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Thursday, February 2, 2023

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World by Robert Glenn Ketchum

  The North Pole:  Sitting on Top of the World

by Robert Glenn Ketchum




In 1998, and again in 2002, I had the opportunity to visit The North Pole, Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, and Yuzhny. Both times the journey was made possible aboard a nuclear Russian ice-breaker. These were unusual voyages into a strange-beautiful landscape, like no other on the planet, so hop aboard, and I will take you to some places you might not ever see otherwise.  
~Robert Glenn Ketchum




Thursday, February 2, 2023

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #68
NP #68
In our transition from Franz Joseph Land to Novaya Zemlya, there was navigable open water, but there were also numerous huge icebergs. As the crossing was a multi-day passage, we saw dozens, many larger than this one.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2023,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #67
NP #67
An ideal rookery, this wall is not only sheer, it is VERY craggy as well, so there are lots of ledges and crannies in which to nest.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2023,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #66
NP #66
Safe from predators, this is a cliff face rookery of seagulls.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2023,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, January 12, 2023

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #65
NP #65
There are numerous bird rookeries in the Franz Josef Land archipelago because many of the islands have vertical cliffs that offer ledges and crannies where the birds can nest, safe from any predators. Often these rookeries host hundreds of birds, and they are usually located near good areas to fish. Here, birds from a nearby rookery sit at the ice edge and feed.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2023,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, January 5, 2023

