Traveling and Adventure Insights at the North Pole
(Note: The following is the first in a series of articles on adventurous locations for your next vacation.)
There was a time when only the hardiest and toughest men were able to make the trek to the North Pole, one of the last great frontiers. But now, anyone who has the drive and money can make the journey.
Now you too can visit the top of the world with several choices on how to do it, depending on your desired thrill level and the size of your wallet.
Most expeditions to the North Pole occur during the spring and summer, when there is hospitable weather and the most daylight hours, often close to 24 a day. While you are there, expeditions offer plenty of activities to make your experience memorable. There is even a chance to take part in a North Pole Marathon!
Several companies will fly you to the pole by helicopter for a few hours, but that seems like sort of a cheat, don’t you think? So consider these options:
Aboard A Nuclear Powered Icebreaker
Quark Expeditions offers several tours of the Arctic region, but the most thrilling is a 14-day journey to the pole aboard the 50 Years of Victory, billed as the “the most powerful nuclear icebreaker in the world.”
Travellers begin their adventure in Helsinki, Finland (you have to get your self there on your own) where you will be flown to the northern Russian port city of Murmansk. There you will board the 50 Years of Victory and set out on an approximately three-day voyage to the pole.
Onboard, tourists can take part in lectures and workshops on photography, regional history, local wildlife and other topics, as well as taking advantage of the ship’s lap pool, basketball court and other amenities.
Also’ according to participants, there are plentiful amounts of vodka available onboard.
Once you reach the North Pole, you will disembark and can snap photos to your heart’s content. The cruise even provides a champagne toast at the top of the world and a chance to take a plunge and join the Polar Bear Club in the real North Pole waters.
Quark even offers a balloon ride (for an additional fee), so you can rise above it all and look south in every direction from the pole.
On the return voyage, weather and time permitting, participants may be able to explore local historic sites including the remains of failed Arctic expeditions of the past as well as observing the plentiful Arctic wildlife.
Related: Why time slows down when flying
Once the ship docks back in Murmansk, you’ll be returned to Helsinki and on to your home. If this sounds like your ideal vacation, worry not, it’ll only set you back about $30,000 (not including your travel to Finland).
If you want to tackle the pole with a bit more adventure and closer to the style of the explorers of old, Adventure Consultants has you covered.
Lasting 15 to 19 days, they will transport you to within about 60 miles of the pole so you can cross country ski the final leg to your ultimate destination. The trek comes with a price tag of about $60,000.
If you want the full expedition experience, Adventure Consultants also offers a North Pole All The Way two month journey where you will cross the full distance on foot and skis from Ward Hunt Island in the far north of Canada to the North Pole. Worry not though, you don’t have to make the return trek, as a helicopter will meet you and return you to your starting point.
Participants must drag their own sled full of expedition equipment and are also required to help with all parts of the trek including setting up camp and cooking.
Prices vary, but expect something north of $65,000. Contact Adventure Consultants for current pricing. Tourists must also carry special life and rescue insurance, but Adventure Consultants will advise you on the process and what exactly is required.
Trip of A Lifetime
Traveller and writer Lee Abbamonte took the trip, but chose to fly to the region before tackling the hike to the pole. His decision was based upon price and time commitment. From experience, he warns Arctic travelers that you should expect delays and always be flexible.
“All did not go according to plan,” Abbamonte said. “It rarely does, as I’ve learned, in the Polar Regions.”
Abbamonte also warned travellers to be ready for an interesting flight if you take to the skies.
“The (Russian) pilots decided to show off a little bit and make sudden turns scaring the %$^$! out of people and inflicting unnecessary G-forces on us in the back,” he recalled.
And that’s just in the air.
“We had an aborted landing about two feet from touching down onto the ice runway at Barneo.” Abbamonte explained. “Finally, we made it on the second try and landing in a cargo plane on ice is always an interesting experience. The plane comes to a stop almost immediately and you are tossed around pretty good in the back.”
Writer Alex Anderson, who is working through a personal goal of swimming in all the oceans of the world, traveled to the North Pole on the 50 Years of Victory and found the experience exhilarating.
He dove into the Arctic water, which was measured at a temperature of one degree Celsius. Once he got out, he was thrilled with the experience that awaited him. “Downright balmy and comfortable after they give you a shot of vodka when you get out!” Anderson recalled.
Journalist Cynthia Drescher explained in a feature piece she penned after her own trip, the experience can get a bit surreal. Aside from a lot of partying, drinking and dancing, the expedition organizers made sure there were plenty of “party favors” for photo ops at the pole.
“The ship's cranes lowered picnic tables, BBQ grills, and even a British phone booth, which was equipped with a satellite phone from which we could call home,” she remembered.
However, the fragile nature of the region was never lost on Drescher or many of her companions. She noted melting ice next to the paw prints of polar bears, which put everything in perspective for her.
“The beauty and gravitas of the place moved nearly everyone to tears,” she said. “I found myself describing bits of the scene aloud to myself in a conscious effort to force-imprint vivid details into my memory.”
The Double Edged Sword of Arctic Tourism
Tourism to the far north of the world has skyrocketed in recent years, with some researchers pegging it at a twenty percent growth just in the past year.
Part of the lure is obviously the adventure and remoteness of the journey, but for some it is part of a new movement in travel called “last-chance” tourism. This new reason for travel is when people want to see a location or species before it is gone forever.
Jackie Dawson, an associate professor of geography and the environment at the University of Ottawa, explained that while it’s wonderful that tourists are bringing attention to areas like the Arctic it comes with its own set of problems.
“It is a matter of time, not a matter of if,” said Dawson. “We will see some sort of disaster related to climate change and increased human activity in the Arctic.”
The problem is that increased human traffic can cause further erosion of the area, but it also heightens awareness of the region and the changes to the climate. Scientists hope that the experience may cause people to take action on environmental issues when they return home.
“These trips really do change people,” Dawson said. “The Arctic is full of magic. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth.”