Summit To Eat

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Any expedition runs on its stomach and food is not just important for nutrition, it is a source of moral too! No-one wants to live off of porridge and frozen cubes of butter - it would make anyone miserable. So we are very pleased to have earned the support of British company 'Summit To Eat' who produce yummy meals in a lightweight and convenient (for camping) format. What is also great is that the ethos behind the company is about encouraging everyone to get out and have an adventure....something we believe in too!

Here is what Summit To Eat had to say about the expedition on their website: https://www.summittoeat.com/w/adventures/euro-arabian-expedition-women/

We look forward to munching our way to the 'summit' of the globe - the North Pole!

Expedition Film: Watch the teaser...

We are extremely excited to have award-winning Producer and Director, Holly Morris, following the expedition team's journey in order to make a documentary about our adventure.

Holly and her small crew have already accompanied the team on both training expeditions to film our progress and you can see a brief teaser of the footage so far on the home page. Holly and her crew already feel like part of our extended expedition family!

Holly specializes in making films that explore the lives of 'contemporary, risk-taking women around the world' and her most recent film, 'The Babushkas of Chernobyl' was critically acclaimed, winning awards at several international film festivals. It is well worth a watch if you get the chance to seek it out online...

The documentary will be released sometime in 2018/19 but in the meantime enjoy the teaser and we look forward to sharing more footage as we go...

Outreach !

This month the team has been busy talking to lots of people about our expeditions and our plans. In particular, team members have been out and about giving talks and answering questions from schools and youth groups across all sectors of society. This is one of the most fun parts of being part of a project like this and there are lots of plans to do more in the future.

If you would like a team member to come and visit your group or school, do get in touch. Perhaps you might also like to become a Virtual Team Member and get a talk from the team live from their tent in the Arctic! If so, take a look at our shop...

Susan answering questions from pupils in a school in France.

Susan answering questions from pupils in a school in France.

Misba speaking to a youth group in the UK about spending time in the outdoors.

Misba speaking to a youth group in the UK about spending time in the outdoors.

North Pole opens for business

In order to access the North Pole next year, we will be relying on a runway that is built annually at a floating ice station called Barneo. Situated on the ice around 100km from the North Pole, the station drifts with the sea ice it sits on and so is never in the same place for very long. The runway, which is an area of smoothed ice, has to be strong enough to withstand the weight of aircraft landing.

Barneo has just opened for the 2017 season and the first teams heading for the North Pole have already arrived at the station. As this will be us next year, we are watching closely.

Each year the sea ice situation in the high Arctic becomes ever more precarious, so we are hoping that a successful season at Barneo this year will mean good things for us next year too. You can see how much the station drifts day by day on the charts posted on Barneo's facebook page @BarneoRU.

It's also interesting to see the complex logistics involved in setting up the camp each year.

WINGS Flag #23

The team are delighted to be carrying WINGS Worldquest Flag number 23.

This flag has already been carried to Antarctica, so we are honoured to be taking it with us to the polar region at the other extremity of the globe. Before carrying the flag to the North Pole, it seemed only fitting that it accompany us to both the Middle East and Europe. So here we are on our training expedition in Oman, proudly flying the flag in the desert for women explorers and scientists around the world, past and future.

Wings Worldquest is a US-based organisation that recognises and supports extraordinary women in science and exploration. Through its Fellows and Flag Carrier programs, WINGS creates community and showcases the groundbreaking work of women scientists and explorers, whose discoveries advance scientific inquiry, stimulate conservation, and lead to better understanding of our world. Felicity was inducted as a Wings Fellow in 2014 as a recipient of the WINGS Women of Discovery Courage Award. You can find out more about Wings and the work of Wings Fellows on its website www.wingsworldquest.org

The Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition Team and flag carriers #23: Misba (UK), Susan (France), Felicity (Expedition Leader), Mariam (Saudi Arabia), Ida (Sweden), Steph (Cyprus), Natasa (Slovenia), Lamees (Kuwait) and Anisa (Oman).

The Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition Team and flag carriers #23: Misba (UK), Susan (France), Felicity (Expedition Leader), Mariam (Saudi Arabia), Ida (Sweden), Steph (Cyprus), Natasa (Slovenia), Lamees (Kuwait) and Anisa (Oman).

Happy International Women's Day!

We dedicate our thoughts, support and admiration today to any woman, anywhere in the world who is reaching beyond the expectations of others to follow her own path in life. To do so often needs courage and perseverance.