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #64
NP #64
Eventually, as the afternoon wears on and the cold wind is unrelenting, the guests have had enough, and want to return to the warmth of our boat. Back aboard, everyone goes into the salon and begins to drink, as do I for awhile. Once we are underway, however, I cannot resist being outside to watch this Arctic world pass by, so I don my fleece and wind shell parka, grab my cameras, and go out onto the deck to enjoy the passing views.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2023,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, December 29, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #63
NP #63
This makes clear what I discussed in the last post. As you can see, on the rolling swale to the right, there are a gazillion tiny yellow flowers, and the stream flowing towards me from the lake supports colorful colonies of multi-colored mosses, that stand out beautifully against the steely blue of the water. The cold wind blowing makes me want to move around to stay warm, but this view is so spectacular, I linger here taking pictures for quite awhile.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, December 22, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #62
NP #62
The more I wander around in this relatively large tundra meadow we have found on an island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago, the more surprising it becomes. What looked like a rocky stark shore we, instead, find thousands of delicate yellow flowers everywhere, and where there is water there are multi-colored mosses in abundance. The shoreline of the streams and large pond, as well as the mud bars in the streams, are festooned by these vibrant mosses. It is an amazing display lushness in a very cold and dark environment, and I find it amazing that these things survive.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, December 15, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #61
NP #61
At the out edge of the hard tundra terrace, the vegetation terminates and the gravely beach runs down to the water. Amazingly, along this part of the shoreline there is a profuse bloom of delicate, bright yellow flowers sprouting right out of the gravel. Considering the daily cold wind, it is surprising to see this colorful bloom.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, December 8, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #60
NP #60
While most of the terrace we are all exploring is blanketed by the hard tundra (last post), right at the foot of the mountain that rises at the end of the island is a small lake, and because of the presence of water, the tundra there deeper, more verdant and shows off several colors of moss. This narrow band of plushness is not very wide, but it encircles the lake, and is clearly from anything else in this terrain.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, December 1, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #59
NP #59
Above the gravel shoreline a tundra-like meadow opened up a significant area to explore. I say “tundra-like” because this covering of mosses and other interwoven plants, was not like tundra I had experienced elsewhere in the Arctic. The tundra I had previously walked upon in Alaska the throughout the Northwest Passage was spongy and your steps sank into it, but here, at Cape Tegetthof, this tundra was rock hard, and really just a shallow covering over the rocky plain of the meadow. Most likely, because we are so far north, and it is colder, and darker, much of the year, this covering grows like this to survive. Perhaps it is also caribou, and polar bear proof.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #58
NP #58
In the last post, I pointed out that the spiky summit in the picture was one of the notable signatures of Cape Tegethoff, the other are these two offshore rock towers that mark the very end of the cape. From the position I am presently in, I can see down both sides of Hall island. It is a very panoramic view.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #57
North Pole #57:  
As we approach Cape Tegethoff on Hall Island, it initially appears to be all rock and gravel, but once we are onshore, it transforms into an unusual garden. It is, indeed, rocky, but there are also a lot of mosses, and thousands of delicate yellow flowers are growing up from between the rocks. It is strikingly beautiful to find these blooms in such a stark, and cold, landscape. The spiky summit in the background, is one of the signature formations of this cape.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, November 10, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #56
North Pole #56:  
As we continue navigating through the Franz Josef Land archipelago, we near the last of the big islands, Hall. Hall is also one that is not ice-capped, and in fact, at Cape Tegethoff there is quite a bit of gravely shore and a substantial area to be explored, so it is determined that we will go ashore for several hours and hike around.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, November 3, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #55
North Pole #55:  
As you could see in the last post, the broken sky was allowing various rays of light to play across the strait and the fog shrouded island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Then suddenly, this happened. A big hole in the weather allowed the sun to shine directly down on us and the water, turning the strait to liquid gold,..a dazzling display.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #54
North Pole #54:  
At this point in our traverse of the islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago we are in open water and the island in front of us is capped by a low cloud. The sky is broken so sunlight comes and goes, at this moment making the clouds glow. That is about to change quite dramatically, however, so tune in to next week’s post and see what happens.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, October 20, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #53
North Pole #53:  
As we navigate around the islands in the Franz Joseph Land archipelago, the conditions of weather and ice cover vary considerably. Fog and low clouds ofetn obscure the landscape, and some straits are ice free, while others are choked, such as this one.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, October 13, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #52
North Pole #52:  
We pass by numerous islands in the Frans Josef Land archipelago, but this one was especially dramatic. It is huge, and completely ice-capped, and it also actively calving some fairly big burgs. More weather has moved in, and the occasional broken sky lets in low angled rays of sunlight that sweep across the landscape lighting things up. This is about 9pm in the evening.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, October 6, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #51
North Pole #51:  
After a few hours of pushing through two straits that were iced over, we finally come upon some very open water. It is littered with small icebergs, but they are easy to navigate around, and so we pick up some speed as there is still a considerable distance to travel for are intended destination of Novaya Zemlya ).


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #50
North Pole #50:  
As we continue to navigate through the numerous islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, we encounter another large island that is completely ice-capped. This particular strait is also ice-choked. The frozen surface is not terribly thick, so it does not impede our icebreaker, but there is a good deal of crunching going on.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #49
North Pole #49:  
As we journey on, we pass by another low, flat island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago, completely covered by an icecap. The streaming weather opens every once in awhile to let in some small rays of sunlight. I am grateful to able to work from the bridge, because outside there is a freezing cold wind blowing.


photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, September 15, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #48
North Pole #48:  
After about 1hr. ashore, we all return to the icebreaker, and get underway once again. There is a lot of weather passing through, so it rains occasionally, and fog, and clouds, wrap themselves around the summits of the surrounding islands. The light, and the setting, viewed from the high bridge of our ship is very dramatic.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #47
North Pole #47:  
Many of the guests have come ashore on this island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago to get some exercise and explore the shoreline. I first walked to the far end to make some photographs, and I am now walking back to a broad, rocky portion of the beach where I find hundreds of tiny, delicate, bright yellow flowers have sprouted out of spaces between the stones. They are a strange contrast to one another.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, September 1, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #46
North Pole #46:  
We can see the top of the island from our current position, and it is clear that the ice cap has completely melted away. Not much further on, an exposed shore also appears so was put the Zodiacs in the water and many guests go ashore to walk about, and stretch their legs. It is a rocky beach, but fairly long, so I take my cameras and head back in the direction from whence we have come. At the point that I can go no further (seen here), I have come into view of that part of the island where we first saw that the ice cap was melting away, and in this image you can clearly see the remaining ice is like a ring of frosting, and the brown hills of the earthen island have completely emerged above it.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, August 25, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #45
North Pole #45:  
Circling this island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago, we are hoping to find some exposed shore so that the guests might get off the boat, and hike a bit on land. Eventually we come to a point on the island where the ice cap is giving way to the soil underneath and the white tones of the ice have become quite muddy. It is a stormy sky, very dark and brooding, but the exposed face is bathed in sunlight and quite dramatic, so many of the guests have come out on the deck to enjoy the view.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, August 18, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #44
North Pole #44:  
The captain of our icebreaker knew it had been a while since any of us had been ashore for some exercise, and he felt certain this low, relatively flat, ice-capped island we had approached (last post) in the Franz Josef Land archipelago would offer up some uncovered shoreline somewhere, so we circle it to see what might be found. At one point we encounter some dense surface ice, and the shoreline presents only glacial faces, but it is a large island so we continue on, just following the coast.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, August 11, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #43
North Pole #43:  
As we approach the large, flat island completely covered by an icecap, something happens in the high altitude jet stream that begins to reshape the lenticular cloud formations. They are being morphed from their typical "flying saucer” shape, and stretched into something much more elongated. As it is happening rather quickly, it is an amazing thing to watch, and even our icebreaker captain comments on this strangely beautiful phenomenon.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, August 4, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #42
North Pole #42:  
As our progress through the numerous islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago continue, we once again find ourselves in the midst of an ice covered ocean, and in the distance is a large flat island, completely covered by an icecap, all watched over by what appear to be the ever-present fleet of lenticular clouds.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, July 28, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #41
North Pole #41:  
Our icebreaker is a huge boat, and consequently, it does not move very fast. In the time it has taken us to approach these islands (last post), a lot has changed. The island in the middle is now completely engulfed in fog. Mid-level clouds stream by, and layer upon layer of lenticular clouds watch over everything.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, July 21, 2022


The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #40
North Pole #40:  
Further along in this day, the stormy weather has broken off, and a cold wind makes the open water quite choppy. The islands ahead of us are not fog shrouded (last two posts), but they are crowned with a spectacular array of clouds. The morning has been a sky spectacle.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, July 14,2022


The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #39
North Pole #39:  
As we continue to progress, the passing weather gives way to more sunshine, but the island in front of us is completely invisible, wrapped in layer upon layer of dense fog, all accompanied by a parade of lenticular clouds.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, July 7, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #38
North Pole #38:  
Navigating around the numerous islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago, we move in and out of many weather events, and beneath an incredible sky of ever-changing clouds. Here we have just had a rain squall pass over us, and now there are spots of sun. Up ahead, a dense fog completely engulfs one of the islands.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, June 30,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #37
North Pole #37:  
In this passage, we have open water with a few icebergs, but the sky continues to stream clouds above us, driven by some brisk winds. The cloud deck above the islands is flowing to the left. The one directly in front of me is flowing to the right. Strange days have found us.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, June 23,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #36
North Pole #36:  
Here, once again, we are in completely open water with a strong, cold breeze rippling the surface. The skyshow has returned as well. Clouds are streaming in multiple directions depending on their elevation. There must be some very strange air currents layered in this atmosphere.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #35
North Pole #35:  
As you have seen in the last two posts, cruising around the islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago, was giving us quite a skyshow. We also encountered a mix of ocean conditions as well. In some places it was entirely open water with not even an iceberg to be seen, and in other cases we found ourselves breaking ice, some of which was extensive, but not very thick, so it did not impede our progress.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #34
North Pole #34:  
Cloud craziness above the islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago. Fog shrouds the island’s ice-capped summit, and lenticular clouds loom above it all.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, June 2, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #33
North Pole #33:  
An air inversion obscures the ice-capped summit of this island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago with a dense fog.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #32
North Pole #32:  
Being as far north as we are in the Franz Josef Land archipelago, the frigid ocean water, and the ice-capped islands cause some VERY strange weather.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #31
North Pole #31:  
This island is one of the most verdant of all. It is easy enough to get around because there are plenty of rocks to walk upon, almost none of which host lichens, but in between the rocks, the island floor is smothered by a deep, lush carpet of multi-colored mosses, and there is water quite close to the surface beneath them, draining downslope from the melting icecap above - an Arctic Garden of Eden!

