The Arctic is a magical place in the summer with 24-hour daylight, landscapes the likes of which I've never seen, animals that are unique to the north, and terrain that varies from desert to wet and spongy.
In fact, undulating, spongy tundra was often the description of our landing places. But I'll be telling you about this amazing terrain in an upcoming post called “Landings and Learnings in the Canadian Arctic.”
In this post I want to give you an idea of what an expedition cruise is like. There were a number of people I spoke with who had some trepidation about booking the trip – though it was overcome by the desire to take it.
They had questions. Were they physically fit enough? Would they manage themselves in and out of the zodiacs? Would they be cold?
I was on this trip as a guest of Adventure Canada. While their pre-trip information answers all these questions, I'm hoping to answer them now in these tips for an Arctic expedition, for I would hate anyone to miss this fantastic trip due to unnecessary concerns.
You can read my first post about this trip here: Canadian Arctic Adventure: Solo Travel in Nunavut
Tips for Arctic Expedition Travel
The guests on the High Arctic Adventure ranged in age from 16 to 86 and, by my estimate, from maybe 110 lbs to 280 lbs. There was one woman on crutches. I tell you this not because these are the limits–everyone of every age and size has different abilities–but to give you a sense of the wide range of people on board.
Now here are some tips for an Arctic expedition cruise.
- Packing and preparations. The key to being warm in the Arctic is staying dry and having clothing that will dry quickly and many layers. I took Adventure Canada's packing recommendations around wet and cold gear seriously. Beyond my usual clothes and sports gear, I bought a few things that added up to about CDN$250.
- I upgraded my splash pants (oh, I love having splash pants as an adult) from water-resistant to waterproof.
- I bought 4 extra pairs of hiking socks, which is a good thing since I brought my hiking shoes rather than my waterproof hiking boots. I waterproofed my shoes but it made no difference when water poured in the top.
- I bought a light, long sleeved, wicking shirt and a light fleece jacket.
- Adventure Canada provides the blue Expedition Jacket for you to keep.
- Maritime time. The 24-hour clock is used when telling time of any event. If the 24-hour clock confuses you, simply subtract 12 from any number higher than 12 and the remainder will be the time in the p.m. For example, 13 – 12 = 1:00 pm, 18 – 12 = 6:00 pm.
- Preparing for shore excursions. On the first day of the expedition we were divided into color groups and called to the mud room by color. At that time, we were given a locker, rubber boots or wellies, and a life jacket. These life jackets are small and comfortable. They inflate when immersed in water.
- Pay attention to the day's briefing. The briefing will tell you the temperature and wind level for the kind of clothing you'll want to wear and whether it's a wet or dry landing so you'll know what kind of foot gear you need.
- What to wear. Wear your expedition jacket as an outer layer for the zodiac ride even if it's warm enough that you won't need it on shore. Have a layer or two underneath so that you can peel off layers as you warm up. If it's a wet landing, you'll wear your rubber boots for landing but carry your hiking shoes/boots with you so that you can change on shore. If it's a dry landing you won't need your boots.
- What to bring. I always brought my day pack to carry my hiking shoes as well as water, gloves, and a hat.
- Mud room procedures. When your color group is called for disembarkment, go to the mud room, put on your boots, if necessary, and life jacket. Head to the zodiacs. On the arm of all Adventure Canada expedition jackets is a plastic sleeve for a card with a bar code associated with your name. There will be someone to zap your bar code as you leave and when you return.
- How to get in or out of a zodiac between a ship or dock.
- Sailor’s hold. Also referred to as a wrist hold, a sailor's hold is where people hold wrists rather than holding hands. It's a much firmer hold.
- Getting on the zodiac. There will be one or two people on the stairs down to the boat (depending on how rough the water is) and one person in the boat to receive you. Give your day pack to one of the helpers who will put your pack on the zodiac. Then, using the sailor's hold, get the hand of one or two people on the ship, step on the pontoon of the zodiac, take the hand of the person in the boat via the sailor's hold, step onto the box step and into the zodiac. Sit where you're told.
- Getting off the zodiac to a dock. It's the same process as above in reverse. Using the sailors hold step onto the step, then onto the pontoon, and then onto the dock with the support of the people on hand.
- How to get in or out of a zodiac from land.
- Landing. When it's your turn, move to the front of the boat, sit on the pontoon facing the back where the motor is, and holding the helpers hand via the sailor's hold, swing one leg over and then the other, two hands hold, and up.
- Boarding the zodiac. Again, it's the reverse. Approach the zodiac with support via the sailor's hold, sit on the pontoon facing the back of the boat, swing one leg at a time over the pontoon, with support of the person inside the zodiac, move into position.
- Zodiac etiquette. The person driving the zodiac is the captain and in charge. Do not stand up unless you get permission from the captain first. Only one person can stand at a time.
- Land excursions etiquette.
- Stay within the perimeter as defined by the bear monitors.
- Choose the hike that matches your ability and don't trail too far behind.
- Take only memories. Leave only footprints. Do not move or remove anything at an archaeological site.
- Mal de debarquement. For some people, myself included, once being on a ship for some time, the land can then seem unsteady. It's called mal de debarquement, which is basically the opposite of sea sickness. It just means that the land can move beneath your feet for a few days after being on a ship. Be aware of this and be careful on any hikes.
This trip was sponsored by Adventure Canada but, as always, the views and opinions are my own.
All photos were taken on my Samsung Galaxy S9 which has a high resolution camera. I have not been sponsored by them. Adventure Canada has a camera lending program that is sponsored by Nikon. You can borrow some amazing equipment and get advice from professional photographers onboard the ship.