The Journey Begins
This expedition has been a long time coming but has always seemed to come too fast at the end. We are 53 strong with a mix of ill and injured soldiers, civilian team members, guides, media and film crew. We are the largest group ever to embark on a ski expedition to the magnetic North Pole.
This morning we gathered in the hotel lobby at 7:30 am and loaded onto 2 charter buses that took us to a private terminal at the Ottawa airport. We boarded a chartered First Air 737 at 9:00 am for a 9:30am a departure. The flight time to Iqaluit was 3:20. A fuel stop in Iqaluit was approximately 2 hours and gave us time to explore the town.
Our first stop in Iqaluit was the local Air Cadet training centre. We were met by the cadets, the mayor and the premier of Nunavut. After a few speeches, TPL presented the Air Cadets with a cheque for $10,000 in memory of an Iqaluit soldier killed in Afghanistan and the town then presented TPL with a cheque for $10k.
One of our team members was the leader of the team that recovered the body of the Iqaluit soldier and his fallen team that was killed in a firefight.
Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut and has about 8000 inhabitants. It is a cold and barren place, but the houses are painted bright and beautiful colours and that makes the town look much more inviting.
We then descended on a local art shop that specialized in soapstone carvings. They had a huge selection from small to very large from expensive to very expensive. The shop owners were not quite prepared as the group prepared to buy many beautiful items.
We made our way back to the air terminal and boarded the plane for the final leg to Resolute Bay. The flight was 2:45 and went by pretty quickly. Upon landing in Resolute we were picked up by the ATCO Structures and Logistics bus and taken to the South Camp Inn where we will spend the next few days.
After dinner, I went out for a walk around town. Resolute has about 200 inhabitants, 100 being kids. It is quite small and only takes about 10 minutes to walk the town end to end. The houses are small and simple and raised off the ground on metal stilts. There is a church, an arena, a school, a college building, an RCMP dispatch and a service building. Yesterday there were 16 polar bears in town and the town was in lockdown. People were not allowed outside unless they were in a vehicle.
The sun was strong and the sky was clear, but it was still quite cold with a biting wind. As the sun dipped lower in the sky the temperature dropped even more and I headed back in. This was the end of my day.
From a team-building perspective we are very much in the forming stage at this point. We are just starting to build the relationships that will form the foundation of our team culture. Our aim will be to accelerate our development to a high-performance team as this will be critical for safety, success and enjoyment during this expedition.
From a team building perspective, this was a storming day with a bit of forming as well. Storming is not always conflict-oriented and can be a very positive stage. This time is used to gain clarity on team roles and to ask questions. This is an essential step in moving towards high performance.
I got out of bed around 6:30. Having 24 hours if sunlight makes it difficult to sleep deeply. David Q who is my roommate was up much earlier. In 2007 April 22 he was blown up and shot and suffered extensive injuries to his head, face, arm, and leg. He was in an armoured vehicle that came under attack. He said he was blown out of the turret-like you would see in a cartoon. He flew through the air for 20 feet or more. He was alive but badly hurt. Another one of our teammates on the Ice is Bjarne and he was in the vehicle with David. Bjarne lost his left leg halfway up the thigh. As they laid in the dirt Bjarne turned to David and told him to remain calm, even though he was the one with the more severe injury, because panic makes your heart race and you bleed out faster that way. Anyway, David has a lot of nerve damage and does not sleep well and he is always up early.
Bjarne is also on the expedition with us. For much of the expedition, he will use a sit-ski that we have customized for him. I know this expedition will be a challenge for him, but he has a great attitude and that will make all the difference
After breakfast was an exercise in organized (just barely) chaos. Each POD (we have divided our large group into 6 PODs) took a turn getting their skis and poles fit. The intention was to get everyone kitted out and then go for a ski. Well, it was taking so long that individuals, small groups and PODs started to head out for a ski on their own. Once I was done helping with the ski fitting I gathered my POD and we started out for a ski. We were travelling overland with a thin covering of snow. All too soon small sharp rocks started to appear and we were starting to damage our skis and out sleds. After a few hundred feet I called a stop and we disconnected from our sleds and skied on. Soon after we took off our skis and just went for a walk. We did not have time to make it out to the sea ice before lunch so we just had a nice little walk. It was good practice none-the-less.