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #30
North Pole #30:  
This particular island in the Franz Josef Land archipelago lacked any flowers (last post), but made up for it with a profusion of mosses and lichens. The carpet of them was so dense as to obscure most of the rocks beneath. Our Russian guides are very conscious of our group’s possible impact ,and so they work overtime to caution us, and control where we walk. Damage to one of these extravagant habitats could take hundreds of years to repair.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #29
North Pole #29:  
The environments of the hundreds of islands in the Franz Josef Land archipelago vary widely. Some islands are completely covered by an icecap. Others have emerged from under the ice, but are rocky, and barren of much evidence of life (last post).Then we went ashore in a place like this, a veritable rock garden covered with lichens, clumps of multi-colored mosses, and blooming with delicate clusters of flowers. All this is quite amazing to me, given how far north we are, and how cold it is virtually everyday, yet life flourishes.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, April 28, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #28
North Pole #28:  
After several days of travel, we finally arrive at the first of the islands in Franz Josef Land, and because everyone is a little boat-bound stir crazy, the crew fires up the helicopters to take us ashore and let us hike around a bit. This particular island is almost entirely rock, with very little vegetation other than some lichen. It is also covered by an icecap, so only the shore remains open enough to walk around. About 1/2-mile down the beach, I came upon this where a part of the icecap has “leaked” down to the shoreline.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
@RbtGlennKetchum @RobertGKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd

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Thursday, April 21,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #27
North Pole #27:  
Late in the evening the inversion fog begins to form, obscuring the horizon, but the skies overhead remain clear so the open water in front of us takes on a golden glow that shines like sparkling crystals, because the ocean is being raked by a freezing cold wind.

photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2022,
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Thursday, April 14,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #26
North Pole #26:  
As we worked our way towards the islands of Franz Josef Land, the ice grew thinner, and there was much more open water. Most mornings and evenings experienced inversion fogs at water level, but often the skies grew clearer during the day, and the sun shined radiantly off the ice and glassy ocean surface. The view from the navigation bridge afforded a great perspective to the horizon, so I spent a good deal of time there.

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Thursday, April 7,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #25
North Pole #25:  
En route to the Franz Josef Land archipelago we have many days of haze, and numerous ice fogs. Here is another “fogbow”, created not by rain, but ice crystals floating in the air.

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Thursday, March 31,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #24
North Pole #24:  
Navigating towards the archipelago of Franz Josef Land, the ice we are breaking gets much thinner, and the surface is covered by thousands of pale blue pools.

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Thursday, March 24,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #23
North Pole #23:  
After reaching the North Pole, we began a multiple day trip to the Franz Josef Land archipelago which consists of hundreds of islands. As we progress, the ice we are breaking gets thinner, but the coverage is still extensive, and then one evening we came upon Mrs. Bear, taking her kids out to dinner.

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Thursday, March 17,
 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #22
North Pole #22:  
Even though we are in an endless field of ice, it is interesting to see the variations, and to imagine why they exist. In the last post we were crushing through a section of very flat ice, dotted with blue pools of meltwater. Now we are faced with chunk ice chaos. The polar sea ice forms in big plates, not necessarily attached to one another. These plates drift about on the winds and currents, and some times they slam into each other with considerable impact, crunching up the terrain you see here. For the early Arctic explorers traveling by dog sled, picking their way through these parts of the icescape was a nightmare.

