trip left a lasting impression on him. "it has changed

A Twin Otter short-takeoff and short-landing plane arrives at the North Pole. A safe landing spot is hard to find.

my perspective about basic things, like food and drinking water. I saw how valuable they are up there. We take food for granted. We go to a store; anything we want is on a shelf. But it's not that way in the arctic. The trip put me in connection with things.

"It's very pure up there. No, pure isn't the word . . . . untouched. I hope it remains untouched by man."

Would Bob Antol go north again? Trade the beaches of Mazatlan for the snows of Resolute Bay? "In an instant. It was spectacular. You know, you're supposed to have fun on a vacation. I've never had so much fun in all my life."

Ridges of ice and snow surrounded Bob Antol and his traveling companions as they explored the pole during their brief stay.
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Eskimos build a traditional igloo near Grise Fiord. The completed igloo was Bob Antol's sleeping quarters for a night when indoor temperatures reached 10-below zero (Fahrenheit).

What appears to be a snow-capped mountain is really a giant iceberg near Eureka, Northwest Territories, Canada. It is here that the National Geographic writers studied arctic wolves.

The sun above Lake Hazen at 1:30 a.m. This is the lowest point the sun reaches until it finally sets in the fall.

What struck Bob Antol most about the arctic were the colors of the ice, ranging from a dark blue to turquoise.

An arctic travelogue

April 18-19, 1985: Bob Antol flies from LaGuardia Airport to Edmonton, Canada to meet his 14 traveling companions.

April 20-21, 1985: At Resolute Bay in the Northwest Territories, the group is outfitted with arctic gear. Despite 24 hours of sunlight in the arctic spring, temperatures hover at 35-below zero (Fahrenheit).

April 22, 1985: The party stops in Eureka, Canada with National Geographic writers, who are there to study arctic wolves. Then, they go on to Lake Hazen, the jumping off point for the flight to the North Pole.

April 23, 1985: Arrival at the North Pole. After a stay of one hour and 20 minutes, they return to Lake Hazen.

April 24-25, 1985: The group flies to the Inuit Eskimo community of Grise Fiord, where Bob (and two other travelers) slept in an igloo.

April 26, 1985: The party visits the magnetic North Pole.

April 26-27, 1985: They return to Resolute bay, where breakfast costs $25; dinner, $65; and gasoline, $15 a gallon.

April 28, 1985: Bob Antol flies from Edmonton back to New York.

copyright (c) 1985 Alan Silverman

For more information, contact Bob Antol
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