After lunch, we walked to the community hall to meet with the local ranger cadets and some of the townspeople. The community centre is basically a gym for basketball and other games. This day the gathering was here to see a presentation from Caroline Ouellette and Genevieve Lacasse who are members of my POD and are members of our Women’s Olympic hockey team who won gold in Sochi. Caroline is the captain of the team and has won gold at 4 Olympics.
They showed photos, video and told stories of how they got started in hockey, what it took to make the Olympics and what it takes to win. They did a great job and I know I felt very proud of them and most people said they had tears of happiness, joy and pride in their eyes most of the presentation. After the presentation, they signed autographs, took photos with their gold medals and gave out pins and books. I felt it was a great way for the expedition to give a little to the community of Resolute.
We then headed to the ice rink for a small game of hockey. Bauer donated $10k worth of gear that we brought with us. Locals and expedition members laced up for a friendly game and most of the town came out to watch. Although a great facility I was told it is not used much as there are no adults who know how or are capable of coaching the kids. It was a high scoring game as there was only one goalie that traded teams every now and then and the goalie had no stick.
Resolute is a small community and occasionally gets small groups of visitors from the south. A small expedition team or a few researchers, but it is rare for 53 people to descend upon the town at once. I think it was exciting and overwhelming all at once for the locals. Some of them kept their distance, but some were keen to mix and mingle.
After dinner, we had a POD meeting where we each got together with our groups to check-in and to review logistics and plans for the next couple days. I then started to dig into my sled and our group gear and food. I was not here when the other guides were prepping gear so I needed to set up my sled, make sure we have everything we will need, and familiarize myself with the gear and systems. It took quite a while to go through everything and when I looked at my watch it was 10 pm. I had totally lost track of time and since the sun is up 24 hours a day it is easy to forget when it is time for bed.
Day 3 How Far Did We Go
Today would once again have elements of Forming and Storming. We are still very much in the initial phase of our development as a large team and the formation has only just begun with our individual PODs. As a leader at this time my style is fairly directive. I know the team culture I want to create and the skills that need to be learned. There is not a lot of room for debate here. I am also focused on using an Affiliative and Visionary leadership style to paint a picture of success and to build strong emotional bonds within the team. I believe that relationship is the foundation for all high-performance teams. People must know, understand, respect, and trust one another. Without this foundation the team will never become high performance as these factors will become critical at some point and if they are not there this is where the team will stall.
On with the story…
Breakfast was at 7 am. I did not eat as much, which I would later regret. At 8:00 we met as a POD and went through the contents and packing of our sleds. At 9:00 we started out onto the ice for a ski. Today the film crew had a helicopter coming to get some aerial shots. We set our sites on an iceberg stuck in the ice about 7km offshore. As a group of 53, we are quite a mob. We stopped several times to adjust layers. It was about -20c with little wind so it was pretty comfortable. After a couple of hours, we heard the chopper storming towards us. We all put on our red Canada Goose parkas and skied more or less in a long single-file line. It must have been a pretty cool site to behold from the sky. The red jackets stand out quite vividly against the stark white of the snow. A few times the chopper buzzed us to stir up the snow to create a more dramatic shot. Otherwise, it was a beautiful sunny day.
After the helicopter left we started our way back but stopped partway to do a mock camp set up. We each met in our PODs and set up our tents. Caroline and Gen had not seen the tents before so it was a good opportunity for them to see what they look like and how to set them up. Some people got a little cold during the camp set up and were anxious to get going, but it was important training and team bonding.
After about 5 ½ hours skiing we made it back to the hotel for lunch. Everyone was quite hungry and a little bit tired from the ski. This was a pretty good representation of what a typical day will be like. Minus the hotel.
