North Pole 10: Eyewitness account of epic drift
Yury Konstantinov was only six years old when Ivan Papanin and his team reached the North Pole 1 station. At that period of time, no one could have predicted that he would head the North Pole 10 drifting station 25 years on. He kept a diary on the ice-floe and provided an insight into the life and work of the station’s second crew

It took less than 24 hours, or just 11 hours and 35 minutes, to travel the vast distance from Leningrad to the drifting station in the central section of the Arctic Ocean.

A three-meter wall of hummocks completely surrounded our small ice-floe. Houses, tents and observation pavilions were to be seen all over the place, with row after row of barrels, drums, sacks of coal and crates in between. And masts towered tall above the camp.

May 15. We rushed all day long to get the job of removing freight from the airfield to the station done. We flew 25 missions in our Antonov An-2 Colt aircraft. Most of the stuff has already been delivered. No letup of the weather that seems to always be the same, simply cloudy, making it no easy task to measure our bearings.

May 17. The weather has completely deteriorated, with winds and ground blizzards sweeping the vicinity. Temperatures are hovering at around minus 18 degrees Celsius, and there are no signs of the approaching summer. The An-2 has gone back to the mainland to be serviced, which is something that is mandatory for all aircraft after they have flown a certain number of hours

According to plan, the meteorologists are conducting observations 16 times a day, and these have to be carried out every hour on the hour when planes are flying near the station. Both the meteorologists and radio transceiver operators work without respite for 30–45 days during freight deliveries. In their spare time, they join all the other crewmates and quickly unload the aircraft, take turns to be on-duty and get down to doing various chores. We have two meteorologists: Fyodor Zayats and Boris Ostroglyadov. Boris is young, slim and agile, and he is growing a beard as a sure sign that this is his first time in the Arctic. Fyodor, an experienced polar explorer, has traveled all over the Arctic and spent winter seasons on Cape Schmidt, Medvezhy Islands and the North Pole 9 drifting station. He is quiet, reasonable and an excellent specialist.

The station’s infrastructure is operating without any hitches, and the meteorologists are making their observations at preset intervals, day and night, during blizzards and in subzero temperatures.

The graphic drawing Radio Mechanic Becomes Acrobat by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station
The graphic drawing "Radio Mechanic Becomes Acrobat" by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station ©G. Makarov

May 23. Hydrologist Vasily Ulitin and I did a "station job." We measured the water temperature and the salinity levels at certain horizons. We lowered depth samplers, eight at a time, and always had 12 of them in reserve. Ulitin and I have been friends for many years now. We worked at Pevek Observatory together and also sailed on the expedition ship Lomonosov in the Chukchi Sea. Ulitin recalls vividly how a cable with depth samplers snapped at one station when the ship jolted loose. The contraption then sank to the bottom.

The ice-floe does not lurch loose, but better to be safe than sorry; we must have standby instruments just in case there's an emergency. We are taking some rather interesting thermometer readings, including some positive temperatures at a depth of 250–700 meters. The Gulfstream, that powerful warm current, has brought these waters from the Atlantic to the Arctic. It slows down, while flowing to the east, and when the waters of the Atlantic mix with frigid waters of the Arctic basin heat is let off completely.

We set up a volleyball court after supper. We evened out the bumps and put up two metal poles that froze fast. We simply could not resist the temptation and started playing right away. This was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Our dogs, Druzhok and Vega, yelped for joy, chasing and biting the ball, and generally always getting under our feet. So, in the end we had to banish them to an empty tent. Improvised house arrest!

May 25. A snow bunting has joined us. Yury Ivanov, the station's duty officer, announced this news at breakfast. How did this intrepid bird reach us from the nearest landmass located about 1,000 kilometers away? The unruly barking dogs have been chasing the bird all over the ice-floe. Four-month-old Botsman and Vega who were born on the ice-floe are particularly thrilled because they had never ever seen any flying chirping creature before.

