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A land trip to the North Pole (or as close as you can get)

December 4, 2014

My “Extension” of the Hudson River to the Hudson Bay got me thinking of that area (which we would think leads to the North Pole, as in fictional journeys to Santa’s village and workshop by carriage or train), especially now, in the “home stretch” to Christmas.
The portrayals of the North Pole on land is more accurate for the South Pole, which of course has its own continent, Antarctica. I wonder why they didn’t just place Santa there, but the folklore about him is northern-hemisphere centered. (In fact, “Year Without A Santa Claus” even suggests Santa is unknown in the southern US, let alone the southern hemisphere).
So when we think of this cold place that epitomizes winter, we think North. I guess, their premise is that the north pole is on a permanent ice cap that basically has become land. But still, you could never build a railroad or permanent towns and workshops on it.

So then, let’s imagine going as far north on earthen land as we can.

We would go west of the Hudson Bay, entering Manitoba, and eventually the territory of Nunavut. Much of the land begins breaking up into these islands, the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Looking at it more closely, there aren’t as many gaps to the northernmost point as you would think, and only one of them is formidably wide.
You would head to the Boothia Peninsula, and its tip, called the Murchison Promontory, which is considered the northernmost point on the North American mainland. Then, you would cross the 1 mile wide Bellot Strait onto the huge Somerset Island.

Then, you reach the biggest barrier, the 44 mile wide Parry Channel, across which is the Queen Elizabeth Islands, and in this case, Devon Island. You swing west, to where Jones Sound breaks up into several narrow channels of Cardigan Strait (with the small North Kent Island in the middle), to enter the final land mass, Ellesmere Island. Keep in mind, these “islands” are hundreds of miles long. (Devon is the smallest of them, at only about 100 miles!)

Finally, you reach Cape Columbus, the northernmost point in Canada and North America (not counting Greenland, whose nearby Cape Morris Jesup sticks out a few miles into the Arctic Ocean. On the other end of the world, Cape Horn is the southern tip of South America, but it too is on an island ⦅Tierra del Fuego⦆, while the southernmost mainland point is Cape Froward, 78 miles past southernmost city, Punta Arenas, Chile).
20 or so miles east of Cape Columbia is the Canadian military station town Alert, “the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, at latitude 82°30’05” north”, but is really often uninhabited, with rotating military and scientific personnel occupying the camp.
Then, it’s about 500 miles over the ocean to the actual Pole!

Before really looking into this, I always imagined one of those little old villages or “hamlets”, like the ones the toy train sets are based on, with the gingerbread-style houses and Tudor inns; at least as far as you could go on land, which in this case would be Cape Columbia, or if it’s really connected by road or railroad, then at Murchison, or perhaps Somerset Island by bridge. I don’t think a bridge could be built over the Parry Channel. Perhaps you would have to build a series of manmade islands.
So this northern village would look out over the sea, where you would see ice covered islands and icebergs (and perhaps an abominable snowman jumping across them). Inland, it would be surrounded by the vast snow covered pine forests. All the stuff you see on any animated feature showing a trip to or from the North Pole.

The first problem, is that the pine forests do not go that far north! When you’re halfway through the Nunavut mainland, the forests thin out into low grasslands, and you cross the “tree line” (beyond which, trees cannot tolerate the environmental conditions, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_line), and you soon enter the tundra. I remembered that term from the climate maps I used to read in world atlases I grew up with. I knew it was colder, and less vegetated, but never really thought much of this, and the portrayals of the endless pine forests continued to color my view of the far north.

Google of course, can have no “street view” up there, since there are no streets/roads.
But they do have the Panoramio photos, which reveal a totally barren, rocky, mountain region. It really looks, basically like another planet! Just take any Mars picture, and revert back to a brown earth and blue sky, and add bodies of water, and this is what the Arctic Archipelago looks like. It’s for all purposes a cold desert, and I wonder why they don’t just call it that. It also resembles the Mojave Desert around Victorville, but without even that much shrubbery or the Joshua trees.

Even the islands themselves are actually high plateaus (mesas). Pictures of the waters separating them reveal tall, almost vertical rocky cliffs, so I don’t know if any bridges could ever be built at all. And then the top surface is rolling mountains. You probably can’t have roads or railroads (or if you did, they would be incredibly winding, at the valley bottoms, and unprotected from rock-slides, and often filled with glaciation). This would make it probably impossible to have the high speed “bullet” service needed to cover the hundreds of miles of this terrain you have to traverse, in any decent amount of time.
Any sort of path would basically be mountain hiking trails. (I saw one person asking if it was possible to motorcycle from Alaska to Murchison, and even that I think was discouraged).

There are almost no towns on this path. The last towns you would pass in most direct path would b Taloyoak, on the start of the Boothia peninsula, and then finally, Grise Fiord, on Ellsmere’s southern bank. (There’s also a Thom Bay near Taloyoak, but it doesn’t look like there’s anything there). All of these “towns” up there basically consist of trailer, aluminum warehouse or barrack-like structures on a few blocks, with maybe a few old wooden gable tin roof houses here and there. These are “hamlets” alright, but not like the ones you associate with journeys to Santa.

There are also some bigger ones off to the east or west on other islands. On the Hudson Bay you have Chesterfield Inlet, 500 miles from Murchison; or if you care to veer a bit out of the way, east, where the bay ends, there’s Repulse Bay (one photo wrongly shows a tropical-looking resort with highrise dwellings), still 330 miles from the start of the archipelago. More inland, up the Thelon river from Chesterfield is Baker Lake.
It is in this area that you cross the Arctic Circle.

Murchison, mind you, is 800 miles from Cape Columbia. So it’s nearly 2000 miles of barren, mountainous tundra! (No wonder it’s so uninhabited! I always thought it was just the weather).

I would say that in Rudolf, the archipelago would be best represented by the island mountains where the “bumble” lives, between the north Pole and the mainland. But again, they are hundreds of miles wide (though there are smaller ones in the waters too).

Even more likely, would be the Island of Misfit Toys. Looking at a picture of that scene, I guess I assumed or mis-remembered that the conic shaped snow covered objects as pines, but they’re more likely supposed to be mountains (like what the bumble climbs on). Otherwise, the land was pretty desolate. So that would be perfect. The whole point was that these toys were banished to a barren wasteland.

Come to think of it, Rudolf’s journey did include him crossing bodies of water (and that’s when the bumble comes after him; forget why he didn’t just fly), so that portrayal is accurate after all.
Powerpuff Girls do a lot of flying, and Princess I think also flew with her villain equipment jet packs. (I remember the four colors of the girl’s “streaks”: the PPG’s RGB plus Princess’ yellow). It’s Frosty and Polar Express that suggest you can take a train to the North Pole. (And even PPG and Polar Express IIRC portray the landscapes becoming more and more barren as you go further north).

One notable absence, at least from most of the Google images, is a lot of snow! (Which is what all of those animated portrayals show plenty of). Again, most of it is really totally dry ground and rock. There are some snow on mountains, and glacier flows, and icebergs in some water pictures, but it is not the perpetual “marshmallow world” you would expect. (Perhaps some of these pictures were from summer, when it was a bit warmer?)
In any case, it looks like global warming might be more real than conspiracy theorists would have us believe. The Arctic tundra is said to have been effected by this phenomenon. So (as thankfully, some memes are starting to portray) to say “It’s so cold this winter, therefore global warming is a myth”; you are not seeing the whole picture.

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