We also remember and applaud the many women around the globe who have risked everything to blaze a trail that others can follow. It is only by continuing to question the status quo that we can shape the future.

Women are already out there achieving, discovering, creating and influencing, and have been for centuries - let's make them more visible in the public consciousness.

Back to Muscat and goodbye to Oman

The long drive back to the capital of Muscat demonstrated just how far we had come in our walk across two differently coloured deserts.

Above: Ida (Sweden), Steph (Cyprus), Mariam (Saudi Arabia) and Lamees (Kuwait)

Above: Ida (Sweden), Steph (Cyprus), Mariam (Saudi Arabia) and Lamees (Kuwait)

We had a bit more space in the vehicles on our way back but found that we left trails of sand behind us wherever we went as it fell out of our clothes, our hair, our shoes and our equipment. I imagine between us we'll be taking quite a bit of sand accidentally home with us too.

We will certainly be taking the desert away with us in our memories. It has been a truly spectacular week. Not only have we all further embedded the skills that we began to learn in Iceland but we have become much closer as a group. Our journey across Oman gave us a chance to get to know each others lives and perspectives, giving rise to many fascinating discussions that I'm sure we will all go home mentally digesting. We also had the chance to see something of the lives of desert Bedouin as well as urban Omani's which has led to many new strands of thought in European and Arabian team members alike.

After the peace of the desert, Muscat seemed dazzling as we arrived in the city. We had time to visit the evening suq in the old part of Muscat before heading out to dinner at Anisa's favourite Omani restaurant. It was a nice way to say goodbye, not only to each other but also to fabulous Oman.

The Sea!

Hot, sticky, coated in suncream and covered in sand, there was not a single member of the team who hadn't been dreaming about reaching the sea and going for a swim in days. Finally, that day arrived. After a last, long hard slog over baking sand dunes, the ocean appeared on the horizon. Reaching the beach there was no stopping us running into the waves - and there are no words that can express how good it felt!

We had now crossed not one, but two deserts in Oman - the red Wahiba sands and the pure white Sugar Dunes. With the hard work done we could relax. Camped near the beach we were able to find enough driftwood to build a camp fire and were delighted when the film crew arrived with locally caught fish that they'd managed to negotiate out of some fishermen at the other end of the beach, and a bag full of ice cold soda!

We cooked the fish over the embers of the campfire and I don't think anything has ever tasted so delicious - except perhaps the earlier ice cold pop.

Sledging and more spiders...

The sun was just as hot in the white sand of the sugar dunes as it had been in the red sand of the Wahiba, but somehow no one seemed to mind the heat as much when travelling through such a magical landscape.

The sand not only looked different but felt different too. On the leeward side of the bigger dunes the sand felt as soft and powdery as flour. No one could resist walking in bare feet for every moment the sand wasn't too hot.

The team have become pretty efficient in our travelling routines and navigation. We've settled into a rhythm and have come to know each other's styles a lot better. That all important trust is growing. So we could afford to experiment a little - firstly by using our sledges for a rapid descent of the bigger dunes. Harder than it looked for some, who struggled to get any momentum - but a more carefully selection of our sledging spots led to success!

We found an idyllic camp spot nestled among the dunes and watched a spectacular sunset. The moon has re-appeared in the sky and lit up the milky-white dunes so that it looked like the silvery surface of the moon.

The peace of our evening was shattered when a guest joined the party - a camel spider. The reassurance that 'their bite isn't venomous, only bacterial' didn't provide much comfort as one spider dug itself a cave under one of the vehicles, while another joined the game of cards going on in the middle of camp.

The uninvited guest.

Snow!

Plenty of times while skiing across a polar landscape in sunshine, I've thought that if I squinted a bit I could almost fool myself into thinking that I was crossing a spotless white-sand beach.

Now it was time for a reversal. At first glance of our team dragging sledges across white dunes, you might be fooled for a second and need a second look. Ignore the T-shirts and bare feet, and we could almost be back in the polar environment.

These are the sugar dunes of Oman. Lining the coast, just to the south of the Wahiba Sands the dunes are so pale that in bright sunshine they look white. We were all blown away by how beautiful they are.

The Sugar Dunes of Oman. As close to a polar landscape as you can get in the desert!

The Sugar Dunes of Oman. As close to a polar landscape as you can get in the desert!

End of the desert

Lamees (Kuwait) enjoying the sunshine.