The Sun does not set and rises higher and higher with every passing day. The sunlight heats up dark objects that fuse together with the snow, and the first icicles have appeared. Although the thermometer shows minus 10 degrees Celsius, the weather seems rather mild.

May 27. We discussed our work plans for June at a production meeting. The schedule for observations is very intensive. The Arctic navigation season is beginning, and our station's meteorology, hydrology, aerology and ice-drift data will be needed to compile weather forecasts and to predict the ice situation along the entire route. Our team is also preparing for the summer-time thaw, and we have to remove all the garbage that has accumulated all over the camp throughout the long polar night.

The graphic drawing On an Ice Floe on a Polar Night by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station
The graphic drawing "On an Ice Floe on a Polar Night" by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station ©RIA Novosti. G. Makarov

June 1. This is the first day of summer. It is warm, and the temperature is just minus 1.5 degrees Celsius. There's bright sunshine. The An-2 plane is in Tiksi, and a routine service has been done. Its crew is unable to take off because of bad weather enroute.

June 5. Today is Saturday, and we have been taking a steam-bath. We had a fantastic time thrashing ourselves with oak-twigs. Our cook, Vladimir Zagorsky, treated us in the locker-room to a barrel of Kvass that he'd made from fermenting some of our brown bread. This reminded us of the famous Sanduny steam-baths in Moscow. We splashed around in cold water after thrashing ourselves, and any tiredness that we'd had simply disappeared. An Arctic steam-bath is the ultimate must-have.

There were no jobs today that we had to be in a hurry to get done. We watched the movie Carnival Night for the third time after our supper. We have watched all the movies several times now, but our movie theater is always chockablock.

The ice-floe is drifting slowly due north.

June 15. Askold Shilov switched on the radio transceiver an hour earlier than usual. We heard a TASS report that Vostok-5 had lifted off with Cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky onboard. It's such a pity that we won't be able to glimpse his spaceship flying in lower latitudes.

June 16. The Sun is out, and the clouds have scattered at long last. We have calculated our coordinates: 81 degrees 46 minutes Northern Latitude and 149 degrees 11 minutes Eastern Longitude. Everyone is trying to work outdoors. The doctor is building a grocery shelf using boards from dissembled boxes. Zayats and Ostroglyadov are taking advantage of the mild weather and are checking and adjusting actinometric instruments. Radio transceiver operators are sprinkling sawdust around the foundations of the radio masts in order to prevent them from melting away. Ionosphere experts are piling up firewood for the stove. Empty food boxes are thawing out near their place. Dry finely chopped planks are really good for firewood. All of us have unanimously changed our work schedule.

June 17. The first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, is flying in outer space. This is great. Good girl, Valentina. Lively discussions about the news are ongoing.

The radio transceiver is broadcasting 24 hours a day. We are waiting for news that our cosmonauts have landed safely. We suggest that the An-2's commander, a bachelor named Vladimir Vitushkin, send her a telegram into space and propose to Tereshkova

June 28. Aviators worked all day long at the airfield, diverted water, drilled ice-holes and filled in meltwater puddles with pieces of ice from hummocks. The thaw also affected our store-rooms. We put everything back in its place and secured everything with ropes. The ice-floe is moving northward, and we have crossed the 82nd Parallel. Eighty centimeters of ice have melted away at the camp in a month.

July 3. It is raining. Large raindrops are pattering on house roofs, and meltwater puddles are filled with bubbles. The irrigation system is functioning smoothly, all the water is heading toward ice-holes via ducts and spills on into the ocean.

July 9. It's the same old weather as usual at the station, only we’ve landed up with drizzle instead of fog, and the temperature is hovering around zero degrees. We have moved ten kilometers northwest in the first nine days of July along a straight line. The base reports that a herd of white whales was sighted in a patch of ice-free water near the camp. No one shows up near our ice-floe, but polar bears, the masters of the Arctic, frequented the station during the first shift. Even a walrus managed to crawl out from an ice-hole and caused a lot of trouble inside the hydrologists’ tent when the ice-floe was located not far from the mainland in the East Siberian Sea.