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #21
North Pole #21:  
The visit from the polar bear ended our afternoon on the ice, so it is now time for the Sovetskiy Soyuz to begin the journey to our next destination, Franz Josef Land. As getting to the North Pole required some serious ice-breaking of thick pack ice, we now have to ram our way back out of it. So, back to the bridge. There is no way I want to be in my room or the lounge as the ice slamming is unbearably loud. Better to stay as high above the hull as possible, drink beer, and take in the view.

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Thursday, March 3, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #20
North Pole #20:  
Not at all intimidated by the gigantic orange icebreaker in front of him, Mr. Bear takes a casual stroll completely around the boat. The guests on deck follow him, taking pictures, and commenting on his looks and demeanor. Words like beautiful, and cute, could be frequently heard. What is lost on the guests as they ponder this predator on parade, is that he is not here for their photo-op. He is, in fact, looking for way to get aboard, in order to have lunch. He is hunting,..US!

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Thursday, February 24, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #19
North Pole #19:  
The guests had been milling about on the polar ice for about 1-1/2hrs., when suddenly there was a shotgun report indicating one of the Russians guarding our perimeter had spotted a polar bear. As we had been told to do, everyone immediately headed for the gangplank, and got back aboard, but they also wanted to see the bear, so we all headed up to the bow of the ship. 80ft above the ice provided us a wide view of the terrain, so we were pretty sure if there was a bear out there, he would be visible. I think most of us also thought that he/she would be off in the distance. By this time, the bear realized the gig was up, and its cover had been blown, so it emerged for all to see,..less than 200ft. from the front of the boat! The bear had been able to creep in extremely close to the perimeter guard before being discovered. Spooky!

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Thursday, February 17, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #18
North Pole #18:  
There are too many of us to get everyone in one picture, so we have broken up into small groups, and we take turns handing off the UCLA flags to the next in line, and then striking a pose with our banners, and the pole marker. Eventually it was my group’s turn, so here is the result of that moment. A little note about our gear: as a gift to each guest, the crew of the Sovetski Soyuz gave everyone a red parka featuring a patch commemorating the trip. I was also given one, but I am wearing something that is way warmer. On my crossing of the Northwest Passage with Bill Simon, he provided his guests with an insulated jumpsuit, a terrific piece of gear that I wore all of the time. As you can see, its design is ingenious. There are numerous belts, at the ankle, the mid-thigh, the wrists, and the waist, so you can compartmentalize your air circulation within the suit, opening things up if you are active, and closing things down if are standing around. It also featured a high neck collar, and a hood. I still have this jumpsuit hanging in my closet.

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Thursday, February 10, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #17
North Pole #17:  
Some people have gone swimming in the open water behind the boat, which I watch for awhile, but ultimately turn away because just seeing them do that makes me shiver. So, I spend about 1hr. in photo bliss walking around the surface of the frozen polar sea, and drinking in the various colors, and configurations, of the meltwater pools that dot the icescape. As thick as it is, this ice surface is still afloat on water, and consequently it is ever-shifting, so every 15mins., or so, one of the Russians takes a GPS reading, and moves the North Pole marker a few feet, so that people taking pictures of themselves, and friends, can truly say they were standing on the pole.

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Thursday, February 3, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #16
North Pole #16:  
This is the same pond from another location, and looking in the opposite direction. As clouds have moved into this horizon, the blue color of the pond (last post) has been completely replaced by the gray of the sky. These reflections make walking around these ponds a light show from every angle, and interestingly, I am the only one paying any attention to this. Most of the guests are taking pictures of each other standing at the “official” North Pole, or they are watching the crazies who have gone swimming in the open water behind the icebreaker,..and I do mean crazies!