After lunch, there was time for a very short rest and then we were off to the community centre for a feast with the town. Most of the town seemed to be there. First, we had a demonstration of some traditional Inuit games and throat singing. After the games, we had dinner which consisted of mostly appetizer type foods, some sandwiches and then some traditional food. I sampled Polar Bear and it tasted like a cross between beef and tuna, the seal was very dark, rich and fishy in a funny kind of way, and the Beluga was like chewing a rubber tire with a fishy flavour. Overall not bad, but out of my standard food comfort zone. There was also some vegetables and some fruit that the Inuit seemed to get quite excited about as these are not easy food items to acquire up here.
Tonight we will have a meeting to clarify our flight schedule for the morning. We will then be ready to head out and make our way to the pole.
Day 4 – The Waiting Game
Today was a continued Forming day as we did not fly into our start position as intended. One more day to continue to build relationships and team build.
We were poised to fly out to our start location this morning, but the weather was not cooperative. Low clouds and increasing wind at the landing zone postponed our flight and then grounded us for the day after the 2 pm weather report.
This is all quite normal for any expedition that relies on a flight into the start location. For Mount Logan I spent almost a week sleeping on the floor of a helicopter hanger, when heading into the Khumbu Valley for Everest it is rare to get out on your first attempt, and for my trip to Antarctica, I spent a week killing time in Punta Arenas.
Although disappointing, the team took this in stride. In order to fill the time some team members headed to the arena for some more hockey where they were joined by several locals, some went for a hike up a big beautiful mountain out behind the town, some went for a ski to further refine gear and technique, and some simply took it easy.
I played hockey for a bit and then wandered the town. I went into the Co-Op which is the only store in town. They sell a little bit of everything in there; groceries, clothing, furniture, snowmobile parts and more. Prices are inflated, but some items are more than others. Milk is $5 for a 2L jug, 18 eggs are $6, a package of lunch meat is $9, a 24 pack of Coke is $36, and a bag of chips is $12. They did have some fresh fruit and vegetables, but mostly the food is frozen or processed.
Although not ideal this delay is not too big a deal. We have built time in just for a weather delay and we can also add to the distance skied each day to make up for any further shortening to our time allotment on the ice.
Our next weather report is 7 am tomorrow morning and that will tell us if we fly or not. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
Day 5 Lesson In Patience
From a team building perspective, today had some storming and continued norming in it. Our day did not go exactly as planned and this was the storming. Storming is not always conflict-oriented, sometimes it is just when you need to deal with the stress and disappointment of plans not going your way. As a team, we had to support one another as some people were more emotional than others. As a leader, I need to keep my team focused on our culture vision and our end goal, engage them in dialogue, answer their questions and reassure them. This can be a difficult time for a leader as the team sits idle waiting to do their job. They must be kept in a positive mindset so they are ready to go when the time is right.
We were off to a great start this morning. We loaded the first group and their gear into the bus and off they went to the airport. They took off on time and landed safely on the ice. My POD was next in line to go in. We made our way to the airport. There was some confusion over the gear and what was to go and what was to stay, but we sorted it out and boarded the twin otter. Then the flight company realized the math did not work and that we could not all get in using 2 twin otter flights and one flight with the DC3. We would need to scrub the twin and go with 2 flights on the DC3. We disembarked the twin and went back into the terminal where we debated with the pilot and the ground crew for a while. For safety, we had to make sure the gear loaded on the plane matched the people on the plane. You don’t want to land on the ice without your gear to keep you safe in case the next plane does not make it in. Just like the first group that is out there now. They are spending the night without us and if they did not have their tents, sleeping bags, stoves and food they would be in trouble.
Eventually, we got it all sorted out and my POD and the Caribou POD boarded the plane. The engines started and we taxied towards the runway. The engines roared and we picked up speed. We were on our way to the ice. Then, the scream of the engines slowed and we were soon turning around. All-day the wind had been raging and now the blowing snow had reduced the visibility to ½ mile and the regulations state that they cannot take off without a minimum of ¾ mile visibility.
