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Four hearty hikers plan record-setting North Pole trek

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ROBERT E. Peary, Richard E. Byrd, and . . . Michael McGuire? Mr. McGuire, an experienced mountain climber who has spent the past two springs in the Arctic adjusting to subzero temperatures and testing equipment, is a 26-year-old Nebraskan who has every intention of joining the ranks of record-breaking North Pole explorers.

In early March he and three carefully selected teammates will set forth from Ward Hunt Island, one of the northernmost land points in Canada, to hike the 475 miles over the thick but constantly moving Arctic Ocean ice to reach the North Pole. In succeeding, they would become the first expedition to walk to the geographical ``top of the world.''

Dressed in bright red wilderness suits and boots made of a synthetic down (real down absorbs too much moisture), the four men will carry about 70 pounds of equipment apiece. Their supplies will include freeze-dried food, sleeping bags and pads to put under them, cameras, communication gear, a rifle (in case they need to fend off polar bears), and containers for collecting snow samples. The latter will be used in acid-rain studies by the University of New Hampshire and Carnegie-Mellon University. The hikers will also collect some meteorological data.

On the journey they expect little snow, but strong winds and temperatures as low as 60 degrees below zero. With the help of a compass, a sextant, and the stars, they will hew as closely as they can to the 74th degree west meridian. Each night they will camp in a special heavy nylon tent designed by McGuire, which can be set up within a few seconds and in which temperatures, with the help of two white-gas stoves, could be raised to a relatively toasty level of zero.

Although the men will cross no mountains, they must often climb 40- to 60-foot-high ice pressure ridges, which form when chunks of ocean ice push against each other. Past explorers, taking dog sleds and snowmobiles, have had to ax their way through these. The McGuire team will take two light sleds to carry some supplies, but they won't try gliding down the ridges, McGuire says. ``It would be like trying to ride over a rock quarry with snow on top of it.'' The sleds will have to be carried over the jagged ice ridges.

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