Spooky. That's the word that keeps coming up when people describe Cape Arkticheskiy, the godforsaken tongue of land where this Arctic adventure tale begins. There's nothing there but the ice, moaning like an old door in the wind, and hungry polar bears looking for lunch—which, on any given day, if you are not careful, could very well be you. (That's why you pack the .44 Magnum.) This desolate dot on the top of the planet is like any other Siberian outpost, except for one thing: It's the start point for some of the most ambitious Arctic expeditions and extreme explorers of our time, one of the places where the pros separate themselves from serious amateurs and adventure clowns.
The tricky part is getting off the cape and onto a more solid surface to walk to the North Pole. Depending on the weather, that first step can either be more or less a breeze or a death trap. Sometimes the ocean surface freezes all the way up to the shoreline, and sometimes there are miles offshore of unstable, drifting ice and open black water that, in 2004, swallowed one able French adventurer, Dominique Arduin, without a trace. It's not uncommon to end up being flown across the hard part or picked up as a nervous wreck.
In the early months of 2006, six expeditions planned to set out from Cape Arkticheskiy. One solo adventurer crapped out altogether, as soon as he got a load of it, and three other parties were airlifted by helicopter to a safer chunk of ice. Two expeditions remained: The team of Børge Ousland and Mike Horn, who were navigating 600 miles (965 kilometers) to the North Pole—in the darkness of polar winter—and Thomas Ulrich, who wanted to cross the Arctic Ocean, 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) from Siberia to Canada, later on with daylight but alone.