We taxied back to the terminal and disembarked the plane once again. We waited around for a while hoping the weather may clear, but eventually the pilot called it off for the day. We would not make it to the ice this day.
We boarded the bus and went back to the South Camp Inn and moved back into our old rooms. Dinner was good, the rooms are warm, the bed is soft, and the hockey game was on the TV, but I would have much rather been on the ice. Delays are a normal part of this type of trip and you have to take it in stride, but I don’t really have to be happy about it. We all want to start what we came here to do.
This will also have a slight impact on our daily ski plans. We will need to ski a little further and a little longer each day to make up for the lost time. We just have to hope all goes well tomorrow.
The plan as of now is to have a call with the team on the ice at 6:45 and get the weather report from there and then to talk with the pilot who will look at the satellite report and then they will decide if we are a go. If so, my POD and the Caribou POD will prepare to fly out for about 8:00. The next flight will follow a couple of hours later and then we will be on our way.
Day 6 On the Ice
We finally make it to the ice and start the norming process of team building. We are doing what we need to do, but there is still a lot of learning and refinement to take place. Storming also pops in and out as people struggle with things and emotions rise from being tired and hungry. As a leader, I focused on being a calming influence on the group, being a coach and a mentor and keeping us focused on our culture vision.
We woke to a blue sky with low winds. It was cold at -20, but that was part of what we had signed up for. All was a go for our flight to our landing zone on the ice. Breakfast was quick and we made our way to the Resolute Bay airport once again. Today we would need two flights on the DC3 to get the remaining PODs onto the ice.
My POD was on the first flight out and we were wheels up at 8:00 am. It was a smooth flight as we cruised 2500 feet above the frozen ocean and tundra. One hour and forty-five minutes later we made out descent. We could see the first 2 PODs that had made it out the day before camped on the ice. The landing was smooth and we quickly disgorged the plane of all our gear so it could go back for the remaining PODs.
The sun was bright, there was a cold sting from the wind and we were finally here. We had about 4 hours to wait for the last people so we set up our group tent and started the stove for warmth and to melt snow for a drink.
After a while, in the tent, we needed some stimulation so we went out to play in the snow. I taught the group how to make snow blocks and to build a basic snow shelter.
At 2:00 the plane arrived once again, the last of our group hit the ice and we were ready to go. Since we were starting late my understanding was that we would ski for 3-4 hours and then make camp for the night.
As we started out the group quickly spread out. I kept my POD together so we would be close on this first march of the expedition. The first 2 days are critical as this is when most skills for living on the ice will be learned, this is when we really start to bond as a team, and this is when our team culture and norms will form.
On a polar expedition, we travel in time and distance segments called marches. This fits in well with our military theme. Different people use different march lengths, but Richard Weber, our head guide, likes to use an initial 2-hour march, followed by 1.5-hour marches.
The pace was fast. Too fast I felt. The lead group started to pull way out in front and the tail group fell way back. My group was in the middle, but working hard to stay there. As the guide, my sled was significantly heavier than everyone else’s in my group. Along with my personal gear, my sled also contained the large group tent, all the cooking and eating supplies, the 4 stoves, fuel, and all the drinks and snack food for the group as well as my shotgun, ammunition, and bear bangers, and 2 cans of pepper spray. I don’t know what the total weight was, but I know it felt like dragging an anchor through the snow.
We hit the end of our first march at 2 hours, took a 10-minute break for water and a snack and struck out for the next march. The temperature was around -20 with a good wind making it feel closer to -30. When you were moving it was pretty comfortable, but when you stopped you got cold very fast. The hands and face were the toughest to keep warm.
We kept on marching and people started to get tired, cold and hungry. We skied until 8:00 pm and covered 15km. It was a much longer day than I had expected, but it was a good initiation into the reality of the journey we were embarking on.