Lamees (Kuwait) enjoying the sunshine.

It definitely felt as if we were nearing the southern end of the Wahiba Sands today. The desert carries on for another 60km or so but the landscape around us certainly seemed to be flattening out a lot. The large north-south orientated dunes that are a kilometer wide with deep valleys running between them had all blurred into one and we were seeing less of the beautiful arch-backed ridges of perfect golden sand that had been such a feature when we started.

There seem to be less camels too - not that we are short of wildlife. We may not SEE many living things but the sand is covered in tracks every morning revealing all the activity that we miss at night. Tracks of all sizes from tiny beetles to double-toed camels trail through the campsite. It's easy to spot the ones that got eaten by a bird whose tracks stop in a flurry of marks and the ones that got away whose footprints disappear over the nearest dune. We even saw an owl today - who knew there were owls in the desert!

Not the scene of some horrific traffic accident but the team's siesta in the shade of the support vehicles.

Not the scene of some horrific traffic accident but the team's siesta in the shade of the support vehicles.

Every evening we had planned to have a campfire under the stars but so far, each night the wind had been too strong, or we had simply not been able to find any wood. There are no trees here, but we had seen wood from dead bushes occasionally - but much of it had rotten to little more than dust or had been burnt (presumably by the sun and the heat?).

However, tonight was the night! We managed to collect enough dead wood together to make a modest campfire - despite the wind. Lamees sang a song in Arabic, Ida played the harmonica and we all gazed upward at the stars...

Nearing the end of the Wahiba Sands.

Nearing the end of the Wahiba Sands.

Our long anticipated camp fire - worth the wait.

Our long anticipated camp fire - worth the wait.

Did you bring a rain jacket?

This is no ordinary day in the desert - it's Ida's birthday! Happy Birthday Ida!

Building on the success of yesterday, we were up early to get as much progress in as possible before the sun got too hot. Everyone now has their favoured clothing routine - some starting bare foot, some in socks, some in shoes.

The desert continues to amaze. The sand changes colours, looking quite pale in places while in others it is such a deep orange it is almost red. We've noticed that towards the eastern edge of the dune there is more vegetation, while on the opposite side there is more bare ridges of sand.

After lunch what looks suspiciously like a rain cloud appears in the sky - the shade is welcome as are the cooler temperatures it seems to bring. We are familiar now with the fact that dusk brings a strong wind but tonight it is particularly gusty. We don't mind the wind but the sand that blows with it gets everywhere. The cooks try their best to keep the grit out of the food but we are resigning ourselves to crunchy curry and sand literally EVERYWHERE. It's impossible to keep it out of anything.

The wind also plays havoc with Ida's Birthday party. We have two lovely home-decorated M&M birthday cakes complete with candles - but the wind makes it impossible to light the candles, even in the lee of the vehicles! Ida made a wish anyway...

Ida's birthday lunch - some well-earned shade and some balloons!

Ida's birthday lunch - some well-earned shade and some balloons!

Ida's birthday cake complete with candles (and sand...)

Ida's birthday cake complete with candles (and sand...)

We were all impressed with Steph's new sand-protection goggles - especially with the matching headtorch combo - but we don't think it will catch on.

We were all impressed with Steph's new sand-protection goggles - especially with the matching headtorch combo - but we don't think it will catch on.

Sunrise and socks

Putting our new travel tactics into practice, we were all up before the sun appeared over the horizon. It's surprising to those of us who have never been to the desert before that the mornings are quite damp. But watching the sky turn a variety of pinks and purples as we eat breakfast and pack camp is more than worth the early start.

We set off into a pleasant temperature, much more manageable than the midday heat we experienced yesterday. Progress is made even easier by abandoning shoes and walking in socks instead. It allows much better grip on the sand while still offering some protection.

Today we really worked on our route-finding and navigation. Although we had a waypoint some 40km to the south that the GPS would point us to, there was plenty of local obstacles such as sprawling thorny bushes, dense patches of grass and steep-sided dunes that required on the spot decisions and that couldn't have been forseen. This situation is very similar to what we will face in the Arctic when it won't be possible to simply travel in a straight line to the North Pole due to the shifting sea ice and local obstacles such as pressure ridges and open leads of water. It is really frustrating when it is someone else's turn to lead to let them make those decisions - but slowly we are learning to trust each other.