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Thursday, January 27, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #15
North Pole #15:  
Our day of walking around on the sea ice at the North Pole was mostly sunny, and windless, and the blue sky reflected in some amazing ways in the still water of the surface pools. Here you can also see the crystalline edge of the pool that looks like lace. At night the edge grows out over the water, and then on sunny days it retreats, so that constant action is constantly changing the decorative ice lip.

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Thursday, January 20, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #14
North Pole #14:  
Encircled by the armed crew of the Sovetski Soyuz to ensure no polar bears were lurking, the guests were free to wander about on the North Pole. With 10ft+ of solid sea ice beneath us, there was no concern that anyone would fall through, and there were a lot of pools and unusual cracks to investigate. The surface cycle of freezing and thawing produced numerous, unusual crystal formations, and irregular ice patterns along the edges of some of the pools, while the day was sunny enough to make it all glow at certain angles.

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Thursday, January 6, 2022

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #12
North Pole #12:  
Around midday, Sovetski Soyuz arrives at the North Pole. There is no landmass, the pole is just a GPS position on the ice. Now that we are here, there are two activities planned. Everyone can disembark and wander around on the ice, taking pictures of each other standing on the North Pole, AND (this is SO Russian), at the stern of the boat, there is now open water where a channel was created as we rammed our way to this spot. Of course, where there is open water, there is the opportunity to go swimming at the North Pole, and it is amazing how many people want to. If you have followed this blog, you have seen numerous pictures of the sea ice getting thicker and thicker as we navigated farther north. We are now surrounded by ice several feet thick. The upturned piece created by the icebreaker smashing its way here, is thicker than the man is tall, and for the swimmers, the crew will have to put down a rope ladder so they can get back out after they dive in.

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Thursday, December 30, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #11
North Pole #11:  
Later today we will reach the North Pole, not a landmass, but a location on the ice of this frozen sea. This morning, however, began with a hazy fog above the ice, and when the sun rose, it created this “fogbow”. A rainbow is the refraction of sunlight through raindrops. A fogbow is similar but instead of raindrops, it is refracting through ice crystals that comprise this morning’s haziness.

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Thursday, December 23, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #10
North Pole #10:  
As the Sovetski Soyuz plows north through the night, the sea ice grows thicker, and thicker, and the sounds of the hull smashing into it grow louder, and louder. It is not very conducive for sleep. As a consequence, I rise early, and climb up to the captain’s bridge to have a look around. There is no more open water anywhere, and the ice has grown much thicker. We can still keep our forward momentum up, but with every mile our overall speed is decreasing, and I will venture that sometime later this day, we will have to start the tedious process of backing up, to then ram forward, until we grind to a halt, and then, back up again.

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Thursday, December 16, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #9
North Pole #9:  
Thanks to some mildly open water found by the helicopter this morning, we have several hours of subdued crunching, but by mid-afternoon, the surface of the Arctic oceans closes up quite solidly, and the Sovetski Soyuz must once again ram its way through. What is also clear is that the ice not only closed, but it is getting thicker. If we maintain a full head of steam, we continue our forward progress unimpeded, but if the ice gets much thicker, it will eventually grind us to a halt, at which point, we then have to back up, gain speed forward, and ram our way through. A tedious process that really makes for slow going.

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Thursday, December 9, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #8
North Pole #8:  
While not exactly “open” water, the helicopter from the Sovetski Soyuz does find some broken surfaces strung together that will make our forward progress simpler for awhile. So, after hovering off the rail, and discussing their spotting with the captain, they rotate around to the bow of the ship and lead the way. It is not much, but at least the deafening noise of crunching through the ice will stop for awhile.