July 17. The Sun is shining. Everything is quiet, and the temperature has reached plus 4.1 degrees Celsius, an all-time high during the summer season. The doctor is telling everyone to sunbathe, so all the off-duty personnel are basking in the Sun. Our photographers are having such fun: The hummocks near the dwellings are reflected in the blue mirror-like meltwater puddles. So, it will be possible to take some amazing pictures.

July 27. Ionosphere expert Konstantin Borisov steals the show after on-duty radio transceiver operator Leonid Vasilyev gives him a telegram that his son has, at long last, been born. We opened a bottle of champagne from our stocks, and Zagorsky baked a cake for the occasion

July 28. We are marking Navy Day and have changed our flag in an impressive setting. We attached a new two-meter hammer-and-sickle flag to the flagpole and hoisted it up, shooting our carbines three times. The transformed station became festive-looking. After the flag-hoisting ceremony, we organized target shooting competitions, with the participants using carbines to hit targets 50 and 100 meters away. Fyodor Zayats, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, became the absolute champion. At an informal dinner, the winner received a prize, namely, a book with the competitors’ autographs and the station's coordinates.

The graphic drawing The Flag of the Soviet Union Is Hoisted by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station
The graphic drawing "The Flag of the Soviet Union Is Hoisted" by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station ©RIA Novosti.G. Makarov

August 1. We summed up the results of our work over the past month. We have completely fulfilled our plan of observations. Aerologists outperformed everyone else and hoisted their radio balloons to an average altitude of 32 kilometers.

August 8. One can say that the melting and thawing period is over. The most conservative estimates show that the ice-floe's weight has diminished by 300,000 metric tons. The mess-room, the diesel-generator facility, tents and houses are standing on steep icy humps. Improvised ladders consisting of boxes and drums connect each house with the ice-floe. The mess-room has the best ladder, with hand-rails.

August 18. The first real blizzard is sweeping the station. The wind is howling among the antennas’ guy-ropes and wires, and tarpaulin is bashing the walls of the houses. The blinding snow gets under our jacket collars and inside our pockets. Temperatures have dropped to minus three degrees Celsius. Farewell summer!

August 25. An Ilyushin Il-14 Crate ice reconnaissance aircraft overflew the station and dropped some mail. The institute is busily preparing for the fall-time freight deliveries. Members of the third shift have been selected, and Viktor Zakharov, a capable scientist and experienced polar explorer, will head the new team. It is necessary to complete an airfield for the expedition's planes, thereby ensuring their fastest possible arrival.

August 31. It’s our final busy day working at the smaller airfield. The runway has been completed, and we can start building the main airfield. After a lengthy air reconnaissance mission, we decided to build the airfield on the base's pack ice-floe. We failed to locate any smooth 12-month old ice formations within a radius of 15 kilometers.

September 1. This is the first day of the base airfield's operation. The An-2 landed on a surviving 350-meter airfield section 1,000 meters from the construction site; a crack separated that section from the main field. We used planks to get across the crack and worked three four-hour shifts.

September 5. The weather got worse by the evening, and pea-soup fog enveloped the ice-floe. Members of the third shift were unable to reach the base. We worked at the station's camp and delivered empty gas cylinders from the galley to the runway. The wind and the currents caused the ice-floe to travel along a 320-kilometer loop-shaped path in 45 days. The Sun is already setting, no night is in sight, and dusk lasts just a couple of hours. It will grow darker and darker with each passing day.

The graphic drawing For Making Unloading Work Faster Any Equipment Will Do by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station
The graphic drawing "For Making Unloading Work Faster Any Equipment Will Do" by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station ©G. Makarov

September 7. Since the morning everything was quiet. Members of the first shift left for the airfield. But the ice-floe started compressing at 11 am. Ice formations began to move south and west of the station. Hummocks disintegrated with a loud thud. New cracks appeared, and the edges of the ice-floes merged and piled up heaps of ice. Second-shift and third-shift flights had to be cancelled.

