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News & Events > Alumnae News > Ella Fenton is planning an Expedition to the North Pole

Ella Fenton is planning an Expedition to the North Pole

ELLA FENTON (2020 Leaver) is joining the Ice Warrior Project and their next scientific expedition to the North Pole ... read more about her preparations for this exciting challenge

After leaving Calne in 2020 I attended the University of Edinburgh, where I am now in my second year of a Geography BSc degree. My family are in the process of moving down to Devon, and it was whilst spending time here that I came across the ‘Ice Warrior Base Camp’ store in Princetown and met polar explorer Jim McNeill and his partner Sam Clifford. They explained to me about the Ice Warrior Project, and their next scientific expedition to the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility!

The Northern Pole of Inaccessibility is the furthest point from three points of land on the Artic Ocean and has never been reached by humans before. The Ice Warrior Project’s ‘Last Pole Expedition’ aimed to be the first to reach the pole, as well as undertaking climate data collection along a transect on the way.

I was immediately interested in taking part and joining the project and, after sending in an application form, I found myself on a ‘selection weekend’ in Dartmoor to be accepted onto the expedition team. I was the only girl on my selection weekend (there were a few others on the expedition team that had already undertaken selection), which consisted of navigation tests, sleeping outdoors and a lack of food and water to mimic the arctic conditions and test our limits!

My motivations behind wanting to sign up for this amazing opportunity were mainly driven for my passions in the outdoors and geography. The opportunity to travel and see more of the world and learn about the polar regions is also extremely exciting – especially in post Covid times! I’ve met people from all over the UK through the programme and we all share a passion for the outdoors, an interest in contributing to our improved understanding of the world we live in, a huge sense of adventure and above all a desire to push ourselves further than ever before. It has been an amazing experience for me already, having not even left the UK yet I have formed unbreakable connections with people who I would never have thought I could do this with. Being the youngest on the team also means I’ve learned loads of life skills from my fellow teammates which are entirely unrelated to the expedition – apparently there’s an order to wash up your dishes in after cooking! I’ve also learnt how to cook in bulk during my slot on the cooking rota for one of the later training courses!

Soon after the selection weekend I was accepted onto the expedition team! The team will consist of 28 people, split into 4 teams who will each undertake 20 days of the 80 day expedition in a relay style. I will be involved in collecting on ice climate change data, including measuring sea ice thickness and observing weather conditions, as well as counting polar bears, all for the NASA funded National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). The expedition will begin in at Ice Warrior’s Canadian Base Camp in Resolute Bay and will hopefully be taking place in February 2023! The expedition aims to help give us a clear insight into how we are affecting our planet as a global population from a new perspective and will be a true world first if we make our destination. 

After my selection weekend I was invited to take part in a 10 day pre-polar course to allow me to be sufficiently competent to travel to polar training in Svalbard. As I have never been to the polar regions before, this is a necessity for me to be deemed ‘polar competent’ in order to take part. The first 4 days of the course were first aid training, then we moved onto stove craft in freezing conditions, putting up a geodesic tent, route planning, cold water training, etc. These needed to be learned before even going into a training situation in the polar region due to weather conditions such as extremely high winds making initial teaching and learning difficult, and general safety reasons. We used Dartmoor as a training ground to recreate the rough ground and sudden white outs which can be experienced in the polar regions! It was also a perfect place for night navigation and micro navigation due to all the tiny cysts (ancient burial sites) in the ground which are covered by undergrowth and are impossible to find without the proper navigational skills!

During this course, I also had to learn how to shoot a rifle, in case of extreme situations where a polar bear attack occurs on the ice. This is an absolute last resort – we are going out onto the ice to help count, preserve and learn about the bears in the wild and in 36 years of arctic experience, Jim has never once had to use a rifle. Polar bears are the only animal to actively hunt humans, and we have many ways of deterring them. For example, if you see a bear in the distance walking downwind of your expedition group, it may be following a scent and beginning the stalking phase of hunting – pouring petrol on the floor by you can be a solution to mask any smell the bear may be catching onto. We also have somebody outside our tent at all times on ‘bear watch’ at night.

I also received some tips on finding sponsors – one of the hardest challenges I have had to do for this expedition so far is finding sponsorship and funding! I am required to find sponsorship to take part in the expedition, which has so far been tough, but is allowing me to develop my communicational skills, as well as gaining some experience with businesses and people!

I have been doing a lot of climbing and running to prepare for the expedition and training so far – the climbing is extra useful because I can put into practise the knots and anchors which I learnt in the 10 day course. We need to be fit for the expedition as we will be cross country skiing on ice for 20 days pulling our body weights in pulks full of equipment, and some of my team have started practising by pulling tires around their local parks! (I still haven’t managed to acquire a tire but I’m getting ready for the odd looks for when I do!)

The next step is travelling to Svalbard, Norway in May 2022 for polar and advanced polar training. This has been pushed back many times now due to corona virus, however I am extremely excited to be able to go and experience the Polar Regions for the first time and see what the training will consist of – all I know so far is I will be experiencing mild hypothermia in a controlled environment and continuing my first aid scenarios out on the real ice!

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