Following in Shackleton's Footsteps
Ernest Shackleton crossed the Southern Ocean to South Georgia Island in a dinghy. You'll make the trip aboard the 295-foot, 110-passenger MS Endeavour, sailing from Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, to the west side of South Georgia in five warm, dry days, and under the capable leadership of veteran mountaineers Peter Hillary and Dave Hahn, as well as Shackleton historian Kim Heacox. It took the famed explorer only 36 hours to cross South Georgia on foot in 1916, but you'll be glad to take five days to hike and ski the same route, roping up for the 24-mile traverse past 9,500-foot glaciated peaks. This rare 15-day trip was 12 years in the planning and is the only commercial expedition to follow Shackleton's exact path across the island, from King Haakon Bay, on the western end, to the whaling port of Stromness, on the east coast. As you cross, look for white-camouflaged snow petrels and compare notes with Shackleton's observations. (How far have the glaciers receded since his trip?) You'll discover firsthand that "the Boss" was a mad genius after you ice-climb up and rappel down 4,387-foot Trident Peak—a section Shackleton did with only nails driven through his hiking boots and a hemp rope to slide along. This is a self-supported expedition, so be prepared to haul gear-laden sleds and backpacks and camp on the ice. If comfort is your priority, no one will fault you for skipping the crossing altogether and staying on board the Endeavour for the sail to the other end of the island—the traverse party will beam back daily reports and images.
High Point: Wandering through a colony of 40,000 king penguins in a remote bay accessible only by sea.
Low Point: Storms. Pack the Dramamine, because you could get 25-foot swells for five straight days as you travel to and from the Falklands.
Travel Advisory: As in the Galpagos, the wildlife on South Georgia has little fear of humans, so don't get too close to that rutting elephant seal.
Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions (800-777-8183, www.geoex.com)
When to Go: November
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous
Backpacking Baffin Island
This 12-day, 70-mile trek passes through the rolling hills, rivers, and summer tundra of Baffin Island's Auyuittuq (translation: "The Land That Never Melts") National Park, established in August 2000. This is Arctic Canada at its best: a northern landscape blooming with purple mountain saxifrage, moss campion, and mountain avens. Glacier-draped peaks form granite faces like the one on 5,495-foot Mount Thor, and you can spend a day front-pointing on Turner Glacier. Or just look for eider ducks, gyrfalcons, and arctic foxes from your camp.
Outfitter: Equinox Wilderness Expeditions (604-222-1219, www.equinoxexpeditions.com)
When to Go: July
Arctic Ski Tour
Follow explorers Richard Weber and Mikhail Malakhov—the only people since Robert Peary, in 1909, to have successfully traveled unsupported to the North Pole and back—on this 13-day, 70-mile nordic-skiing expedition to the top of the world. The route heads over shifting pack ice from Ice Station Borneo, around open stretches of the Arctic Ocean, and below 50-foot-tall pressure ridges of broken ice. After your accomplishment has sunk in, you'll call home on the sat phone, then camp on the snow before choppering back down to Borneo's heated tents.
Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek (888-687-6235, www.mtsobek.com)
When to Go: April