Once in camp work does not stop. We first erect the group tent and I as the guide climb in and fire up the stoves to melt snow for water. It takes a lot of snow to melt to water 10:1 or more and therefore it takes a long time to get enough water for drinks, dinner, more drinks, hot water bottles for bed, and dishwater. For my POD of 7 people, I needed to brew around 20 litres of water each night, and the same the next morning.
As I was cooking the rest of the team was putting up our second tent, building a latrine, and constructing snow block walls to protect our tents from the relentless arctic winds.
We had dinner this first night on the ice around 10:00 pm and finally got to bed around midnight. The interesting thing is that you do not feel sleepy despite the late hour. Our bodies are trained to be awake when the sun is up and with 24 hours of sun you do not experience the same feeling of sleepiness as you would when the sun goes down.
For this reason, many people resort to earplugs, sleep masks, melatonin, and sleeping pills. As the guide, I am the last one to bed and do not sleep well as I am listening for anyone that needs me. This will relax as the group becomes more comfortable, but in the first couple of days, I need to be extra attentive.
Day 7 The March Continues
Our wake up alarm at 7:00 am was a rousing chorus of barks and howls by Demon. Demon is Richard Weber’s Chech German Sheppard and he is our Polar Bear early warning system. He has a lot of arctic experience and has chased many bears away in the past. He knows his job and he is good at it. He is also one of the most friendly and best-tempered dogs I have met. He loves to play fetch as much as any Golden Retriever and is constantly dropping ice blocks at your feet and looking longingly at you to throw it as far as you can.
It was a cold night for most (-25 area) and 7:00 came early after our long, hard and late day yesterday. When we wake we take our sleeping bags out of the tent to air out, visit the latrine and then I start the chore of making water. All in all, it took us about 3.5 hours from the time we woke to the time we started to ski. Breakfast was porridge, pitas, peanut butter and assorted hot drinks and chocolates. We covered 18 km this day and it was once again a long and hard day. We are skiing on the frozen Arctic Ocean so the ground is basically flat, but there are many slight ups and downs formed from shifting ice and blowing snow. Even the slightest increase in grade slowed my progress and some of the larger hummocks (snow mounds) would grid me to a full stop and require me to herringbone my skis to get the edges to bite in so I could drag my sled over the hump. Halfway through the day, we hit a patch of older multiyear ice. Up until this point, we had been skiing on new ice that had formed over this winter. This new ice is relatively flat and uniform. Multiyear ice has a mix of new ice and leftover ice that did not fully melt from previous years. This older ice is mixed in and pushed up within the new ice to form a beautiful landscape of ice towers. As beautiful as it is, it is also more difficult to navigate through.
No longer can we just move in a straight line, but we need to weave around the turquoise blocks of ice in a never-ending maze. The vertical blocks of ice also act as a snow fence of sorts and gather snow forming deep patches of snow that are difficult to plow your sled through. We trudged on and on and at 7:00pm we stopped for the night. I was exhausted from the effort and my team was also quite tied. We entered into the routine of setting up camp and preparing dinner. Roles were starting to form and the tasks went a little faster. Although there are 5 other PODs out here with us and we are all camped pretty close together there is not a ton of socialization outside your POD. During the ski day, I like to keep my POD together and we have some time to interact with others as we pass them or as they pass us. Because of the effort of pulling our sledges, these conversations are often short. Once in camp, there is much to be done and not a lot of time or desire to wander around and chat with the other team members. We had become quite strung out this day and some people near the back were feeling upset that there was not enough communication coming from the front, there was no clear plan for the day and that plan was always changing, and that we were travelling too far and long. Much of this was the emotions of exhaustion, but some were the normal process of figuring out how to travel and work together as a team in a new environment. As guides, we observed, met, discussed, and adjusted the plan accordingly.
