Carrying out a project of this magnitude required significant investments. The company provided the snowmobiles, and other businesses contributed to the project with donations of food (Pillsbury), electronic equipment, fuel, clothing, heaters, camping equipment (Coleman), communication devices and advertising. All of these items would be tested under the extreme conditions of the Arctic.
Crates of food from Pillsbury
Food had to be rich in protein. Some was prepared ahead of time, some on site. Pillsbury provided food manufactured for astronauts.
The team wore clothing specifically designed for the expedition, based on traditional clothing worn by the Inuit. This included parkas and overalls made of goose down and wolf fur the provided protection in temperatures ranging from -35 to -65 0C. The mittens were made of caribou leather.
The Ski-Doo® snowmobiles were modified as follows:
- An additional gas tank was installed. The seat was shortened to free up space for storage.
- The rubber track system was reinforced with iron rods for better traction.
Other necessary equipment
The snowmobiles were also equipped with a Styrofoam flotation system that allowed members to cross stretches of thin ice—let’s not forget that the North Pole is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean! Although Arctic temperatures keep the ocean ice-covered for most of the year, which facilitates access to the North Pole, the extreme cold is also the greatest enemy of man and machine.
Other necessary equipment:
- one shotgun per tent for safety reasons;
- communication devices;
- stoves and heaters;
- spare snowmobile parts;
- navigation instruments;
- fiberglass sled for transporting materials;
- axe, ice pick, shovel, etc.
Before departing, the expedition members familiarized themselves with survival techniques and how to handle the equipment. For example, a team member received a packet of Space Food Sticks from a Pillsbury representative.
Base camp was manned by about a dozen people. It was their job to keep the expedition well supplied on the ice, to relay the team’s progress by radio, to take weather readings and maintain permanent contact with the expedition members as they moved forward.
The team out on the ice was composed of four people:
Ralph Plaisted – 40 years old, team leader;
Jean-Luc Bombardier – 30 years old, scout;
Gerald Pitzl – 34 years old, head navigator
Walter Pederson – 40 years old, mechanic.
The team out on the ice had an objective: to brave the weather conditions and difficulties specific to the Arctic as they made their way to the North Pole.
- 1967: the first attempt
The team set off in the late March 1967. Base camp was set up at the Eureka weather station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, 1,125 km from the North Pole. Due to a combination of inexperience and bad weather conditions, this first attempt came to a premature end. They headed home in early May, after 37 days of hard work. However, the team gained experience and the expedition provided excellent training for the harsh conditions of the Arctic.