Skate was unable to surface precisely at the Pole on her August voyage 1958, due to dangerous ice conditions as noted in the captain's 1960 book, Surface at the Pole: The Extraordinary Voyages of the USS Skate, where Commander James F. Calvert, said "Seldom had the ice seemed so heavy and so thick as it did in the immediate vicinity of the pole. For days we had searched in vain for a suitable opening to surface in." The closest was to make radio contact at the surface from a polynya around 30 nm away, but not to surface fully owing to the risk of damage from ice. Skate did manage to surface and make contact with Drifting Ice Station Alpha at 85ºN, 300 nm away.
While the Skate was unable to surface on its first voyage to the pole, on 17 March 1959, she became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole with Calvert describing the historic moment in his book, saying, "Slowly we blew the tanks and the Skate moved reluctantly upward. It was apparent we were under heavier ice here than any we had experienced before." While at the pole, Calvert and the crew planted an American Flag in a cairn they built out of ice blocks and put a waterproof container in the cairn with a note commemorating the event. The crew also held a ceremony for the late Arctic explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins and committed his ashes at the pole. In 1931, Sir Hubert had conducted an Arctic expedition in the disarmed research submarine Nautilus. After reaching the Pole, the Skate continued its mission to pioneer arctic operations during periods of extreme cold and maximum ice thickness. When the submarine returned to port, she was awarded a bronze star in lieu of a second Navy Unit Commendation for demonstrating "... for the first time the ability of submarines to operate in and under the Arctic ice in the dead of winter...."