Expedition Reflections

18 April 2017 by Julie Brown

Our North Pole team arrived safely in their home destinations last night, the demanding journey officially over and the circle of each respective quest completed. 

One of the advantages of an expedition to a place as remote as the North Pole is that the travel to and from the destination provides inherent time – time for preparation on the way there, and time for reflection on the way back.

Dixie and his five participants used these precious hours in various personal ways, but together they also shared reflections and observations that provide closure for one another and the communal possibility to improve future ambitious ventures.  A polar expedition exposes strengths and weaknesses in a brutally full light, allowing for intensely euphoric celebrations in the moments of accomplishment and equally deep disorienting soul-searching in the difficult moments.  The sign of a strong team is the willingness of the participants to share such intimate ruminations with each other, and ultimately with those observing from the outside.

There were so many accomplishments made throughout this North Pole expedition that they are difficult to list, but suffice to say that the basic act of getting up every day, stepping out of the relatively cozy tent, and heading into the unknown is already a feat that many of us would not dare.  There were numerous acts of selflessness and generosity toward one another, gestures magnified due to the amount of sacrifice required to be charitable at a moment when one’s personal reserves are low to empty.  There were displays of bravery, humour, compassion and determination that exponentially inspire us to dig inside and grab our own latent potential.

And then there are the honest reflections of what could have been better.

Without a doubt, the episode with the polar bear brought each person to his or her raw emotional core.  In our initial blog entitled “Uninvited Guest(s)” we did our best to explain that it was not the bear, but our team, who represent the uninvited guests in this part of the world.  Our respect for not only the polar bear, but for all polar wildlife and the delicate pristine environment in the High Arctic is non negotiable and deeply important to us.  However in the shared details of the initial account, and the confusion in the moment of the adrenaline-filled encounter, the first communication between Dixie and our HQ led to our report that the second shot (after the warning shot) exploded on the ground near the bear’s paw.  No blood was reported and the bear ran away, disappearing and never to be seen again.  It is now abundantly clear, especially upon review of images taken by the participants, that the bear was indeed most likely hit and apparently wounded before it ran away from our team.  That realization has left everyone involved with various confused feelings, understandable emotions that are inherent to an Arctic expedition.  The desire to mitigate any potentially dangerous bear encounters lies in the DNA of a polar guide like Dixie, and his drive to improve has led to shared conversations with other IPGA guides about this very encounter.

Ultimately, the strongest and most consistent reflection of this or any expedition is that safety must reign supreme with the minimum of impression left behind.  This primary mandate must flow side by side with ahimsa , a dominant concept in all of our activities, both professional and personal.  It is thus with a heavy heart that Dixie knows that the last possible choice is to have to shoot at a bear or any wildlife while on an expedition, which is why he waited until the accepted rule of self-defense within a 30 meter perimeter was transgressed.  He knows, as do all logistics providers and governing bodies in the Arctic, that a human being must be – and is required to be – prepared to defend human life.

We move forward today with much to digest, much to celebrate, and much to learn as we prepare our new adventures.

We recognize our responsibility, our privilege, and our unwavering commitment to our global environment.  We are completely aware of the footprint that it requires to travel to these places, and continue to weigh the balance between that footprint and what we can do to offset it by educating and contributing to the big environmental picture.

We reflect … often … and with passion … and these reflections lead us to the same point on the circle:  it’s a beautiful planet, it’s a good life, and we are blessed.