Artic Exploration; A few survival tips to save your life

Since the brave and inspiring Pam is preparing for a classic crossing of the Greenlandic Icecap, and the fact that I actually sent off 20 kg:s of equipment to her yesterday, I have been thinking about my own experience of travelling, skiing, walking, dogsledding, reindeerpulled and living in the Arctic. I think I dare to say I know what I am talking about. Right now I am also drinking a steaming hot glass of Swedish low alcohol glögg with raisins and nuts, reminding me how nice it is to be indoors! But I will be discussing the Arctic environment in winter and cold.

Basically we are talking about an Arctic environment with either taiga and mountains with valleys where the deepest of snow conditions will be found, or just taiga (forest). Then we have tundra which means no trees but dominated by erratic winds, sastrugi and flatness. Or moving ice, no land, but with open leads, water, pressure ridges and wind. Like the classic North Pole trips. I like the first choice, since I am brought up on lakes, rivers and in forests and love bringing the axe to do fires for comfort and survival.

There´s obviously many ways to travel, but I will completely delete any motorized ways to travel, since for me that goes against my belief of being close to the environment and fully understanding what is needed to survive and enjoy life at the same time. Obviously local people, who live permantly in the Arctic, if they like snowmobiles or other ways to travel, that is fine with me, but I will touch on the subject of professional or recreational travel in the Arctic. Most who ventures for sport or travel in the Arctic today, do it as recreational travel.

I personally like skiing pulling a pulka the best. Travelling with reindeer was a wonderful experience, but way too cold. But I also prefer to travel in Arctic areas which are inhabited. I like people. And I like to find out how they live and think. There are of course otherways, like dogsledding, but requires bringing a lot of food. Too many things, makes life unnecessarily complicated. I also see skiing to the North Pole or South Pole as such, as sporting challenges, not exploring. At least not like in the days of Nansen or Nordenskiölds Greenland Expeditions, which brought bacj valuable data of our globe. Today, with few exceptions, these are sporting adventures where physical strength is of importance. Intelligence less so. There´s absolutely nothing wrong in this fact!

I am also just concentrating on journeys where a single person does most of the work. E.g. bring everything, clothes, tent, fuel and food and so on. My advice and opinions are based on 33 years of travel in the Arctic, both professionally and recreationally.

So, how do you survive any personal journey in the Arctic?

Throughout the years I have received loads of questions from beginners how to do it. Quite a few have come back to me later, after having set out on the journey of their dreams, disappointed and unhappy is some ways. Mainly because they had to give up on their pre-plan where to go and where to end up, and very much due to feeling very uncomfortable, freezing, problems cooking and generally suffering too much. A lot has to do with poor preparations.

I have written at length before about what equipment to bring, how to dress etcetera, and I have compiled a list of links below touching into these issues of Arctic travel.

However, for safe, enjoyable and comfortable “extreme” travel in the Arctic, youo have to be able to master these skills below: (Should be practised even more the physical preparations.)

Camp skills. You need to spend a lot of time in the tent. It is your home, your resting place, your security. So you need to learn how to make yourself comfortable. It is easier when it is lots of snow, like in the taiga, because you can build a wall around your whole camp. It is harder on icey tundra, where you might need to bring ice screws. A shovel is always of the greatest importance, because you will also need it to shovel in fresh snow for easy melting to water in the space between the entrance and the outer flysheet and within easy reach in the night or early morning, avoiding going out. It is of greatest importance to secure your camp. When going is easy and snow available, skipoles and skis is enough to secure your tent.
Your tent is your home, your fortress…..

Cooking. You have to know your stove inside out, how to repair, how to change parts, clean and get it going no matter what low temperature. Food and warm water is dead important for enjoying what you do! The choice of food to bring is personal, but you get far on a spoon and knife. Make cleaning easy, uuse foodbag to it in.  Bring enough fat, like frozen butter. Snow melts faster than ice. Preserve fuel, but bring enough! Test the stoves weeks before departure.

Weather. The more time you spend outdoors, the better you learn how to read the weather. This is of greatest importance. It will save your life. 

Maps. It might be hard to find detailed maps on the tundra or heading for the North pole, but where they exist, use them and figure out what is ahead.

Prepare. prepare.Prepare. The more your prepare, the better you enjoy it. I am almost sure I have spent more than 2500 nights in the tent, so it is written in the back of my head, so even if I have been away for years, I easily find my ways as soon as the tent comes out.

Enjoy life. It goes without saying, the more you prepare, you enjoy life, whilst preparing and when executing your dream.

Links as regards to Arctic Expedition and survival:

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