200 years ago to the day, the continent of Antarctica was discovered, arguably kicking off the race to the South Pole that culminated in the golden age of Polar exploration. The expeditions of men like Peary, Nansen, Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton have inspired adventurers to this day. For them, it was all about being the first to achieve something – first to cross Greenland, first to the Poles or first to cross Antarctica. Since then, Polar exploration has become it bit more confusing. Here’s my attempt at explaining the history and what to look out for when reading about Polar – and especially Antarctic – expeditions.
The Arctic ocean is, and always has been, one of the most challenging terrains for expeditions. The drifting sea ice creates a labyrinth of open water, frozen leads, and pressure ridges, where the straight line is rarely the fastest way ahead. With the fading ice, modern explorers have to use dry suits to swim across open leads, dragging their floating sledges behind them. On thin ice, one wrong step can mean almost death, plunging an explorer into the freezing water. If that’s not enough, polar bears are roaming the ice cap, ready to hunt any prey, including humans.
In the run up to my first experience of Arctic Expeditioning, I realised that I was due to get my period a day or 2 before I left for Norway. For me, this was a hugely stressful discovery. I’ve always suffered cramps and heavy bleeding which make me feel awful for several days each month, and I would be alone with 6 men for 5 days, in an unfamiliar environment. While Thorsten is an excellent team mate, I was also worried about this first experience of sharing a tent with him. Should I tell him?