News

On top of the world

  • Flying the flag: Richard Talbot raises the Bermuda flag at the magnetic North Pole after a 60-mile ski expedition
  • Richard Talbot (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Richard Talbot (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Richard Talbot, fourth right, with his expedition team (Photograph by Megan McDonald)
  • Richard Talbot skied to the magnetic North Pole with his expedition team (Photograph by Megan McDonald)
  • Sleeping quarters in extreme conditions (Photograph by Tim Medhurst)

A Bermudian planted the island’s flag at the top of the world after a gruelling 60-mile ski expedition to the magnetic North Pole.

Saltus Grammar School alumnus Richard Talbot endured extreme conditions before he completed the remarkable journey to the remote and icy landmark.

The 55-year-old, raised in Southampton and based in Toronto, spoke to The Royal Gazette about his nine-day adventure during which temperatures, intensified by brutal wind chill, plummeted to -30F.

Mr Talbot said: “It was a very proud moment to be able to unfurl the flag of Bermuda.

“Bermudians are extensive travellers and this is another place that has been visited. I certainly thought often of the island.

“There was a lot of time to reflect and you can’t help but admire the early explorers and how strong they must have been to endure similar conditions without the gear and equipment that we have today.

“It is the toughest thing I have ever done, in the sense of the endurance, and also the mental fortitude required to be in an environment that cold for as long as we were without a break.”

Mr Talbot and eight other people took part in the Outward Bound Canada’s 50th anniversary expedition from April 26 to May 4.

The magnetic North Pole is where the planet’s magnetic field points vertically downwards. Its exact location is slowly moving; the spot Mr Talbot reached was registered as the magnetic North Pole in 1996.

Mr Talbot reached so far north that his compass dial began spinning, but highly skilled guides were on hand to navigate.

He said: “We had been in whiteout conditions for several days and the GPS was giving us two slightly different directions.

“Both guides had to come to the front to compare notes and figure out our direction. We had complete confidence but it was a challenging time.”

He said the conditions prompted him to recall Bermuda’s Latin motto Quo Fata Ferunt, which means “Whither the Fates Carry [Us]”.

Mr Talbot trained for two hours a day for nearly four months to prepare himself mentally and physically for the challenge.

The team skied in six one-hour blocks, covering about 11 miles each day, while dragging 80lb sleds. They could not stay still for more than ten minutes while on skis.

Mr Talbot said: “Moisture is your worst enemy because it will freeze.”

While they did not encounter polar bears or other animals in the vast wilderness, weather conditions presented many threats.

They wore multiple layers of socks to ward off frostbite, and consumed at least 5,000 calories a day — 250 calories per hour — because of the intense exercise combined with the cold.

Mr Talbot said: “Everything is freeze dried. We had oatmeal, granola and maple syrup and hot chocolate with butter for breakfast. For dinner, we had things like beef stew, chicken and rice, macaroni and cheese, and for snacks we would eat nuts, dried fruit and cheese.”

It is uncertain how many have ventured to the magnetic North Pole. The first recorded European to visit the area was Gunnar Isachsen, in 1901, and the last organised trip was in 2014. Expedition leaders said that it was unlikely there would be many more organised trips because planes are reluctant to fly there.

“I think it is safe to say that very few people have seen this place with their own eyes,” Mr Talbot said.

The avid runner, alpine skier, and intrepid traveller, who has worked in the financial services business for 30 years, said he was lured by a combination of adventure and good will.

“There was a fundraising component for the group to raise $200,000 to help Outward Bound Canada’s activity.

“I think it was also the sense of challenge, both physical and mental, and to do something that very few people have the opportunity to do.

“Looking at the terrain, in a rustic sense, it has got to be one of the most beautiful places that I have had the opportunity to go to.

“The remoteness and in the clear blue, the views were absolutely stunning. We don’t always appreciate the beauty that nature can offer.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience — it exceeded all expectations.”