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Polar Expeditions

Undertaking a polar expedition is a bold commitment requiring significant time, logistical planning, money and a strong desire to challenge yourself against nature and the elements. Travelling to the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctic can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and achieving a goal in these regions – whether it be climbing a peak, skiing to the pole, sailing on an expedition route, discovering historic explorer huts and structures, or seeking out remote penguin colonies – these are adventures you will share and cherish for the rest of your life.

Even with the advent of technology for communications and weather forecasting, and with modern clothing materials, the Polar Regions can be harsh environments. This is part of the reason why they are appealing; the unknown, the remoteness and the challenge.

Getting to Antarctica involves committing to either a ship or yacht journey from a relatively close port (3-10 days) such as Ushuaia, Invercargill, Cape Town, Hobart or Stanley. Alternatively flying from places like Punta Arenas to King George Island or Union Glacier camp puts you directly into the thick of Antarctica. From here you can climb Vinson Massif (the highest mountain in Antarctica), fly to the South Pole, or explore remote Emperor Penguin colonies that very few people have ever seen.

The Arctic is similarly serviced from predominantly Norway or Canada – particularly if you want to fly to the North Pole. You can even board a sightseeing flight from places like Berlin where you will fly over the North Pole and return within a few hours. Longyearbyen is a very popular (and beautiful) departure point for Arctic adventures, and if you want to experience the Arctic on the ground without having to ski or haul gear, Barneo Ice Station (about 100km’s from the North Pole) is an incredible experience. From there you can fly by MI-8 helicopter directly to the Pole in 20-40 minutes. Equally as exciting and adventurous is taking a journey from Murmansk to the North Pole on board the 50 Years of Victory – the world’s largest and most powerful nuclear icebreaker. You can even balloon over the Pole when you get there!

Ability

This depends a great deal on the adventure undertaken. For skiing and climbing trips such as skiing the ‘last degree’ or climbing Mt Vinson, well honed ski and basic climbing skills are required along with being comfortable in cold weather environments. For polar cruises or activities undertaken with polar operators, no specific ability or skills required, just a sense of adventure!

Many expedition cruises offer specific activities such as mountaineering, sea kayaking, paddle boarding, diving, or skiing, and some of these require more specific skills  - e.g. for water based activities, the ability to swim and/or be comfortable around water is important, and mountaineering and ski activities require a moderate level of fitness to be able to participate. Most expedition cruises to more remote locations and all other remote adventures will require a medical questionnaire be completed.

Gear Required

For polar cruises and activities on these trips, generally all technical and safety equipment is provided, with the only requirement from you being well supported footwear (although in the polar regions you will generally be supplied with rubber boots from the ship) and clothing suitable to the environment – e.g. in the higher latitudes taking a lot of warm layers and a good jacket/overtrousers with hat and gloves is imperative. For specific adventures to places like Barneo camp, Vinson Massif, skiing the ‘last degree’, or even more remote adventures, consult your operator or guiding company and they will provide comprehensive clothing, gear and equipment lists.  

3 Antarctica zodiac cruise

exploreGO Top Experiences

  • Any expedition cruise that gets you south to Antarctica!
  • Visit an Emperor Penguin Colony in the Wedell or Ross sea, Antarctica
  • Fly to Barneo Camp in the Arctic and ski the last degree to the North Pole (or fly there)
  • Fly to Union Glacier and climb Mount Vinson, or fly to the South Pole
  • Ski the ‘last degree’ to the South Pole
  • Get on an exploratory expedition that is not a regularly scheduled trip, and see remote Antarctica
  • Visit Scott and Shackleton's historic huts on Ross Island, Antarctica    
  • Stand on the Amery Ice Shelf or Ross Shelf to appreciate the sheer scale of Antarctica

Best time to travel

Antarctic

Late October to early December (early summer): Winter pack ice begins to break up, seals on fast ice and shoreline, breeding season for penguins and seabirds, seals establishing their breeding territory, snow-covered mountains

Mid December to January (mid-summer): Warming temperatures and wildlife very active – chicks hatching, receding ice opens, whale numbers increasing, very long daylight hours, warmest temperatures

February to March (late summer): Whale sightings at their best, penguins fledging, wonderful sunsets/sunrises, snow algae blooming, numerous seals around the Peninsula

Arctic

June to September is the main time to explore the Arctic, as the pack ice recedes

Svalbard is best experienced May to September  

Places like Barneo Ice Camp have a short season and expeditions to the North Pole occur in a narrower window of the season, with Barneo open from early April to late April, whilst expedition cruises to the North Pole occurring in June as the ice breaks up further north

35 Polar expeidtion_mountaineering_Antarctica

exploreGO Top Tips:

  • If going on an Arctic or Antarctic expedition cruise, make sure you have everything you need before you go, as trying to get electronic gear or sometimes even good cold weather gear at a decent price can be difficult from where many ships or aircraft depart from. Make sure you have a few pairs or dexterous gloves to operate electronic gear in the cold, or even do up zippers. And a well fitted hat and neck gaiter will keep you snug and warm on those cold morning zodiac cruises.

  • If your goal is climbing or skiing in the polar regions, definitely make sure you have used and tested all gear prior to arrival. There is no chance to change equipment once there, so make sure it all fits well (especially footwear, skis, etc) and you have stress tested in a similar environment back home. It costs a lot of time and money to get to Polar Regions, so make sure you’re super confident with all your gear and it works.

  • Make sure your electronic gear is top-notch for the environment, it’s works no matter what, and you have reliable ways of charging up again. Think in terms of comms-camera-charging. Get a good satellite phone – such as the Iridium 9575 phone which will withstand the harshest conditions and has a satellite network that will work well in the Polar Regions. Camera gear needs to be light, portable, and designed for the cold. Loads of spare batteries will ensure you’re always good to go. And source a charging system that works for your trip – whether you’ll be in the wilderness for a month and need solar charging, through to base camp or ship when you can access a charging station to get boosted up again.

Related Experiences

Interested in Polar Expeditions but seeking a different experience right now? Check out some suggested experiences below or click the link to browse our full suite of activities.

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