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The simple beauty of lines and stripes.
The simple beauty of lines and stripes.

How much preparation do I need for polar exploration?

By Dixie Dansercoer
4 minute read

Polar exploration was once reserved for a very few hardy explorers who were not confident of even returning from their trips alive. Shackleton famously advertised for "Men Wanted for hazardous journey" promising "constant danger" but "safe return doubtful". Now that expeditions of all types have somewhat become commodities, Dixie Dansercoer looks at the true requirements for polar exploration.

Should I stay or should I go
Should I stay or should I go? Polar Experience guides will take you to the most interesting places and make you into ‘soft’ environmental ambassadors. Copyright Polar Circles/ Dixie Dansercoer.

Polar Exploration: Can Anyone Do It?

Let’s admit it, the romanticism of the 18, 19 and 20th century Polar explorers who either froze to death or came back with tales of endless sufferings, does not really suit the quests of a 21st century traveller anymore. The average traveller today has a totally different agenda. We seem to need to get out of our comfort zone as we have grown far too accustomed to our cushy lives that inevitably lead to existential questions.

With modern transportation, we can pretty much get anywhere on this planet. The one restriction is us - we have to break down our own psychological barriers that slow our drive when discomfort sets in. It is actually quite simple: as soon as you find yourself in areas of the globe where roads and populations disappear, that is where we must reconsider everything. That is where (personal) discovery starts.

"freezing to death and endless suffering doesn't really suit the 21st century traveller"

With my 25 years of burning passion for polar exploration, I can confirm that the Polar Regions are truly a place of total reconsideration. Wide open expanses, endless white, deep silence, faint 360° horizons, slow progress, delicate beauty and the buzz you get from so much clean air … And yet, Mother Nature can quickly repaint the whole picture with many more shades of white, aggressive katabatic winds, temperatures that eat your bones and frozen humidity that will settle in your clothes like dust under the hood of your car.

When adventure becomes discoveryGear! Gear! More gear!

Polar Exploration requires respect for the challenge ahead

I believe a new attitude is required. One of slowing down, patience, humility and willing to learn. We need to find a way to contradict the lightning speed at which we are bombarded with all the adventures we can do today and all the expeditions we can do tomorrow. Adventures no longer seem to require even a modicum of preparation and expeditions have become a consumptive good whereby the neophyte Everest summiteer is pulled up to the summit by 20 sherpas without knowing how to tie a knot.

Anyone can, but it doesn't mean everyone should

In my handbook to Polar Exploration I have tried to express my concern about the lack of preparation and the downright irresponsible attitude of people who go too fast with Polar adventures. Often their misadventures poorly represent all activities in an extreme environment. I believe that in order to truly understand the soul of a destination, one has to take his/her time and go through a lengthy learning process. You will enjoy, and benefit from, your experience much more if you know the history of the place, know your expedition equipment and how to repair it when needed, ‘feel’ the specific meteorological conditions, master specific techniques, respect local cultures and so much more.

‘So much more’ covers a lot. Well, as it is in life, the middle of the road is always the best choice, I guess. I should not expect the occasional Polar traveller to become a professional expert, and that is why the book was written as a handrail. That is also why our guiding business “Polar Experience” is based on the principle of meaningful apprenticeship with a multi-level approach to accommodate both novices and seasoned expeditioners.

Using snowshoes is necessary.Team building/binding/bonding happens both naturally and organically

Is the tide turning again?

All prejudice aside, despite the undeniable "ticking it off my bucket list" attitude, I am convinced that more and more people do NOT want to be fully guided. Thanks to the preparation that I not only strongly recommend but ardently promote/impose, participants have told me that they had truly enjoyed being in charge of putting up their own tent, making their own meals and in more extreme cases … saving their own butts. The sense of self-respect and the realisation of being able to survive in the cold undeniably adds to the experience and lets people know their place in the process of becoming an independent polar traveller. That, to be completely honest, is my true wish.

The Polar Regions truly are a place where you can empty your mind, soak up the white wonders and bond with people who share the same passion!

Polar Greetings,

Dixie Dansercoer

Fancy your own Polar Exploration trip?

With our destinations Spitsbergen (Level 1), Iceland, Greenland (Level 2), Antarctica and the North Pole (Level 3), the Polar Experience expeditions start really slow and consequently allow for growth. Everyone is welcome as long as you are in relatively good shape (if you can walk 4 to 5 hours you are good to go) and willing to invest some time preparing the trip. Without pushing too much, the book “Polar Exploration” is a must. The 9 day mini-expedition is a great start for an expedition on foot or on snowshoes. Level 2 expeditions add more hours of progression per day, the length of the expedition is increased and we progress on skis with a kite-ski initiation around camp. Level 3 expeditions to the North Pole and Antarctica are more demanding and solid experience is necessary. Please contact to find out more.

Lost in the grandeur of the lower alpine regions of SpitsbergenModernised miner’s cabinsPolar bearTents in the darkPolar campsiteReindeer antlersPulled by the wind and softly sliding across large expanses of freshly-fallen snow.    Aaaaahhh! Copyright Polar Circles/ Dixie Dansercoer.Taking the lead to learn how to navigate (in good weather conditions) are part of the learning process. Copyright Polar Circles/ Dixie Dansercoer.This can hardly be called ‘grazing’… Reindeer must scrape off snow and ice with their hooves Knowing how to use your equipment is a great help to feel comfortable in a demanding environment. Back to the bare minimum! Copyright Polar Circles/ Dixie Dansercoer.Fluctuations in temperatures change the structure of the surface and forces us to adapt by using snowshoes.  Fluctuations in temperatures change the structure of the surface and forces us to adapt by using snowshoes.  Nothing as graceful as kiting in pristine snow! Some people get the hang of it in one day, others need a little more time.Little treasures along the way: Reindeer antlers can be found frozen in the ice and soon enough creativity in the use of those … aboundsMarching as one and enjoying simple rites and rhythmic marching. Creating space in overfilled brains.Back in Longyearbyen, Svalbard after an intense trip. Shower! Food! Celebration!Custom-made kitchen boxes to safely cook in the front portion of the tent. The simple beauty of lines and stripes.Remainders of a long-forgotten lucrative past: transportation posts for the coal mines. Today, only a couple of mines are still operative. And, righteously, under pressure of responsible minds. Hot-tubbing in the deep cold. Pulled by the wind and softly sliding across large expanses of freshly-fallen snow.    Aaaaahhh!Back to civilisation.  The ‘city’ of Longyearbyen on the island of Spitsbergen in the archipelago of Svalbard belonging to Norway. Soon enough you will long for the place where you were on expedition: ‘nowhere’Before and after the expedition, a cozy warm place to retreat to intensifies the whole experience. Re-appreciation is one of the central values that we hope to send participants back home with. A communal (bigger) tent brings everyone together to exchange experiences and ideas. Humour is usually served along with hot drinks and basic, but oh-so welcome food to keep our internal fire going. If you would think of the Polar Regions as bland/ monochrome environments, think again! The entire colour spectrum is available and wildlife is around. Just incredible how they can survive!

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