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1996 Certified Position of the Magnetic North Pole

By Polar Race organiser, Jock Wishart

It is in retrospect that I realise, only now, what a good idea it has subsequently proved to have certified the position of the Magnetic North Pole some 9 years ago when we organised the Ultimate Challenge expedition — the first time a group of novices had been organised in an expedition to walk to any Pole. At the time, in 1996, it was the preserve of a few hardened professionals or, as when we started out even earlier in 1991, as individuals who dared and simply got lucky.

How times have changed as a result of that expedition!

Jock Wishart marking the route to the Pole
Jock Wishart marking the route to the Pole

At the time my good friend David Hempleman-Adams suggested that it would be important to certify the position of the Pole, for the Canadian authorities, to compare it with the computer model of its location. This gave the expedition a scientific purpose as well. Certifying the position of the Pole had not been attempted for many years, principally for lack of funding.

Already busy at the time, I was a little reluctant (to say the least) to take on yet another responsibility to handle the logistics behind an expedition that had never been done before as well as the demands of the BBC who were also attempting a first in some live coverage of such an exercise.

To cut a long story short, I was persuaded, and for 25 days we lugged a magnetometer and theodolite with us taking measurements on a daily basis until we were able to confirm the Pole's location as N 78°35.7' W 104°11.9', some 8 to 10 miles from the computer model's projected position. I remember at the time switching on a digital compass before going to sleep to see what would happen!

I had to confess at the end it was a satisfying exercise and, as it turned out because of the now erratic movements of the Pole, vitally important that we had done so. Though we were not to know that then.

Now of course it has become an established mark for many. Little did I think at the time that by certifying a position we would end up establishing a focus and goal for so many in years to come.

Jock Wishart
2 May 2022

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