Our camp was in a beautiful collection of ice towers, hills and ridges. The sun hung low on the horizon and soon the challenges and fatigue of the day melted away. Our dinner starts with a Weber cocktail which is a mixture of powdered milk, maple syrup, whiskey, and hot water. It is a quick pick-me-up at the right time. Next, I serve cheese, crackers and pate that I have thawed in my jacket and by the fire of the stoves. For dinner, we have a selection of freeze-dried meals and chocolate and maple fudge for dessert. One of our POD members had brought a bottle of Champagne with him and this was the perfect night for it. The combination of cold and bubbly was a perfect end to the day.
Team building analysis: as you can see we went through a lot this day. Forming continues to take place as we learn and build relationships, Storming happened when emotions got strong and when plans changed, Norming was there as we grew and refined skills, and Performing had to be there to cover the distance that we did. All in all, a great team day. I was proud of my team and all the other PODs as well.
Day 8 On And On We Go
Once again up at 7, eat, drink, pack and hit the trail by 10:30 am. We continued to weave our way through the towers of ice for a couple of hours and then emerged out onto the new flat ice once again.
Once again the going was tough as I slowly dragged my behemoth of a sledge through the snow for hour after hour. As a POD we had determined we preferred 1.5-hour marches and some had moved to one-hour marches. We were all starting to move at our own pace and be comfortable with that.
Partway through the day, we encountered the Inuit Rangers. This is a northern branch of the military that patrols this desolate land. They move about on snowmobiles guarding against what I do not know and from whom I cannot guess. There is nobody up here except for the occasional Polar Bear.
The soldiers in our team had fun chatting with the rangers and they gave us some bannock and caribou. They told us they would select a good place for us to camp that night and would plant a flag to mark it.
We parted way, us on our skis, them on their snowmobiles, and we were once again moving towards the pole. For hour after hour, we skied, growing more tired with each step forward. Some team members started to hit the wall and need to be helped by those that were stronger.
Eventually, we saw the flag fluttering in the distance and thanked God we were there. It was 8:00 pm and we had travelled 21km. Everyone was tired but happy. It was good to know we could cover this distance as this is what would be required to make it to the pole for our extraction date. An added incentive was that the Rangers had told us a blizzard was forecast to hit in a couple of days and we needed to make it to the pole before the blizzard hit as it would likely stop us dead in our tracks for a day or more.
In my POD I have three civilian business leaders and I am fortunate to have Genevieve Lacasse and Caroline Ouellette from the Women’s Gold Medal Olympic hockey team. They are great to have on the team and very helpful to me. We are a good group and are bonding well.
Bedtime was again midnight, but once again the sun made the late hour seem not late at all.
All I all a good day. Tough but good. We are really starting to form as a team and today had some elements of Performing for the first time. Roles have been defines and a routine has been established. When we roll into camp things just happen and we are getting pretty smooth about it. There was some Storming as people hit the wall physically, but this gave way to good food, a warm tent, and good company. I am happy with where we are as a team. We have defined a culture vision and are now making it a reality. This flows very well from our Deliberate Success Model which I use with the corporate teams I help develop and coach.
Day 9 Out of the Pan and Into the Fire
The day started with a 2-hour ski across pretty good ice. Some patches slid quite well and some felt like sandpaper, but overall it was not too bad. Today we had a land crossing to make and it proved to be a dramatic ascent up and over through beautiful terrain with a traumatic toll on our bodies.
We entered a small valley and started to climb. The snow was good, the snow was bad, it was normal. You learn to identify the better ice and snow by appearance and move back and forth looking for the best surface to slide your sledge across.
Up and up we went. Hour after gruelling hour. We also gained protection from the wind in the valley and as the sun beat down on us the temperature seemed to skyrocket. Soon most people were down to one layer and were still sweating under a load of pulling sledges upward and upward still. The intensity of the sun and the immobilizing heat reminded me of toiling up the western cwm on Mount Everest moving from camp 1 to camp 2. Beautiful, absolutely, exhausting and humbling, 100%.
