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As a person who is completely new to the outdoors (e.g. has never been camping), but is fascinated by the arctic and would love to try (at least once) to go on an expedition, what would be advice for how to start this?

Are there any groups of people who go (so as not to go alone)? What things should one search about? What month is the best to go? Moreover, how many days would a typical expedition last? What would be a typical cost?

Thank you very much!

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  • 3
    This is one of those "if you have to ask..." things.
    – Mark
    Sep 4 '20 at 3:19
  • If you have to ask, you clearly ... don't know the answer?
    – anatolyg
    Sep 7 '20 at 8:07
  • Do you literally mean inside the Arctic Circle (which is very, very far North) or would you include places that are a long way north and have arctic-like conditions like permafrost and polar bears? Sep 9 '20 at 15:58
  • I've done canoe trips north of the Arctic circle, north of timberline. That's a stage tougher than boreal forest canoeing. But the archipelago is a bunch tougher yet. But there are routine tourist trips to northern villages like Grise Fjord and Coral Beach. Sep 9 '20 at 21:41
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The short answer is - you can't do an expedition. It takes lots of time, money and effort to organize an expedition and requires experience.

Your best bet for visiting the Arctic (anywhere above the Arctic circle) would be to either fly or drive. You can fly to Barrow, Alaska, or you can fly into Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Russia and then drive to Arctic communities with no problems at all. There are cruise ships that visit the Arctic too (though maybe not at the moment with Covid-19). You could also fly to somewhere like Greenland potentially, but I think it would be boats from the towns to the Arctic.

If you are serious about an expedition - this is something that takes a lot of time, planning and last but definitely not least, money. We are talking cost per person in the $50,000-100,000 or more sort of range. It involves transport, food, shelter, clothing, equipment, where exactly, when exactly, how many people, weather, etc. It also generally requires experience - this is not something you can just do without any out-door experience at all.

So - with no experience how would you go about this?

Well, the answer is to start - go camping first off (maybe you'll hate it) - try your local forest park. From there, go hiking on trails. Then with time and experience, go hiking off trail and at different altitudes for longer and longer times (days/weeks). Then, with more experience, try camping and hiking in the winter with snow and ice. Learn to navigate by map and compass in the hills, learn snow/ice techniques, first aid.

Once you have a start on those, you might be able to consider planning your own expedition - but to get the money you generally need sponsors (like your favourite sports star has) - which means you need a goal - so what are you going to do, that will impress people enough that they will fund you?

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  • Define ‘expedition’? My summer vacation plan had been to drive from the SW of the USA to Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic in a 4WD truck. Lots of camping, but real (if unpaved) roads. Is that an expedition?
    – Jon Custer
    Sep 3 '20 at 0:43
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    $100k/person sounds expensive. I talked to someone who tried to organise an expedition to Mount Paget, South Georgia (I think 4 weeks in total, boat from Falklands), which is rather Antarctic than Arctic, and IIRC the cost for 8 people was in the order of €80k (€10k/person). I don't think that, say, chartering a boat and getting to (for example) Hans Island need cost $100k/person (the expedition never set off because the potential participants — understandably — didn't want to transfer €10k/person to his bank account)
    – gerrit
    Sep 3 '20 at 10:16
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    @Gerrit, OP is going to need to buy some pretty heavy duty equipment that would add to the cost. I'm assuming they don't already own 4-season down sleeping bags and the like, for example.
    – Darren
    Sep 3 '20 at 13:16
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    Sure - fair. There might be flight routes or shipping Denmark <-> Greenland because of the ties, but no bridges, definitely ;)
    – nsandersen
    Sep 12 '20 at 10:53
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    @bob1 I agree, but the OP is not ready to mount an expedition himself, as I think we all agree. And he did ask about groups. Actually, at the OP's current level, if he goes with a group, he isn't going on an expedition, he is going on a tour. And it doesn't sound as though he has scientific or engineering expertise that would get him taken on an expedition after a crash course in expedition-eering. The trips in which one skis the last degree to North Pole or South Pole come closest, but even they are more expeditions in courtesy than fact. An example of grade inflation.
    – ab2
    Dec 28 '20 at 18:54
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Buy a ticket to Grise Fjord. That's pretty arcticy. (No plants bigger than mosses, lots of rock.)