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The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #7
North Pole #7:  
In the same way that in my crossing of the Northwest Passage with Bill Simon, we had a helicopter aboard, and every morning it would fly out in front of the boat to scout for leads of open water, the Russians had two huge 10-man helicopters aboard the Sovetski Soyuz that they also used to scout leads. Later in the trip, they will be used to ferry guests ashore on various islands, as well. This morning is a grey, and foggy day, and the ice around the boat is pretty thick, so the chopper is going to fly a big loop to see if there are any “holes” that we will not have to smash our way though.

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #6
North Pole #6:  
When the copter returned (last post), they reported seeing no open water, so the plan of attack for the day was to increase the boat speed and crush our way through, and when I say crush, I mean exactly that. Taking a circle flightsee around our boat, this picture captures the modest action we are practicing. You can see the plates breaking apart as the Sovetski Soyuz rams into them. The ice cover here is 6-12” thick, but in two days, we would find ourselves amidst plates that are several feet thick, and regularly our forward progress would grind to a halt, so the captain would have to back up, get a new head of steam, and then ram forward for a few more feet. It was an exhausting process, and why I refer to the effort here as “modest."

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #5
North Pole #5:  
The ice-crunching got louder all night long, and when I went out on deck in the morning, it was apparent why the noise volume had increased. There is little open water now, and the plates are not only thicker, but they have built up ridges from slamming together. We have another two days before the captain believes we will reach to North Pole, but he has also said that it will depend on the ice conditions. I don’t know what you think, but this looks intimidating right now.

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #4
North Pole #4:  
The farther north we navigate, the more the ice closes in front of us. There are still patches of open water, but the ice plates floating on it are more robust, and growing thicker. For the first time you can hear the reverberations of the hull slamming into the plates, a sound that will become increasingly more intense in the coming days. For sense of scale about this boat, note the four people standing on the bow.

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Thursday, November 4, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #3
North Pole #3:  
The further north we go in our journey, the more the open water disappears, and the polar ice begins to assert itself. At first, it is a thin, and broken, surface coat above the still visible ocean, and there is no real ice breaking to be done. The power of our boat plows through this effortlessly. With every hour, however, the surface becomes increasingly congealed, and the ocean water less visible. It is also noticeably colder outside, and we encounter more weather, and gray days as well.

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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #2
North Pole #2:  
After leaving the harbor of Murmansk our icebreaker headed north and for the first several days running, we had decent weather, and open, ice-free water. The Russian nuclear ice-breaker that we are on is a huge, powerful boat, that can travel relatively fast given its size. There are numerous decks, and captain’s bridge is some 80ft. above the water. We are welcome to wander anywhere except the engine room, and many of us regularly sit on the long padded bench at the back wall of the captain’s bridge to watch the Arctic world go by without standing in the chill of the breeze outside. On the lower levels are a huge dining room, and a full sized basketball court, which can be converted to play tennis, and is also used for dancing to live music performances. A variety of birds follow our progress, as the wake we stir up brings fish to the surface, which they feed upon.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The North Pole: Sitting on Top of the World, #1
North Pole #1:  
In July of 1998, I was invited by my alma mater, UCLA, to participate as a guest lecturer on an alumni expedition to the North Pole, aboard the Soviet nuclear powered ice-breaker, Sovetskiy Soyuz. I would fly from Los Angeles to the Russian city of Murmansk, one of the northernmost ports of the country, and there I would join other alumni members, and board the icebreaker. Upon arrival, our luggage was taken from the airport to the ship, and we were taken by a bus for a visit around the city. Murmansk is an unusual place because it is home to a great part of the Russian fleet, and so we were told that during our tour, we were not allowed to take any photographs. I also knew that when their nuclear submarines aged, they brought them to the harbor in Murmansk and sank them, to keep them from melting down. (You don’t want to be eating any locally caught fish!) After the tour about the city, we were taken to the icebreaker, assigned our rooms, and told to pull the shades down on our windows, until the ship had left the port. I was determined, nonetheless, to have at least one picture of Murmansk, so in the light of late evening, I lifted the cover of my porthole wide enough to stick my lens against the glass, and took this.

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