The good news: There are hearty adventurers in this world wiling to endure the multimonth trek to the North Pole across nearly 500 miles of frozen tundra while pulling a 300-pound sled in the name of exploration. The bad news: None of them may ever get the chance to do it again due to thinning ice and other logistical issues, National Geographic reports. "North Pole expeditions are going the way of the passenger pigeon," explorer Eric Larsen says. One of the major reasons: The National Snow and Ice Data Center says maximum ice extent reached record lows this year and the ice is thinning drastically. That means more open water to cross, more ice formations to navigate, and more erratic movement of ice floes. Plus, the travel window to attempt a North Pole "summit" is getting tighter, with only about two months to get in after the worst winter weather is done and before the ice really starts melting for the summer.
A "true" trek to the North Pole, undertaken by the people NatGeo calls pole "purists," involves starting in Alaska, Greenland, Canada, or Russia, then traversing the treacherous ice mass completely unassisted—meaning the journey is all human-powered, with no outside supplies dropped in or help provided by dogs or powered vehicles. While there were seven such trips made from 2005 to 2010, there's been only one during the last five years because of the more delicate environment and other factors. One of those other factors is Kenn Borek Air—said by NatGeo to be the only air charter operating on the North Pole—halting all private expeditions. That means no more air service to drop travelers off at a popular starting point, pick them up at the North Pole, or pull off rescue attempts in emergencies. "With Kenn Borek out of the picture, it's like if you weren't allowed to use oxygen any more on Everest," a Swiss explorer notes. (Thin Arctic ice may have killed two Dutch explorers this month.)