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.
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.
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.