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North Pole: A Confusing Place

What's going on at the Top Of The World?

CBS News recently went on an exclusive trip to the North Pole to find out. In his two-part report, Correspondent Jerry Bowen says that, while more and more people are traveling to the North Pole for fun or research, getting there is more and more difficult.

The North Pole is a confusing place.

First of all, there is no pole, unless you count Mike Kaminiski, one of four Poles - from Poland — that Bowen encountered as they skied to their rendezvous with the historic spot.

Kaminski notes, "You can feel the changes of the climate, especially at the North Pole."

No penguins are to be found there, either. They live at the bottom of the world on the Antarctic coast.

But there are polar bears atop an ever-drifting ice pack that makes it impossible to erect a permanent marker to the absolute top of the world.

And because that ice melts and breaks up, man's presence is seasonal, concentrated largely at a Russian ice station known as Camp Borneo. Like no other camp in the world, it floats on six-foot thick ice over the Arctic Ocean.

And just getting to the top of the world is part of the adventure.

Looking at a map you can trace a route line going from CBS News home base in Los Angeles, Calif., to Ottawa, Canada, and then up to Resolute Bay, Canada. From there, the final six hours are made in the sauna-like rear of a cargo plane for a bumpy landing on an ice runway 40 miles from the pole.It involves 20 hours of flying in all.

Most of the ski tour groups come via Norway, a much shorter distance but still at a cost ranging from $13,000 to $23,000 per person. For this, they get to visit the pole and sample the hospitality of Christian DeMaraivaille, the boss of Borneo.

"Mostly skiers, "DeMaraivaille says of his clientele. "Nicer way to discover the pack ice of the Arctic."

What the skiers discover is a menu too modest to mention and abundant amounts of vodka to help one forget.

At Borneo, accommodations are very camp-like. Tents are heated, of course, and have cots and sleeping bags for a dozen or more guests to snore the night away.

But this time of year, there is no night. It's all daylight all the time at camp Borneo.

It'sa place where aging Russian cargo helicopters act like taxis moving scientists and adventure travelers over the top of the world.

And researchers and tourists alike are amazed at how much warmer the top of the world has become.

Tony Haile, Serco-Transarctic expedition director, says, "It's been the worst conditions we've seen in years and years and years. Every year, the ice is getting worse and worse and worse. Over the last 40 years, in fact, the ice has lost 40 percent of its density."

And this is leading to the open areas of water, and thinner ice with pressure ridges, making travel much, much more difficult. In the North Pole, climate change means more than just getting a tan in April; you can actually see it destroying the habitat.

But for now, it's still much more ice than open water - just not as much ice as there used to be. Scientists from the University Of Washington, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, set up a small camp of their own at the pole each year, to drill through the ever-thinning ice and drop scientific equipment. This year, the ice started cracking around their tents almost as soon as they set up.

Jim Johnson a University of Washington researcher, says, "This is the first year we've had open water very close by. In fact, we discovered once it opened up; we're almost surrounded by it."

The remote North Pole isn't quite as remote as it used to be. Yet there's still adventure to be had, especially when the destination is a place called Camp Borneo.

On Wednesday, Bowen introduces a fast-growing group that is making tracks across the ice to the Pole - the Women of the Arctic.

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