Firstly, lets just put your mind at ease about the purpose of this blog. We are not talking about raw survival and expecting you all to adopt a Bear Grylls persona and start walking around wearing an elk whilst digging a snow hole (as much as some of you may want to). Instead this blog is intended to tell you a few facts about the Arctic Trek that are generic and unfortunately inescapable for trekkers and guides alike. If we were to ask our past trekkers what their tips would be for future trekkers, it is more than likely that we would receive a list that is far greater than any blog post could ever cover. This is where the Arctic Trek excels itself in being a unique individual challenge; one trekker may love the cold, starry nights under a clear sky, where another trekker may wish there was a roof and loft insulation above them. And possibly a chimney leading from a roaring fire. And a brandy. But our Top 5 tips are as follows:
- Your water will freeze if not managed properly.
Hydration is key in the Arctic, as dehydration will affect your aerobic capacity and therefore your ability to cover the distance day after day. Dehydration also causes headaches, grogginess and a general feeling of malaise – all of which can affect your enjoyment of the experience. Temperatures can drop to -35c at night and this means that anything liquid will freeze within a short time. With daytime temperatures at -20c there is also not much scope to get things defrosted.
To overcome this, consider the following:
- On the trail: CamelBaks will freeze if open to the elements. If you are planning on using a water reservoir system then put it on top of your baselayer and wear your jacket on top of it. Keep the hose and mouthpiece inside the jacket too as the residual water will freeze and block the whole system. If you are planning on using a Nalgene/water bottle then again consider keeping this tucked down inside your jacket. Your body heat and movement will prevent the water from freezing; but please ensure that it is securely closed, as any leakage will seep in to your clothing and freeze. Big drama.
- Take on board fluids at night and in the morning. At each overnight camp we will have an open fire and an abundance of snow. This will give us the opportunity to have water available for drinking and for filling your individual bottles. We will also have an amount of water with us out on the trail in insulated containers which can be used for top ups.
- Keep your water with you at night. Keeping your water bottle/reservoir inside your sleeping bag at night will again prevent the contents from freezing. Containers left in a pulk bag or lying in your tent will freeze solid overnight, which means you cannot drink the contents but will also render your bottle unusable. Careful management of water and reservoirs/bottles will make your trek far more enjoyable.
2. You will have to do the toilet outside.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, which for us means that good hydration will result in a need to do the obvious. This is not a bad thing but does mean that you have to accept it for what it is. Each overnight camp (Lavvu) has a permanent wooden structure that is designed for use as a composting toilet – but these are very spartan and can’t be described as comfortable. At all. On the trail there are no permanent toilet facilities and you will have to go outside and we recommend that you bring wet wipes with you. We do not recommend that you attempt to train for this in the UK and will not be held liable for the consequences if you do so….
3. You will be tired.
The trek involves long physical days and relatively uncomfortable nights. This is part of the experience and is also what makes this event such a challenging but rewarding one. Accepting your fatigue and pushing on is an absolute must. The Breaking Strain team are experienced in dealing with trekkers and will do everything we can to assist you, but ultimately we rely on you to put your tiredness aside and crack on. It will make the hot shower and warm bed at the end of it feel all the better. Promise.
4. You must train.
As mentioned above – the days on the trail are long and physical and cannot be compared to a day’s walking back home in the UK. The pulk adds resistance as opposed to weight and this affects the exertion levels and demands placed on your body. Following a robust and progressive physical training programme in the months leading up to the trek will put you in a good condition for the trek and ensure that, as well as completing it, you also enjoy the event and get the most of out of it. Failing to train doesn’t necessarily mean that you will not complete the trek, but it does increase your chances of injury and increase the likelihood of you withdrawing. As always, the Breaking Strain team are on hand to answer your training questions.
5. You must become a master at personal administration.
How to manage your ‘admin’ in the Arctic Circle will be one of the most important skills you can master. When we talk of admin we are basically talking of how you manage yourself ie; not dropping gloves, not having your belongings strewn all over the bottom of your tent, not dropping litter on the trail etc. Having poor admin can have a really adverse effect on your trek, as losing bits of kit or having it rendered useless by the cold could affect your wellbeing and your ability to complete it. Personal administration is covered at the information evening and training weekends, but the following points should be a step for a hint.
- Only take out what you need. If you pull something out of your pulk bag to access something else, put it straight back in again.
- Pack the pulk bag logically. Keep the things you will need most near the top. Bedding etc can go to the bottom.
- If you take off a glove or a hat, put it in your pocket, not on the ground.
- Keep the small things in your pockets (spork, camera, snacks etc). This will prevent you having to constantly stop and go in to your pulk.
- At night, take your boots in to your sleeping bag with you. Keeping your boots in a compression bag next to you at night will prevent them from freezing and being unusable in the morning.
This list should hopefully give you a bit of an idea as to what to experience during your Arctic Trek. It is not exhaustive and we are confident that you will each all have your own individual challenges and obstacles to overcome. Make the most of the experience and use the time between now and your trek wisely. Attend the information nights, attend the training weekends and do not be afraid to ask questions.