As the day wore on my speed slowed and the steeper uphill sections became a mental game of survival and determination. Nobody was going to let this uphill grind beat them. After six hours of upward ascent, and 8 hours of pulling,
I spotted camp in the distance and a prettier sight I had rarely seen. Overall we had skied for almost 10 hours and moved 23km closer to the pole. What a day!
Not much to say today from a team-building perspective. It was just a long hard day and thankfully everyone knew what the had to do and we worked well together. We are in a good spot as a team by this point and as a leader, I am focused mostly on maintenance.
Day 10 The Final March
We had determined that in order to avoid skiing through the blizzard we would need to make it to the pole today. This would mean a big push, but we had proven we could do it. The day began with another 2 hours of ascent. I felt privileged to be travelling through this beautiful part of our country, even if I did not always fully appreciate dragging my sledge with me. Eventually, we emerged out of the valleys and onto a large flat plain.
At first, I thought we were on a high alpine plain and I was wondering when we would start the descent to go with all the ascent we had done. Then it slowly dawned on me that we were skiing on the ocean. We had crossed the land and I thought “where was the freaking downhill?”. I felt we deserved some easy going aided by gravity, but there was none. How could this be I thought? Eventually I realized that although it felt like we had skied uphill for over 8 hours there were actually enough downhill sections to equal out the ups and we were back at the same elevation we had started.
When pulling a sled, the gravity assistance of a downhill is minimalized and therefore the angle and distance of the descent is reduced in your mind and any flat sections actually feel uphill tricking your body into an unrealistic assessment of the actual amount of ascent/descent made. Even though I had figured this out I still felt ripped off. All I wanted was to sit on top of my sled and let it take me down a 1 or 2 km hill. Only in my dreams I guess. Now that we were back on the flat ice it was time to put the hammer down, the pedal to the metal so to speak.
We had a long way to go and not a lot time to get there. We trudged on and on and the group stretched for well over a kilometre from front to back. Some people seemed to have excess energy and others were out of gas. One kilometre from the pole we stopped and all gathered as one group. In the distance across the searing flat white ice we could see the faint fluttering of the red and white of the Canadian flag that had been planted for us by the Rangers. I know for me this was an emotional moment as we were almost there. We had pushed hard, harder than any of us thought we would, and we only had a short distance left.
We set out skiing not in a long line, but in POD groups side by side led in the front by the soldiers who were the reason we were all here in the first place. When we were about 50 feet from the pole the civilians fell back and let the soldiers step up to the flag first. They had all given so much of their lives for this flag it seemed only right. As they clasped their hands around the pole holding the flag everyone broke out in song. Oh Canada of course. It was a very emotional moment and it would be hard to find a dry eye in the group. Tough soldiers and businessmen alike were overcome with the joy, the accomplishment, the sacrifice and the passion that this moment represented. Speeches and photos followed, but soon everyone was getting cold. There was a strong wind blowing and the storm was at our heels.
We set up camp, built tall strong walls of snow blocks around our tents and settled in for the night. We had skied 23km this day and after a long celebration dinner we settled in for bed around 1:30 am. A good day. The team had hit the Performing stage of team development no question and it did not take long to get there. With a deliberate approach and a good plan the journey to high performance can be greatly accelerated. This does not mean you will not slip back to Storming on occasion, or need some touch ups in Norming, but for the most part reaching high performance can be done at an accelerated rate. For us, it was relatively easy as the vision, goals, and roles were clear. In a corporate environment, this is not always so straight forward and there are a lot of complexities thrown in. I would not say you can always hit high performance this fast, but it can be accelerated.
Day 11 The Morning After
With the task complete and the accumulation of all the work I let my POD sleep late. After all we had earned it and we had nowhere to go any more. We stayed cocooned in our sleeping bags until 11:30 and then slowly started the chores for the day. The snow was blowing and the visibility was poor so there was no hope of flying out this day.
Most of the day was spent lounging about, talking, building snow walls and taking photos. A few of us helped Darcy build an igloo. It is a very time-consuming build and takes very precise angles for the snow blocks to make it all come together.
