Exclusive: To the North Pole on the Yamal

Exclusive: To the North Pole on the Yamal

In the November 2007 issue of “qui TOURING,” Jacopo Pasotti takes readers on an extraordinary journey aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker Yamal, operated by Atomflot, renowned for organizing cruises to the North Pole. This unique voyage offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience the remote Arctic in a vessel engineered to navigate the most formidable ice-covered waters on Earth.

russian watch Raketa Yamal
Raketa Yamal (PM)

Setting Sail from Murmansk

Our journey begins in Murmansk, Russia’s largest Arctic port, a city historically shaped by its strategic importance during and after World War II. Murmansk’s skyline, dotted with utilitarian Soviet-era buildings, reflects its past of hurried reconstruction and industrial significance. Here, we board the Yamal, a formidable icebreaker with a striking visage, complete with painted fangs on its black hull, ready to carve a path through the icy wilderness.

russian watch Raketa Yamal
Raketa Yamal

The Endless Day

21st July

Crossing the Arctic Circle ushers us into a realm of perpetual daylight, where the sun never dips below the horizon. This phenomenon disrupts our sense of time, making it challenging to distinguish between day and night. The crew, a mix of seasoned Russian officers and enthusiastic tourists, navigate through these timeless days, with the Yamal advancing steadily through the ice.

22nd July

Aboard the Yamal, life adapts to the rhythm of the Arctic. After a meal prepared by Austrian chefs, I find myself on the bridge, tracing our route on a nautical chart. The crew, unfazed by the ceaseless daylight, maintain their watch, guiding us ever northward.

Encounters with the Arctic

23rd July

At 80 degrees north, we encounter our first iceberg, a colossal, drifting monolith of blue ice. This awe-inspiring sight draws everyone on deck, marking our entry into the high Arctic’s icy expanse.

25th July

We are now just 500 kilometers from the North Pole, surrounded by an endless sea of ice. The Yamal plows through the thick ice, occasionally getting momentarily stuck before breaking free with a thunderous crash. The chief engineer explains the ship’s nuclear power: two reactors and 75,000 horsepower propellers enable the Yamal to tackle ice up to three meters thick.

A highlight of our voyage is the sighting of a polar bear. Unfazed by the imposing icebreaker, the bear curiously observes us before disappearing into the Arctic wilderness. This rare encounter with the Arctic’s top predator underscores the region’s raw and untamed beauty.

Reaching the North Pole

27th July

The culmination of our journey is the arrival at the North Pole. Standing at 90°00’00” N, there is a sense of accomplishment mixed with the humble realization of the pole’s simplicity—just a point in a vast, frozen sea. Here, under the North Star, every direction is south, a humbling reminder of the Earth’s vastness.

The Return Journey

28th July

On our return, we explore the Franz Josef Land archipelago, the last land discovered in the Arctic. These remote islands, cloaked in glaciers and shrouded in mist, offer brief glimpses of sunlight that paint the landscape in hues of twilight. The archipelago’s isolation and harsh conditions highlight the perseverance required to explore these final frontiers.

29th July

Laurie Dexter, our expedition leader, shares tales of his life in the Arctic, including his time living with Inuit communities. His stories of survival and adaptation in this extreme environment are both inspiring and humbling.


2nd August

Back in Murmansk, it’s difficult to reconcile the familiar world with the otherworldly experiences of the past two weeks. The journey to the North Pole, once a distant dream, has been realized thanks to the Yamal. The Arctic, with its stark beauty and profound solitude, has left an indelible mark on all who ventured into its icy embrace.

russian watch Raketa Yamal Cruise '93
Raketa Yamal Cruise ’93

The Future of the Arctic

The Arctic’s future remains uncertain. Climate change predictions have shifted from an ice-free Arctic by 2070 to potentially as soon as 2035. This rapid change threatens the region’s delicate ecosystem, with implications for global climate patterns and geopolitical interests.

Practical Information

  • Documents: Valid passport with a Russian visa.
  • Climate: Summer temperatures hover around -2°C, but can feel much colder with wind chill.
  • Travel: No direct flights to Murmansk from Italy; connections through Helsinki or St. Petersburg are necessary.
  • Expedition Operator: Quark Expeditions specializes in Arctic and Antarctic tours. For more information, visit Quark Expeditions.

Upcoming Expeditions

  • Dates for 2008: June 23 – July 8, July 6 – 21, July 19 – August 4.
  • Cost: Starting from 16,000 Euros, inclusive of travel from Helsinki.

Exploring the Arctic aboard the Yamal offers not only a journey through ice and time but also a profound connection with one of the last pristine wildernesses on Earth.