I just got back from 12 days on Baffin Island, (super far north Canada), which is in the Arctic circle. Training with polar adventurers extraordinaire – Matty McNair and her two kids, Sarah and Eric McNair-Landry (who hold records for being the youngest to reach the South Pole, 596km kite-skied in a day etc.)
This was a good introduction to the Arctic weather. While I had been in similar cold before, on a mountain, it usually started off cool and got colder the higher one got – which gave one time to acclimatise, or at least turn back. At Iqaluit, the instant I stepped off the plane, we were down to -30°C temperatures instantly, thank goodness I had some warm clothes with me.
In a crowd like this, there was a bunch of amazing people staying at the Northwinds lodge – Irish explorers and a Japanese man about to do a solo expedition to the North pole. A few of the guests and visitors had also summited Everest. It was a real privilege to see the systems that they used, and debate the merits and trade-offs of the different types of gear to bring along.
Every night, I was out in the tent at the back, getting used to the weather, and trying out different sleep systems.The first few days were theory, where I reconciled my prior knowledge and experience from climbing, adventure-racing, work to the requirements of a polar environment.
I think respect for the environment is key – hence the need to come for training and learn from those that have successfully done it.
Great fun, had a chance to go on a dog-sled ride, kite-ski, but mainly learn to cross-country ski with a pulk and live comfortably in that environment.The photos don’t do justice to the excitement, speed and sheer fun of running with the big dogs!
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. The main learning was in the field, with a 7 day mini-expedition with Sarah. We navigated, cooked and even went for a swim.All through-out, the weather was incredibly cold, and numb fingers and toes were pretty much par for the course. Holding anything – food, gear, cameras, all soaked away precious heat from the fingers, while sweat cooled and turned to ice, lowering the body core temperature. The sleds were loaded down with all our gear, and had an extra 80lbs of dog-food, just in case they weren’t heavy enough. Many people think that ice is smooth, but with the tidal action (we are skiing on frozen sea-ice) and wind, they form incredible rough patches hundreds of meters to several km wide that are an incredible pain to cross.
Many people say that jumping from a plane is a unique manifestation of a suicidal wish (having done it quite a few times, I would agree). The same goes for taking a dip in water when the air temperature is -50°C with wind-chill and frost-bite hits naked skin in 30seconds. This was to practise crossing patches of open water that could not be avoided
The final evolution was to make my own way back, once Sarah was convinced I wouldn’t blow things up when left alone. Armed with a shot-gun, tent, food, satellite phone and fuel, I took my bearings with the compass and sat off back to civilisation. The way was pretty far, and the howling wind on the second day made it almost impossible to set-up tent, or to sleep. The violent winds had me thinking all night about the tent collapsing, especially while the stoves were running. Not happy thoughts.
On the final day – I had to make it back to Matty’s by a fixed time, because I had a flight to catch. I had enough time to shower, change and then hop on the plane. A short nap later, I was back in civilisation, having a good meal.
PS – many people ask about going to the toilet in such conditions. I can only say this – if you are one of those blessed with huge capacity, then you’re the lucky one.
PPS – so why do this – answers below