Less trustworthy were the camels. We saw plenty roaming the dunes. They are not wild but are left to graze by their Bedouin owners. They would watch us suspiciously as we trekked past with our sledges, eyeing us lazily as they chewed on grass and thorns.

The midday break was a success, allowing us to escape the worst of the heat by rigging up some shelter for shade for a few hours before continuing until dark.

We saw lots of camels - but they are not wild.

We saw lots of camels - but they are not wild.

Cooler temperatures and beautiful sunrises made dawn a favourite time of day

Cooler temperatures and beautiful sunrises made dawn a favourite time of day

Natasa (Slovenia) getting to grips with GPS navigation.

Natasa (Slovenia) getting to grips with GPS navigation.

Anisa (Oman) gripping her socks ready to put on when the sand gets too hot for bare feet...

Anisa (Oman) gripping her socks ready to put on when the sand gets too hot for bare feet...

Us looking at the camels looking at us - mutually suspiscious.

Us looking at the camels looking at us - mutually suspiscious.

End of a hot day, hungry for dinner - Clockwise from bottom left: Lamees (Kuwait), Natasa (Slovenia), Steph (Cyprus), Anisa (Oman), Ida (sweden), Misba (UK), Susan (France).

End of a hot day, hungry for dinner - Clockwise from bottom left: Lamees (Kuwait), Natasa (Slovenia), Steph (Cyprus), Anisa (Oman), Ida (sweden), Misba (UK), Susan (France).

Sand in every direction

Waking to our first proper views of the Wahiba Sands we found ourselves surrounded by a classic deep red desert landscape. Spotless golden dunes rose in the most graceful arcs above valleys dotted with grasses. The sand was silky soft under foot but as we passed through mid-morning and the cool of the dawn was burned away by an increasingly hot sun, it was soon impossible to walk barefoot without feeling as if the skin was being burned from your soles.

The plan was to walk from north to south across the 180km long Wahiba, tracing a route along the spine of one of the huge kilometer wide dunes that run the length of the desert. Just as on the glacier in Iceland, we packed our camp into plastic sledges (albeit slightly smaller than their polar cousins) and set off in single file each pulling our own sledge from a harness around our waist.

Our travelling style was very similar to that used in the Arctic. The person leading would navigate and set the pace, checking on the team behind them using a series of hand-signals. But there was much that we soon discovered had to be very different. We quickly established a routine of short, frequent breaks to take on water (unlike in Iceland when breaks only occurred once every hour or more) and although it was as important to be as fully covered from the sun as it was to be covered from the cold, each of the team was soon adapting their own head gear and clothing.

It was a steep learning curve for European and Arabic team members alike. The heat was a new enemy for us all and we ended the day deciding that between midday and 3pm, the sun was too hot to walk under - we decided we would adopt the Bedouin practice of starting early, seeking shade in the middle of the day and then continue until dark.

First glimpse of sand...

First glimpse of sand...

Travelling in Arctic style but under very different conditions.

Travelling in Arctic style but under very different conditions.

The first day taught us that travelling early and late was the only way to cope with the desert heat!

The first day taught us that travelling early and late was the only way to cope with the desert heat!

Lamees (Kuwait) and Susan (France) celebrating a glorious end to a tough first day.

Lamees (Kuwait) and Susan (France) celebrating a glorious end to a tough first day.

To the desert with plenty of dessert

A big first day and we haven't even started walking yet!

Before we could leave Muscat and head for the desert we needed to collect all the camping gear we would need for the expedition, plus all the food and some safety equipment for the two off-road support vehicles.

Outside the HQ of Outward Bound Oman who generously supported the expedition with a loan of kit.

Outside the HQ of Outward Bound Oman who generously supported the expedition with a loan of kit.

Our first call was at the wonderful Outward Bound Oman who had kindly agreed to loan us assorted camping equipment including stoves, tents and sleeping bags for our expedition. It took us a while to work out how to get a camp for 12 into the back of a Land Cruiser. Our joy at fitting everything in - with room to spare - was short lived as we arrived at the supermarket to buy all the food we would need. We had drawn a small crowd of managers by the time our 5 trolleys worth of goods had passed over the scanner - resulting in the largest shopping bill (and the longest receipt) any of us had ever seen!

Delight at fitting everything in the back of one of our support vehicles....

Delight at fitting everything in the back of one of our support vehicles....

There was even room for half the team....including Steph (Cyprus) squeezed in the back!

There was even room for half the team....including Steph (Cyprus) squeezed in the back!

