The (In)Accessibility of the Polar Regions

Nathan Roe

16 Nov 2018

NWS Nathan shares his take on the difficulties and rewards of polar travel

Travel to Antarctica and/or the Arctic is not for the faint of heart. Only the most intrepid travellers wish to experience the cold, icy, largely inhospitable Polar Regions. Although travel methods and standards are improving year on year, with such options as luxury camps and spacious suite cabins, the idea is to get off the ship and out onto the ice. The Antarctic continent is the windiest and coldest on the planet, while the Arctic’s extreme climate and rugged landscape pose dangers of their own.

The Arctic compromises parts of Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark (Greenland), the US (Alaska) and Norway (both Svalbard and the mainland). Within these countries are inhabited towns and cities lying beyond the Arctic Circle. Similarly, Antarctica hosts scientists in research centres, some of which are manned year-round.

However, both regions have some of the hardest-to-reach and least-explored areas in the world. The closest mainland to Antarctica is Argentina, which takes a full two days at sea to reach. You do now have the option to fly to Antarctica, landing on a small ice runway, 5.5 hours from mainland South America. However, that is your closest designated landing site nearest the mainland, where the exploration merely begins.

The situation is the same for the Arctic. You will embark upon your voyage from a relatively small town, with limited facilities, but once you are in the depths of your voyage, a hospital for instance is a long way off while phone reception and public internet connection is non-existent. The remote location and travel required is the reason travellers to the Polar Regions need to have insurance to cover such high costs.

On the flip side, I witnessed a training exercise demonstrating how the highly trained and skilled professionals can assist if the time comes. While out at sea in Svalbard on the M/V Kinfish, a rescue helicopter radioed in requesting permission to perform a training exercise on the ship.

They required only minimal deck space at the rear of the vessel to winch most of the crew and a stretcher complete with dummy aboard the Kinfish, all in a matter of minutes and while the helicopter hovered overhead. Experiencing such a drill was exhilarating, but also instilled a great deal of confidence in myself and fellow passengers knowing that such a performance was possible.

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