Polar Plunge – How, where and why!

Lorna Griggs

12 Sep 2016

Polar Plunge – How, where and why!  

If you’re considering a trip to the Arctic or Antarctica, I’m sure the polar plunge has crossed your mind at some point. What is a polar plunge? The insane tradition of jumping (or running) into freezing cold water while in the Arctic or Antarctica.

In the planning stages of your trip, you’ve likely wondered if you’re brave enough to jump from the warmth of a cosy ship, or run from the relative comfort of the beach and subject yourself to freezing water that probably has icebergs floating in it. With a few of us having just returned from trips to Svalbard on the M/S Freya, the polar plunge has been a hot topic in our office this month, so here are a few questions we get asked all the time, and some answers that we hope will help you make the leap!

Where can I do a polar plunge? 

Most of our trips to Svalbard and Antarctica offer the polar plunge as an optional activity. The location once you are in destination is usually picked by the expedition team based on the temperature, sea and ice conditions, and overall weather. 

How does it work? 

Let’s assume you’re on a ship. In the Arctic, most often the polar plunge will be done right from the ship itself. The Captain will anchor up somewhere, usually in a sheltered bay where the weather looks good. There will be a ladder and small platform that you’ll have used to get on and off the zodiacs, which is where you’ll line up ready to take the plunge. Once you’re attached to a rope or harness, you’ll count to 3, and jump right from the ship. Once you surface, you’ll climb right back up the ladder to the ship and head inside to warm up.

In Antarctica, there are often 2 options. Some ships will choose to follow the method above, and you’ll jump in. Others will take you to shore in a zodiac, and you’ll run into the water from the beach. There are no ropes or harnesses involved in this one, you just keep running, duck under the water, and run back to the beach and the comfort of a dry towel and warm clothing. From here you’ll be taken back to the ship to thaw out.

Is it safe? 

Yes! If you ask your expedition team, you’ll find most of them have several polar plunges under their belts. On some ships, the crew jump in daily! However there are some things to keep in mind. You’ll be jumping into freezing water, and most people experience what is called ‘cold shock’. Usually, the cold will make you gasp, and will speed up your heart rate significantly – it may feel difficult to catch your breath. This means if you have any medical conditions, it may not be advisable. The cold does also make it harder to think straight, some people panic, which is why ships use harnesses and safety ropes to make sure they can get you back to the ship safely if you are jumping in.

All that being said though, it’s a huge adrenaline rush! Most people feel exhilarated afterwards, and report that the discomfort goes away quickly.

It all sounds a bit scary, why do people do it? 

For some, its bragging rights. Being able to say you swam in the Antarctic, or jumped into the water in the Arctic with icebergs floating around you is something that very few can say! Some people do it for the challenge, some do it to raise money for a charity. The cold won’t last long, but you’ll have the photos and stories to tell for a lifetime.

Still not sure? I asked around the office to see whether my colleagues would recommend the polar plunge! Here’s what they had to say...

Jessica – What made you want to do a polar plunge? Would you do it again? 

I believe you only really regret the things you don’t do! I couldn’t miss an opportunity for a thrill, and a life experience that I might not get to do again! – cheesy but true!

And YES I would most certainly do it again! Staying warm and dry doesn’t create lasting memories…. The rush of adrenalin, endorphins and blood pumping whilst throwing myself into freezing Arctic water definitely does!

Tom – You’ve done a couple of polar plunges! Which was the best and why? Would you do it again?  

The easiest for me was in Svalbard as it was off the side of the ship. It meant I could jump in then get out and warm up!!!

The toughest was in the Antarctic on Deception Island where I had to run in from the shore. It was snowing at the time and it was about 40 mins before I could get back to the warm ship. It was another 40 minutes before I could feel my hands and feet again!

Despite that, I would still do the polar plunge on every occasion!!

Pam – Can you describe your polar plunge for us? Would you do it again? 

I don't think a polar plunge is something you can plan. You'd never do it! Here's how it went for us...

One particularly festive post-excursion evening, Abs and I (with some good Norwegian encouragement) just looked at each other and asked "should we?" The answer, of course, was a resounding YES! (Funny things happen when you're on a small ship together for twelve days.)

The key is not to think about it - swig of the nearest spirit, clothes off and GO. Once we were on deck there was no turning back. There was only one way out. Or rather IN, and then out. And the reality is, it wasn't much colder in the water than above it. Most of it, as they say, is in your head. Still, it was pretty darn cold.

Our prize, outside of a waiting hot sauna, were bragging rights with our tough and rugged captain and crew. And how can two girls beat that?

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Arabella – How does it feel when you hit the water? Would you do it again? 

It was not as bad as I had expected, but I was lucky that Pam took the guinea pig role and jumped in so fast before me that I really had a) no choice but to go straight after (for reputation more than anything else) and b) knew that if she made it alive, the chances I would too! The fact that the sauna was pumped up on full, made it almost enjoyable!

My heart didn’t miss a beat and whilst it was cold, it wasn’t as cold as I had anticipated, however I was out as quickly as humanly possible. People say that they would prefer to walk in from a beach, but no way would that have been easier, I would have turned back after dipping my toe in…..

The captain and crew make it a daily affair (polar bears near boat pending), and I can see why. It was exhilarating!

My one regret is not going back in after the sauna as this is where the real benefits lie. However, the thought didn’t cross my mind… Next time!

Fancy taking a polar plunge?

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