The Shakedown Polar Training was first conceived as a litmus test for extreme cold weather expedition readiness, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an exhilarating adventure in its own right, and one that will hone universally applicable outdoor skills.
Anyone that wants to trek to the North Pole with PolarExplorers will typically attend one of our polar trainings before embarking on their expedition.
These polar training trips (“Shakedowns”, as we like to call them) were originally designed specifically to prepare prospective North Pole trek team members for the unique challenges of traversing sea ice over the course of many days or even weeks. The value of these polar training sessions also directly applies to those who dream of trekking to the South Pole, across Greenland, traversing South Georgia Island, etc. More information on the content and organization of Shakedown Polar Trainings can be found in this blog entry.
But the Shakedown is not just for folks who dream of tackling an extreme cold weather expedition. It’s for anyone with a sense of adventure and an appetite for outdoor fun!
Years before joining the PolarExplorers guide team, I attended a Shakedown Polar Training as a participant just for the fun of it. I had no plans of becoming a guide let alone traveling to the North Pole. I had been winter camping a few times before but never in such a cold environment (-15 to -30 Celsius). I was honestly pretty nervous when I saw -25 in the weather forecast!
When I arrived at the lodge where we would spend one night before setting out on our camping trip I was shocked at how cold it was outside. “What did I sign up for?” I thought. Stepping out of the car into the cold air felt like running into a physical barrier. “How will I ever be able to sleep in this?” The thought of taking down my pants to go to the bathroom in weather like that seemed like some cruel rite of passage.
Over the course of the next 24 hours though, I learned a lot from PolarExplorers guides on how to thrive in the cold. Some “classroom” lessons made immediate sense,
like packing the items you’re most likely to need while trekking at the very top of your pulk sled. Others, like figuring out how to stay comfortable by balancing the layers you wear with your level of physical activity, took more time and guidance to figure out on the trail.
The trip wound up being far and away my best camping experience of the year. I wasn’t 100% physically comfortable the whole time but, thanks to the digestible lessons that the guides imparted, I knew what steps to take in order to feel warmer, drier or more energized. And I knew that asking for help would always yield useful tips.
Once I started to get the hang of staying comfortable, I started to learn a little more about what it meant to thrive in the cold. The guides kept saying that it’s not about surviving a trek to the North or South Pole. It’s about thriving during the trek.
For me thriving first took the form of being comfortable enough to really take in how beautiful the Boundary Waters of Ely, Minnesota are during the winter time. The frozen lakes gleaming in the sun, the snow hanging on the pine branches, laying down fresh ski tracks on the forest trails, it was all astoundingly gorgeous. And feeling physically comfortable while breathing the sub-zero air was so exhilarating and energizing.
It was even more fun to experience it all with a supportive guide team and group of fellow trip participants who were experiencing the same challenges and rewards with me. I found then, and still do now, that being somewhere cold somehow makes dinnertime chats and trading campfire stories even more delightful than it is on warmer trips.
I also found that the lessons I learned on the polar training during the dead of winter also applied to all my outdoor pursuits. I relied on the Shakedown lessons for everything from winter day hikes to summer paddling trips.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of convincing several friends, who have no intention of joining a polar trek, to join me on a polar training. Most had the same nervous energy that I did before their first trip, but all smiling big by the middle of the first day on the trail.
I encourage anyone who has ever found joy in being outside in a wild place to join a polar training. No cold weather experience is necessary, just a sense of adventure and appetite for fun!