September 12. Aircraft have remained grounded over the past four days because of low clouds and blizzards. We are readying the station for winter. Yevgeny Baskov serviced the diesel generators and inspected the power transmission lines. Vladimir Zuyev and Konstantin Borisov completed the extension of the galley, cut a doorway for the entrance and put up shelving. The new shift's cook will no longer have to lug food from the tent, and he will have everything at hand. Nikolai Ivanovich, our doctor, conducted more medical checkups. There are no sick people, everyone is in sound health despite the far from easy daily physical work at the airfield. Meteorologists and aerologists are leafing through observation files and preparing to deliver them to the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute's archives. People in the mess-room are talking about Leningrad and the upcoming vacation ever more often.

September 18. We are working at the airfield once again, using pickaxes to break up the humps. We have been blowing them up with TNT, then smoothing them out with a spreader plow using heavy sledges to remove the bits. We are working pretty hard. Only 12 days remain until October 1.

It will only be another couple of weeks before the polar night sets in, and it is impossible to do much in the dark. We have revised our work schedule. We are working two shifts, and there is not enough daylight for a third shift. We still have 400 meters to go before reaching the coveted red flag on a hummock at the end of the planned runway. Over 50 percent of the work has been completed

September 20. Another break in the runway construction project. A blizzard is raging, a westerly wind is blowing at 18 meters per second, and the temperature has dropped to minus 16 degrees Celsius. The blizzard is mercilessly destroying the results of our work. A snow-drift has piled up near the An-2 aircraft parking point. It will take at least eight hours to clear the runway, so that the An-2 can take off.

September 23. The blizzard continues unabated for over two days now, and snow-drifts are accumulating in the camp. Today, the wind started abating and is now blowing at 13 meters per second. The aerologists are facing many hitches because of the wind. Yesterday, Bondarenko and Zuyev worked for three hours in bitterly nippy wind and temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius. There were four abortive launches, and the wind wrecked the fragile instruments that smashed into the ice. The fifth launch proved successful, and the balloon soared into the skies.

September 25. The wind abated. We removed the snow from the runway from 8 am until 11 am and readied the An-2 for takeoff. Two shifts worked at the base's airfield, and the runway lengthened by another 70 meters.

The graphic drawing Preparing Airdrome on an Ice Floe by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station
The graphic drawing "Preparing Airdrome on an Ice Floe" by German Makarov. Reproduction. SP-10 polar station ©G. Makarov

September 26. Another blizzard is sweeping the vicinity. It's been relatively quiet since the morning, with winds blowing at six meters per second. We revved up the engine and took off; wind speeds reached 12 meters per second while the first shift was still working. A gust of wind placed the An-2 perpendicular to the runway; we managed to adjust the course near the ice-floe's edge and to land safely. Second-shift flights were cancelled.

October 2. The last month of our drift began. The airfield is ready. A smooth and broad runway cuts through the hummocks. It's unbelievable that we have accomplished all this. The most conservative estimates show that over 1,000 metric tons of ice have been blown up, cut out using pickaxes and removed to meltwater puddles in heavy sledges

And we have done all this without stopping our main research observations and without impairing their quality.

We reported on the end of the job and the runway's completion to the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute and to Rogachyov, the head of the North-15 expedition.

October 23. The first aircraft has touched down on the base's airfield. The runway coped successfully with a textbook landing.

… It's time to bid farewell to the station. Our drift is over. We are walking the ice-floe for the last time, saying goodbye to the new crew, wishing them every success with their work and asking them to keep the ice-floe intact. Vladimir Vitushkin circles the station for the last time. We can see the dark cube-shaped houses, the smooth line of the small runway's takeoff lights, and hummock ridges surrounding the ice-floe down below.

Adieu, North Pole 10, Godspeed and bon voyage.



Excerpts from the chapter North Pole 10: Eyewitness Account of Epic Drift,
part of the Twelve Heroic Feats collection
Hydrometeorological Publishing House, 1964