One thing that really sets an Arctic voyage apart from Antarctica is the tundra and the hiking it offers. In Antarctica the glaciated continent dictates your boundaries – in the Arctic you are free to roam – so long as a polar bear is not at your landing site. Still for each landing you must choose and stay with a particular group because in bear country you must have an armed escort.
There are the chargers. These hikers move the fastest and cover the most ground. The aim is to get the best workout in this rugged environment. They often can be seen at some high vista point from the low lying shore where the meanderers are poking around in the moraine field that was once covered by a moving glacier.
The meanderers are the macro vision group. At first glance the moraine looks like a wasteland of rock but on close inspection it is dotted with flora and other interesting finds like the mandibles of the arctic fox, colorful lichen, polar bear foot prints, or ice crystals. Sometimes the tundra is hard and rocky other times it is green and squishy as the ground sucks at your boots. The freezing and thawing of the ground creates interesting patterns like Frost Boil Ecosystems. Fresh water ponds capture the reflection of the big sky and surrounding landscape. I have to admit that I often find myself in the meanderer’s company.
But if you want the exercise and still want the time to stop and smell the Svalbard Poppy then the middle group is for you. You still range away from the shoreline but don’t cover quite as much ground as the chargers do. It isn’t uncommon to hike to an area where reindeer (Spitsbergen) or caribou (Canadian Arctic) are grazing.
It’s important to pay attention to where you walk or you might find an Arctic Skua diving at you. Too close to a hidden nest, with my arm above my head I backed away as I tried to glimpse the chick. From a safe distance, I watched as the parents moved to various high spots around a perimeter of their nesting area while the chick flitted around in the center. Perched and ready the parents stood sentry until the next unsuspecting intruder happened into chick territory.
But my attention was drawn to activity up the hill. A number of my fellow passengers had their cameras trained on something below them. I made my way up the hill all the time thinking that whatever they were looking at would most likely be gone by the time I reached them. I made it to the top of the hill just as an Arctic fox made his escape. Caught between me above and others coming up the hill behind me, he stopped scratched his head and made his decision to escape in another direction.
For information about how you can join one of these fascinating hiking groups on a voyage in the Arctic call us from the US and Canada at 888-484-2244 and outside the USA at 541-330-2454 or email me at [email protected]