Page last updated at 11:44 GMT, Monday, 20 February 2006

Explorer set for historic Arctic adventure

Jim McNeill (Image: Ice Warrior expedition)
Jim McNeill hopes to make history (Image: Ice Warrior expeditions)
British Arctic explorer Jim McNeill sets off on Monday on one of the most demanding polar expeditions ever attempted.

His 1,000-mile solo journey will involve attempts to reach three of the four North Poles: the magnetic, the geographic and the Arctic Poles. The last is a point never before reached by a lone explorer.

Mr McNeill, writing from his base camp on the Arctic Circle, describes the challenges that await him, and how problems with customs and a "lost plane" threw some last-minute spanners in to the works.

As I sit here in our base camp at Resolute Bay, Canada, with all the trappings of one man and his sled about my feet, it feels strangely surreal to be so close to starting something that has dominated my life for so long.

It was back in January 2001 that I first flippantly mentioned that I wanted to walk to the North Pole.

I conceived a project that would encompass as many aspects as possible from those polar expeditions of the Golden Era of exploration I read about as a boy.

It would call for volunteers from all walks of life and echelons of society, and it would tell the tale to demonstrate that given the right characteristics, preparation and attitude, enormous things can be achieved.

This is the essence of the Ice Warrior project.

Arctic scene (BBC)
Geographic - where the Earth's axis of rotation meets the surface; also known as 'True North'
Geomagnetic - point where the Earth's magnetic dipole meets the surface
Magnetic - where geomagnetic field lines point vertically into the ground
Arctic - farthest point from any coastline; also called the 'Northern Pole of Inaccessibility'
So where are we now? We are on our third generation of trainee explorers.

Eighteen of them (all complete polar novices) will be here in March to undertake 22 days of Arctic training, closely followed by two teams of 10 who will take part in the vital fourth North Pole journey in this Ice Warrior Four Poles expedition.

As for me? Well I'm starting the event by venturing out toward the Magnetic North Pole some 294 miles (473km) north of the Canadian coastline.

Then, I will head on a further 426 miles (685km) to the Arctic Pole (the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility, which no-one has ever reached before).

And if I make it, I'm then going on to the Geographic North Pole, a further 275 miles (442km).

Three great marks - a scale that has led the marketing people to call it the greatest Arctic journey of our time and a massive five months' duration.

Hugely ambitious, I know. And as one who has clocked up hundreds (probably thousands) of Arctic miles during my 20-odd years of polar plodding, I am nothing but realistic about our chances of success.

This sort of endeavour really delivers home the fact that no matter how prepared you are, how much science, technology and sophistication you bring to the task, success remains firmly in the hands of Mother Nature.

So, I shall be relying considerably on the luck bestowed on the Irish half of my ancestry.

Husky dog sleeping on equipment (Image: Ice Warrior expedition)
Even the training can be exhausting(Image: Ice Warrior expedition)
It was 2003 when I first came here to attempt the Northern Pole of Inaccessibility but was defeated by contracting Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease) of my left ankle some 24 hours before my feet should have touched the ice.

Although I was devastated at the time, it was a bit of a close call and a lucky escape, with a 30% morbidity rate and several days before help could have picked me up.

This time, however, all would be sweet or so I thought.

I'm actually writing this story later than I hoped because of a result of a host of last-minute hitches: food stuck in customs; charter aircraft losing our booking and being busy on the day required; survival suit turning up with no gloves and a tent with no snow valence.

All these things usually would have been thoroughly checked and double checked before leaving the UK, but when you're flat out trying to summon up the required sponsorship (and we're still looking for a major sponsor), one has to prioritise time accordingly and I knew most hiccups would be solvable, somehow.

It is 10 o'clock on Saturday night, and I am at our South Camp with my hosts Ozzie and Aleesuk. Aleesuk is busily sewing a snow valence on the tent and Ozzie just found some divers gloves for my survival suit. Amazing people.

So what lies ahead? Communications equipment checks on Sunday. Sorting out my nosebags (80 days' worth); and a final bit of filming for the news team who are following me; and lastly, those heart wrenching calls home.

And then I am off first thing Monday morning - weather permitting of course.

You can follow Jim NcNeill's historic journey here on the BBC News website, where he will be filing regular reports during his Arctic adventure

Map showing the Ice Warrior expedition routes (BBC)

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