Alert was the most northern land site continually inhabited in the world and was situated on the northern tip of Canada's Ellesmere Island right on the Arctic Ocean. Alert is north of Thule and lies just 817 km (508 mi) from the North Pole. The nearest Canadian city is Iqaluit, 2,092 km (1,300 mi).
Although not the primary mission, Alert is an important departure point for North Pole expeditions. The Canadians at the site told us about one "explorer" that had more time and money than courage. He brought his supplies, ski mobile, and trailers, and practiced his departure for days. They were wondering if he was ever going to depart for the pole. Finally, when it was too late in the season for travel on the ice, he left and went home.
There were not many luxuries at Alert - like a smooth concrete runway to land on. When the "runway" was fouled with winter snow drifts, the planes landed on the frozen Arctic Ocean.
This place made Thule look like "a big city in the banana belt".
We told the Canadians we were "rock hounds" interested in looking at rocks there. The Canadians were friendly, and they told us that there were lots of crystals on the "mountain" in the background. They took us out a few miles in a jeep and dropped us off to look for our crystals. We hiked and looked for about 5 hours but found little except bare rocks. By the time we walked back to the Alert base we were plenty tired and hungry, so we jumped on the next supply plane back to Thule. I bet those guys are still laughing about "putting one over" on those crazy Americans!
© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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