Crossing the Arctic Circle is an item on bucket lists of adventurers from around the globe. For...
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Graham Dickson is an award-winning pioneer of exploration with over 20 years of experience in Arctic expeditions. Here, he notes how he formed his passion for the Arctic and offers an insight into the history of Arctic Kingdom…
What the Arctic Means to Me
I think there are instances in life when you’re destined to do something. Your childhood can play such an essential role in the way your interests are shaped and the path you choose to take.
Having led dive trips all over the world during university and living in several different countries growing up, traveling was always a part of me.
But why the Arctic? Well, it’s in my blood. My great-grandfather was part of an Arctic expedition in the early 1900s — things were very different back then. The following two generations of my family took his lead and experienced the Arctic themselves, so I’ve always been naturally drawn to its wonders.
It’s funny how other things can play a part. In my university dorm room, I had a picture of a beluga whale swimming in the St. Lawrence river — where I used to run scuba diving sessions — and another image of polar bears lounging on their backs. I guess I was always reminded of what wildlife was out there waiting to be experienced.
The First Trips
We ran our first venture to the Canadian Arctic in 1999, a trip to Igloolik in the Foxe Basin in Nunavut. With the trip focused on scuba diving, I went as a diving instructor and we searched for bowhead whales and walruses. The trip was a huge success — better than we could’ve ever imagined.
The Arctic sucked me in immediately. We almost had too much success to begin with! The wildlife was bountiful, everything ran smoothly and the weather was perfect. If it had been a difficult trip to start, everything might have been different. But it was a beautiful opener to what would be 20-plus years of incredible Arctic exploration.
We had worked with local community guides and tapped into their expertise in the area, which we carry into our work to this day. Following the trip's success, we even got an article about the expedition in a scuba diving magazine.
From then on, the trips started to snowball. Trip two was the same experience with an added location. Trip three saw another location added, and so on.
I remember trip four being particularly special. We planned a big project with a French TV show called Ushuaïa Nature, led by Nicolas Hulot, an environmental activist. He has served as the Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition for France.
Adding to almost 20 divers, we had hot air ballooning and plenty of aerial filming and the show even won a big award in France. It showed how far we’d come in such a short time.
I think exploration is an overused word. Historically, its meaning is very sincere, as people who ventured on these expeditions were risking their lives. Now we have phones and GPS — real exploration sits in the realm of science and logistics.
The meaning of the word has changed. Real exploration is now about understanding the area. In the past, exploration was very geographical and creating a map was the deliverable from these expeditions. But now, I think true exploration is about knowledge. Are you going out of your comfort zone? Are you mastering the area? Are you gaining new insight into natural issues?
I’ve learned that most Arctic places are unlike one another. This typically surprises people, as when you think of the Arctic, you might think of a barren wilderness. But, if you add the different environments on top of the impact the seasons have on these environments, you can better understand why one journey is rarely the same as the last.
That’s the beauty of exploring the Arctic. Even to this day, I’m still experiencing and learning new things.
Somebody recently asked me: “What’s your favorite trip?”
I was slightly taken aback by the question; it’s like asking a mother to choose her favorite child. Each one of our Arctic adventures hold value for different reasons. How can you choose between a polar bear mother and cubs on an iceberg and seeing whales up close?
Saying that, I do love our floe edge trips. During the floe edge season, you see polar bears, whales and walruses; you experience a lot of different wildlife up close, making these expeditions so special.
At the same time, we’re constantly experiencing new things and planning new adventures. We’ve run floe edge trips for 20 years but are still lucky enough to plan new experiences every year.
In the past season, we ran a couple of private journeys using helicopters and multiple base camps. What we experienced was completely beyond our expectations.
When you plan these adventures, you’re competing against the whole world: African safaris, wonders of the world — you get the point. Even still, for those who have experienced it all, they deemed their Arctic trips the best of their lives.
That’s what makes it all worthwhile.
If you’re looking for more information on what an Arctic expedition has to offer, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide telling you everything you need to know, from the essentials you’ll need to what you can see on an expedition.
To get your free copy, just click below. I hope you find it useful!