Arctic or Antarctic?… The answers.

Hi folks!

As promised, herewith, my answers to Thursday’s polar quiz questions:

Ok, first – my answers to those four non-visual questions:

Question 1: How do you get to the North Pole?

Answer A: The simplest and cheapest method:

Buy a plane ticket from Dubai to Seattle or San Francisco. These routes fly real close to the Geographic North Pole. I believe the route Anchorage-Frankfurt (on Condor) also still does too (I flew it back in 2013, but I was sleeping around the time of the near-polar-flyover). While back in the mid-nineties there was a direct Aeroflot flight between Moscow and San Francisco, and they even gave out ‘flown over the North Pole’ certificates!

Answer B: Another, more expensive, way of getting to the North Pole – this time actually right to it, up close and personal freezing – is on one of the regular expeditions organized by the Russian company VICAAR.

Those two gents in the above pic are Victor Boyarskiy and Leonid Plenkin, who escort you up to the North Pole if you decide to go with VICAAR. Btw, that photo was taken in an Antonov An-74, en route from Svalbard to Barneo; from Barneo to the North Pole you take a helicopter.

The An-74:


The Mi-8 to the North Pole:

So how else can you get to the North Pole?

Answer C: In summer you can buy a ticket for an icebreaking excursion! I haven’t been on such a tour but, as you might guess, really want to: it’s on my to-do-soon list!

Answer D: You could go on skis, but you need to prep for months and it will probably be the most hazardous journey of your lifetime. More on the most recent ski expedition to the North Pole coming up shortly, btw…

Answer E: You could reach the North Pole… in a submarine! You need to be in the navy to do so I think, so this might not be too realistic an option. Still, just imagine telling your grandkids the tale years later: “Next, we surfaced at the North Pole! The visiting tourists who were stood around there were rather astonished at our turning up, seemed very impressed with our nuclear-powered ride, and even stood mouths agape as we all piled out to touch the Pole itself!”

Question 2: How do you get to the South Pole?

Answer A: Alas, a commercial airline route flying over the South Pole doesn’t exist. The nearest you can fly past it is on the flights between Santiago and Auckland or Sydney. I flew that route in 2008 on Chile’s LATAM Airlines, and in 2015 on Australia’s Qantas (QF28) (btw – in that post there are a few pics that were used in Thursday’s quiz).

Answer B: To actually reach the South Pole you need to have the US company Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) transport you there. First you fly to Punta Arenas in Chile, from where you take an Il-76 to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica.

…And a Douglas DC-3 takes you from Union Glacier Camp to the South Pole itself. I’ve written a whole book about getting to the South Pole this way (actually, the route back then (10 years ago) was a little different: we stopped at Patriot Hills, now disused).

Ok. Any other ways to get to the South Pole? Yes…

Answer C: Though there’s obviously no possibility of getting there in either an icebreaker ship or a submarine, you can cross Antarctica to the South Pole in tracked vehicles.

Answer D: Some folks have even made the journey on motorbikes!

Btw, tracked vehicle transportation for the North Pole is very problematic: such a vehicle would have to be amphibian; otherwise there’d be the lethal danger of slipping through a crack in the ice like this one:

Answer E: The South Pole was first reached by the Roald Amundsen‘s expedition in 1911 on dog-pulled sleighs, but such a means of transportation isn’t used any more. However, you can make the trip on skis, just as you can to the North Pole – if you’re brave enough!

Ok, that’s enough of how to get to the poles.


Oh. The answer to both questions 3 and 4 (Why would you want to get to the North Pole? Why would you want to get to the South Pole?): Why wouldn’t you? These are the poles, baby!

Now – the answers to the visual questions:

0. How many kilometers to the mountain range in the background?

The mountains in the pic with the round cloud up above them is Vinson Massif, in Antarctica – and it’s around 20 kilometers away. Sure, they look nearer. I think it’s what you get when there’s nothing between you and the horizon – perhaps only near the poles, and maybe in some flat deserts too. Also the air humidity is around 0% = no pollution = clear visibility, like in space. So there’s no dust or other pollutants making distant objects blurry, which is also unusual and affects the perception of distance.

