Heading into Arctic adventures
It's one of the greatest remote travel adventures still available on the globe: a visit to the North Pole. Yes, expect cold temperatures, but nowhere near as cold as the South Pole.
If a trip to the North Pole is on your bucket list, you'll be happy to know that various tours are offered to the "top of the world." Here are some tips about what it's like at the North Pole and how to get there.
Temperature range: cold or colder are the only options
The North Pole (in the Arctic) has two seasons, summer and winter, but it never really gets toasty. The winters are some nine months long, while summers fill in the other three months. Mean temperatures in winter are a frosty -40 degrees F and a still chilly 32 degrees F in summer, just at freezing. But the South Pole (in the Antarctic) is colder, with summer mean temperatures at -18 degrees and winters at -76 degrees F.
Why do the poles get so cold? Neither gets any direct sun, even in the middle of July when it's light all the time. The Arctic is a body of ice floating on water, while Antarctica is a vast ice field on land. Water is slightly warmer and moderates the climate in the North Pole a little.
Weather and climate in the Arctic
Weather and climate are different phenomena. Think of weather like your moods, climate like your personality. Every place on the planet has day-to-day changes in its weather, and this includes the North Pole. But climate refers to an overview of what weather to expect in which season.
The Arctic's relationship with the sun is one of the most important factors in both weather and climate. In winter, once you travel above the Arctic Circle, all sunlight comes in at a low angle. Months pass when it doesn't even poke its nose above the horizon. But in summer, the sun never goes down. Inversions that layer cold air below warmer air are another factor in creating Arctic weather. Scientists say that this slows icy winds on the surface of the Arctic.
If you visit the coastal areas of the Arctic (like areas of Alaska, Iceland, Russia and Scandinavia), winters are stormy with 49 inches of precipitation annually. In summers, look for cool, cloudy days. The coast of the Arctic has a different climate, with drier, colder weather in winter. Summer sun thaws permafrost in the top layers of soil. That causes temperatures to move up above freezing, but that doesn't mean you can't visit. You can, and summer is a good choice.
Arctic tours aplenty
Can you visit the Arctic? Yes, you can and you may not even need a specialty tour. Anyone can plan a trip to the areas of the Arctic accessible by land, like northern Alaska, Canada's Yukon or Northwestern Territories, or Iceland. Perhaps the most accessible Arctic adventure is through Norway's Svalbard archipelago. The roads are few and far between so consider plying the coast by ship.
In any of these areas, you'll find an inhospitable, unpredictable but magnificent land of flat, treeless tundra with once-in-a-lifetime wildlife viewing. This can include polar bears, Arctic fox, musk ox and seals, among others.
If you are determined to pass over the geographic North Pole, this is also possible but more expensive. You can book passage through several travel companies on the ice-breaker 50 Years of Victory. All you may see in the spot is shifting sea ice, but some cruises combine this with hot-air balloon flights over the pole. Your best months in terms of daylight and weather are May through August. Northern lights are more prevalent in winter, however, and make their own magic.
Packing for the Pole
Obviously, whenever you visit the Arctic, let alone the North Pole, you'll need cold-weather clothes in your suitcase. Consider taking:
- Down coat
- Warm hat
- Long underwear
- Warm boots
- Sun block