This article is written by Helen Turton who has skied across Greenland and been to both Poles on more than one occasion. We’ve worked together on quite a few trips, most recently the Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition, and she has been a constant source of information for me on all things polar. She thus seemed like the perfect person to write an article with advice for anyone planning their first expedition into a cold environment.
10 Tips For Your First Polar Expedition
by Helen Turton
1. Listen to Advice
2. Take Care of Your Body
- If you don’t look after yourself, you’re no good to anyone. The most important elements on an expedition, after safety of course, are food, drink and sleep.
- Eat and drink at every short break even if you don’t really feel like it .
- Especially look after your fingers, feet and face – check for any early signs of frostnip, make sure your feet are dry each night, cut your toenails before leaving home and moisturise!
3. Keep Breaks Short
- Keep snack stops brief but make sure you don’t do without breaks completely just because it’s cold.
- Before you stop for a break, plan ahead what you need to do – go to the loo, eat, drink, put on or take off a layer of clothing, check the GPS. Think about where in your pulk (sledge) the items that you need to access are located .
- Try to keep your skis on, even whilst going to the loo. They will insulate your feet from the snow and also save precious seconds if you don’t have to fiddle with the bindings.
- Have a time-keeper give a warning when it’s getting near to departure time. This gives people time to take off an extra layer if they’ve had to put one on for the break.
- Our breaks were 7 minutes maximum on my last South Pole expedition – any longer and our fingers ‘turned to wood’ with the cold
4. Prepare Your Kit in Advance
Every action needs to relate to minimising and conserving effort ‘on the ice’. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions, but you can make life much easier by following a few guidelines:
- Put big loops of cord on the zips of any outer garments (e.g. down jacket) so that you don’t have to remove big mitts and get frostbitten fingers doing fiddly jobs.
- Practice doing tasks with big mitts on in less cold climates, such as erecting and adjusting the tent and guylines.
- Tape over the joints of your folding tent poles and leaving them inside the tent’s sleeves. The packed tent will still fit easily into your pulk but be much faster to erect.
- Make sure that you are completely familiar with your stove in advance. It is your lifeline. You need it to melt snow for water and generate heat.
5. Set a Steady Pace
- Build up slowly to 9-10 hour days of skiing. On longer expeditions, the temptation is to get as much distance under your belt as soon as possible but a gradual increase is much more likely to maintain endurance.
- Take advantage of good weather days. If the group feels fine, then maybe this is the time to do an extra hour or two.
- Set a steady pace so that you don’t sweat. When you stop the sweat freezes next to your skin and this is really bad.
- Learn to ventilate your clothing rather than having to constantly stop and start to add and remove layers.
6. Get to Know Your Team Mates
- Get to know the people in your group as best as possible before your expedition. It’s often difficult to do so later when you’re wearing a facemask and hidden behind goggles!
- People can show very different sides to their characters from their norm. The stress of an ‘out of comfort zone’ situation and the lack of other stimulus and things to focus on can lead is something of which it will pay to be aware.
7. Look Out for Each Other
- Keep an eye out for your team mates in the tent and throughout the journey.
- Say if something isn’t feeling right (sore feet, cold spot on face) and stop to sort out the problem before it gets worse.
- If you need to stop then make sure you make that very clear to the rest of the group so that they can also make best use of the impromptu break. Otherwise, yes, they will curse you for the unexpected interruption at -40˚C!
8. Value Your Fuel
- Calculate your fuel requirements as accurately as possible to the conditions in which you will be operating your stove
- The cold, altitude and the need to melt snow can increase consumption substantially. I usually use an MSR XGK Expedition Stove on polar trips. I’ve found that I can use as little as 0.075l per person per day in warm climates, whereas on polar trips it can increase to 0.25l.
- Remember, water doesn’t need to be at boiling point for food and drinks. Bear this in mind and you can reduce your overall fuel consumption significantly.
- Thermos flasks are especially useful on polar trips. Water is a precious commodity when balanced with the amount of fuel required to make it from melting snow and it won’t stay liquid for long in a normal water bottle!
9. Be Kind
10. And finally…