1. Where did this slab of ice come from, and how and why?

The ice block is the ice shelf of Antarctica. How might you tell if it’s in Antarctica? Actually, I don’t know. And how did it find itself on the ice, being some four thousand kilometers from the nearest populated center and with ships not sailing around these parts? Sorry, no idea to that either! Come on you smart Aleks and Alexandras… – any ideas?

2. These veins/lines – do they foretell the fate (perhaps the apocalypse?) of the planet? Or are they nothing like that and quite natural and common? Main thing though: where are they – Arctic or Antarctic?

Those fissures come from ice buckling and then breaking up. You can probably track climate change by studying them. The cracks in the first pic below are in Antarctica. The cracks in the second pic – the Arctic. Now, Antarctica’s climate is in no way connected to that of the Arctic’s… but more on that – rather, my hypothesis thereon – a little later.

3. Here’s a toughie. Folks clearly toed and froed here, but where is it: Arctic or Antarctic?

It’s in the Arctic! How can you tell? Well, if I were to add that the pic is very close to one of the poles, you’d be able to work out that it’s near the North Pole – because of the snow on the ground. In Antarctica there’s practically zero humidity near the South Pole so, as already mentioned, snow simply doesn’t fall!

4. Those are my footprints, but where are they – near the North Pole or the South Pole?

There is some snow in Antarctica of course, only not near the South Pole. So where’s the pic taken? Actually, in the Arctic. Only there does the snow cover get all fluffy so your feet sink into it. In southern Antarctica the snow’s is always compressed, like this:

Regarding that pic – it has to be in Antarctica as there are mountains present. No mountains in the Arctic ).

5. Please don’t ask what this is. Simply answer where it is please:

That there is blue ice. It’s formed by a mysteriously unique natural process: mountains accumulate the sun’s heat, which melts the snow, even though the air temperature is below zero! In ice near mountains there can even be found capsules with liquid water in them – in places where the temperature has been below zero for millions of years!

Btw, the wind in Antarctica can get so strong it can roll rocks across the ice! They roll along for thousands of years on the surface of the ice toward the ocean, where they eventually leave the continent on icebergs, which eventually melt to leave the rocks behind!

6. Snow, ice, extreme cold and nothing else. Doesn’t really swing it one way pole or the other. But – which one?

Ice with cracks with water in them = floating ice. Pic taken from a helicopter; I never mention a helicopter ride in my Antarctica tales. Therefore: north!

7. Woah. A long crack in the ice. That could spell trouble. But where? Way up north, or way down south?

A crack in the ice under fresh snow – it’s north. For reasons already stated.

8. Polar snow and ice movements like to crush and smash and crumple and contort. Scary at times. Beautiful at others. But where did this particular ice-snow movement take place?

Fresh snow; on the horizon – helicopters: north!

9, 10. Things can be just the opposite of scary near the poles too: for example resembling a picture postcard from a tropical resort, only with just two colors – pure white and bright blue. So where’s this polar-postcard from?

Snow compacted and weather-beaten. Plus mountains on the horizon. Antarctica!

11. Where’s this pole – north or south?

Neatly sculpted snow, no cracks. Antarctica. This pole too:

(marathons, believe it or not, are sometimes held in Antarctica; flagged poles like these are used to mark out the route!)

12… The rest you’ll be able to guess based on the foregoing.


The further you get from the poles themselves the harder it can be to distinguish north from south based on the snow type or whether there are any mountains; for example, on Novaya Zemlya there’d be mountains. Also, the ice shelves of the north and south will look pretty much the same.

Well that’s about it for today folks on the polar theme. How did you do?

And if you have any questions – as always, please do fire away in the comments…


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