Aerial View o Grise Fjord

Ok more seriously, if you want to go on your own, you need to acquire some skills first.

Backpacking

A: Get good at backpacking.

B: Now start camping above timberline.

C: Now start camping above timberline in winter.

Skiing

A: Learn to cross country ski.

B: Learn backcountry skiing.

C: Learn about avalanches.

D: Learn to do extended trip at/above tree line in winter.

Strictly speaking steep slope skiing and avalanche safety aren't necessary, but high elevation travel is the most practical way to practice winter travel techniques if you can't afford frequent travel to northern timberline.

Canoeing

Much of the arctic is soggy wet in summer. Summer travel is very slow cross country due to swamp, muskeg, rocks, rivers and lakes. It's also unpleasant due to bugs. To a slightly lesser degree this is true of the boreal forest too. There is good reason that essentially all northern settlements are on rivers or lakes.

A: Get a canoe.

B: Learn to paddle it in rough water.

C: Learn how much gear it can handle. Two months food = 60 days food = 120 pounds per person if carrying fully dried food. This has no allowance for ruined meals, the odd tin of jam or sardines, food ruined by water, rodents, and bears.

D: Get good at portaging.

First & Second Aid

You are your own doctor. You need to deal with everything from upset stomach, mosquito bite overdose, minor burns, scrapes to dealing with serious cuts, sprains, and potentially broken bones. Second aid is the skill to keep the victim alive, and comfortable until help arrives, or recovery has happened.

Firearms

The arctic has polar bears as well as grizzly bears. Both consider you as lunch, particularly in areas that are not hunted by the locals. Hunting also allows you to augment your food supply. See vilhjalmur Stefansson

A: Learn to shoot.

B: Get your hunter-safety course.

C: Go hunting each fall.

D: Learn how to shoot bears.

A few hundred days and nights of outdoor travel split fairly between these topics will put you in the position of not being a serious danger to yourself and others.

In general you will find that high elevations are very similar to arctic conditions, and a lot easier to get to.

Meanwhile, read up on the history and geography of high latitude lands.

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If you wish to visit the Arctic but not organize and expedition yourself, you could consider a visit to Iqualuit, Nunavut. Iqualuit is usually described as being "in the Arctic" though it is not technically inside the Arctic Circle. Lots of Arctic winter activities are available, including snowmobiling, dogsledding, viewing the unique wildlife of the region, igloo building.

You can find similar activities in northern Canadian towns like Dawson, Yellowknife or Inuvik (which is technically inside the Arctic circle).

(Not affiliated with the linked company nor do I reccomend them - they are simply an example)

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  • Go camping
  • Go hiking
  • Go hiking on multi-day trips
  • Go hiking on longer multi-day trips
  • Go hiking in cold conditions (snow on the ground. Using snowshoes or crampons)
  • Go camping in cold conditions (in snow, with temperatures below freezing)
  • Go hiking on multi-day trips in cold conditions
  • Go ski-touring (have a guide with you)
  • Go ski-touring on multi-day trips
  • Go ski-touring on longer trips

At each step, you'll understand a little better what you need for the next step. You'll learn to use the gear your bringing with you, and you'll know which you need and which you don't.

Stay safe, avoid going alone on any first attempt, if you can, bring someone with more experience. In some cases (ski touring) make sure you have a guide with you.

As your end-goal is a bit far, try to find intermediary targets. For example, a high summit you can reach in a day trip, a week-long through hike, a mountain were you can spend a couple of nights, and so on.

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