All over after just two days

Published on 17.03.2009 - Christina Franco North Pole Solo

On day 2 of her expedition, the stove broke. No way of repairing it. Tears from Christina. And, of course, exit Christina. For the time being, anyway...

The least that can be said is that Christina Franco was unlucky. When she arrived at Resolute Bay on 24th February, she opted to sleep in her tent outside the hotel accommodation generally used by polar explorers. Her aim was to familiarise herself as quickly as possible with the cold and ice. And everything was going so well; she even celebrated her birthday in style on 28th February with some of the friends she had made there. In a word, Christina was really looking forward to setting out and getting to grips with the ice and the elements.

When she was dropped off at Ward Hunt on 23rd March at 17h00 UT (12h Canadian time zone), the temperature was nudging minus 42°C (also aboard the plane were the two Americans, John Huston and Tyler Fish from the Victorinox expedition). She went off immediately to set up camp at the edge of the zone where you're not really sure whether the pack-ice has begun or you are still on terra firma.

The incident happened two days later. This is how Christine tells the story: "I was unfortunate to have a double breakdown with my stove. Not only was I unable to warm up the inside of my tent, but I couldn't heat any water or cook anything. It just so happened that there was a Twin Otter in the area when the breakdown happened. So my team and I took the decision immediately to give up and return to Resolute... Sure, we thought about repairing the stove, but that would have taken up time and the next flight for Ward Hunt wasn't until the following week, which would have made things difficult because the ocean ice is melting earlier than it used to and it is getting harder and harder each year to go and pick someone up from the North Pole. You used to be able to consider flying in until mid-June, but not any more. Which is why we tend to set out earlier in the season now..."

Back in London a few days later, Christina gave more details about the unfortunate hand that fate had dealt her, writing: "The temperature at night fell to minus 49°C, which is more or less how cold it was inside the tent when, having just woken up, I went to the entrance to unzip the flap a little to let some air in and light the stove. At that temperature, it takes about 20 minutes to warm up the interior. It usually takes a few pumps of the handle for the stove to ignite, but on that morning, the night-time cold had left the plastic on the stove so fragile that it suddenly broke in two and there I was left holding the pump in my hand! Fuel was going all over the place in the tent, while flames were already starting to flicker from the stove. I was extremely afraid that my whole tent would go up in flames, so I shut off the valve as fast as I could and put the stove outside the tent. That way I had more time to see what the damage was and try to repair it. Not possible, though! My spare pump was also not working properly and so there I was... in the middle of the Arctic with that awful metallic taste of real fear in my mouth. I knew there and then that it was all over..."

But for all that, Franco has not finished yet. She has scheduled a fresh attempt for next spring. As for this season, arrangements have already been made for the Londoner to join the drifting Russian tourist base at Barneo, where she will attempt to cover the 150 kilometres to the North Pole.

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