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[left] Misba (UK) knocking some sense into the shopping list for daily snack bags and nightly desserts [above]. Each trolley had supplies for a different part of the expedition menu.

[left] Misba (UK) knocking some sense into the shopping list for daily snack bags and nightly desserts [above]. Each trolley had supplies for a different part of the expedition menu.

The drive from Muscat to the Wahiba Sands, about 250km to the southwest, took us a wonderful 5 hours winding through the most magnificent and other-wordly scenery. At times it felt as if we had wandered onto the latest set of Star Wars as we crossed vistas of multi-coloured mountains and oddly stratified rock.

Camp on the first night with no sign of the dunes that were all around us.

Camp on the first night with no sign of the dunes that were all around us.

Wildlife watch

Wildlife watch

We were not allowed our first glimpse of sand quite yet, arriving at the northern fringes of the Wahiba Sands after dark. Stopping to deflate the tyres of the vehicles we drove along a sand track between unseen dunes before finding a route up the steep slopes and into what we thought was a perfect camp site....it was only as the tents were pitched and the cooking started that the local residents appeared. Our camp site turned out to be a hive of spider activity. So white they were almost see-thru, the spiders were extremely speedy and the size of a drinks coaster. Later on, more colourful, tarantula like spiders appeared with blue heads and black stripes. The midnight wildlife encounter wasn't appreciated by most of the team - especially as the spiders liked the circle of light thrown around each team members feet by their headtorch, making it appear that the spiders were chasing us as we moved!!

There was a rapid retreat into the tents for the night.

Touchdown in Oman

Our Arabian odyssey begins! The team have flown from across the Arabian Peninsula and Europe to convene in the capital of Oman, Muscat. The last time the team met each other was back in September on a windy glacier in northern Europe (Iceland to be exact). The vibe of this training expedition will be very different. This time, for the European team members, it is all about experiencing something of the Middle East - but for everyone the Omani dessert will provide plenty of challenges.

Over the next 10 days we have three aims - to practice the hard skills we learnt in Iceland (such as GPS navigation, route finding and camp routines); to further develop the trust we have in each other as a team (particularly when setting the pace and taking turns at navigating); to further address the cultural aims of the expedition through discussion and experience.

PLUS the small matter of crossing not one, but two desserts!

We were not likely to find SNOW or ICE in the dessert (unless it was floating in our drinks) but some of the team had hatched a plan to find a landscape that at first glance could be Polar....

Partial team reunion in the lift of a Muscat Hotel (Misba UK, Steph Cyprus, Natasa Slovenia, Susan France, Ida Sweden and Lamees Kuwait).

Partial team reunion in the lift of a Muscat Hotel (Misba UK, Steph Cyprus, Natasa Slovenia, Susan France, Ida Sweden and Lamees Kuwait).

Join us in Oman?

This week has been very busy as the team prepares for their second training expedition. This time we are heading to Oman. It is a chance for us to experience some Arabian culture as well as continue with some hard skills training in the desert.

It's not too late to join us as a Virtual Team Member or an official supporter on this, our latest adventure - just take a look at the website shop to find out how. This gives you access to the special Virtual Team Member page of the website full of exclusive material and stories to bring you ever closer to the team experience!

We'll also be sharing regular updates from Oman on Facebook and Twitter, so add us to your favourites to follow our progress. We can't wait to tell you all about it!!

Parlez-vous Francais? and other website additions

The website is evolving! You might have noticed over the last month that more Arabic translation is being added by the Arabic expedition members. English and Arabic are the two main languages of the expedition. BUT, so that no one feels left out, we have also added a French translation of the main pages with Swedish, Slovakian and Greek to follow shortly. It is good to know that as many people as possible can read about our project in their own language.

If your language is science, we have something for you too! We've added a new science page which gives details of the two exciting science projects we will be working on during our journey to the North Pole. We'll be adding more information as we go. So, do take a look!

Plans for 2017

If you have listened to our latest Polar Exposure podcast you will already know that we are off to Oman for our next training expedition in late February 2017. It may seem like an odd destination for a polar expedition team but the beautiful and wild landscape of Oman offers great endurance training opportunities and a new environment to bring the team ever further together.

In addition, having already gathered together once before in a European setting, we intend to use our time in an Arabian setting to focus on some of the cultural aims of the project.

We are very much looking forward to both the physical and personal challenges that will be provided by our planned journey in Oman and will be sure to keep you updated every step of the way!