In the afternoon I went out on the snow and built a few small snow towers. These would be the targets for my shooting range. I had all my shotgun shells left and decided we could fire off a few rounds each. I gathered my POD, gave them a lesson in firearm safety and then we blasted some snow blocks to oblivion. The sound of a 12 gauge shotgun is quite intense, but the explosion is quickly silenced by the snow, the wind, and the vast emptiness of the north. I also had a few bear bangers to add to the fun. These are basically like a fire-cracked that launches into the air and explodes with a large bang.
For dinner I gathered about 3 pounds of bacon, some cheese, and some pitas to make bacon pizzas. I fried the bacon in our pot, and then put it on the pitas with some cheese to melt and a delicacy was born. This may not get severed on the finest restaurants back home, but for us this was fine dining.
We got to bed early tonight at about 10:30. We all have some sleep to catch up on so this would be a good start.
Ultimately I think it was great that we did not fly out this day. This was a great decompression day and it the terms of team building it was the start of the Adjourning process. This is a reflection period where we examine the expedition and compare it to our vision and goals and see how we did. We extract learning’s and look for future application and it also provides a sense of closure to a great journey.
Day 12 – Extraction
We slept until 8:00 and when I poked my head out the sky was clear and the wind was low. This would be a good flying day. The plan was to leave in the same order in which we had arrived. First, it was first out.
I met with some of the other guides and we mapped out a runway on the ice. The pilot had told us it needed to be flat enough that you could go 80mph on a snowmobile and not get knocked off. We filled out some black garbage bags with snow to mark the path and waited for the sound of an approaching plane.
Around 10:00 the twin otter arrived. Twin Otters are renowned for their ability to land and take off just about anywhere. The twin landed and then drove back and forth over the landing strip a few times packing it down for the larger DC3. Soon after a second twin otter landed and we were ready to send out the first 2 PODs.
They piled onto the plane and quicker than you can imagine they were airborne and on their way back to Resolute bay. There were a few extra seats left so I sent a few of my team out early. The DC3 would come in a few hours so I set up an outdoor kitchen and started to fry up more bacon for breakfast. We ate and ate and ate. Pitas, cheese, crackers, hot chocolate, tea, coffee and more.
It was soon time to strike camp. We took down the tents and packed our bags so we would be ready when the DC3 arrived. We saw the DC3 heading towards us and watched it land effortlessly on the snow. The pilot taxied close to our camp and cut the engines. We then started to load the plane with our sleds and packs.
The DC3 is a pretty amazing plane and is one of the workhorses or the North and the South. This plane spends the Northern summer in the Arctic and then moves to Antarctica for the Antarctic summer. It was built in 1941 on the production lines of WWII and it looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. It is a very durable plane and like the twin otter it can land and take off where most other planes cannot. I was chatting with the pilot and it turns out he is the same age as the plane.
We boarded the plane, closed the door and were soon taxiing down the snow runway. We bumped and hopped as we picked up speed and before we knew it we were in the air and Resolute Bound.
The flight was about 2 hours and most people did a little napping. Upon arrival in Resolute, we were taken by bus to the hotel for lunch and showers.
When the last group was in it was time for a party. Resolute Bay is a dry community, but we were able to get an alcohol permit for the evening. We had a beer, wine and champagne flown in and had a great evening.
Paul. Tim and Shaun (the 3 co-chairs of TPL) said a few words and then Bjarne spoke. He spoke of what an amazing opportunity this had been for him. It was not too many years ago that he was lying in a hospital bed wondering if he would ever walk again. What would his life be like post-injury? This expedition and the support of the team had given him new hope in life that there is so much out there for him and that he too can help others who have suffered from the ravages of war transition into a new life. There was not a dry eye to be found in the group.
To close off the evening one of the civilian team members had written a song. He pulled out a guitar, passed out song sheets he had printed off and started. The song is titled “Sweet Arctic Line” and is based on the Neil Diamond song Sweet Caroline.