Best Trips of 2001: Arctic and Antarctic

Arctic and Antarctic

It can be balmy above the Circle: cruising the Salten Coast in Arctic Norway     Photo: Lena Conlan/Crossing Latitudes

Daylight and big-sky vistas are the rule in these geological playgrounds—places where ice and ocean and rock collide—while obnoxious tourists are as rare as bikinis. You can scale a peak, paddle along white sand beaches, and be the first to descend a glacier-fed river. You might even do all three in one day.

Norway: It's Like Jamaica, but Colder

This eight-day, 75-mile fjordland sea-kayaking trip begins near Narvik, Norway, and heads south along the Salten Coast to Skutvik. White beaches and clear water cast a Caribbean feel, and high-pressure air pushed out of Siberia sometimes makes for balmy weather; air temperatures can reach into the eighties, but 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with rain is the norm, and inlets provide protection when storms swoop in. (Water temperatures hover in the low 50s.) You'll split your nights between tents and inns such as the Tranøy lighthouse, where you'll feast on local fare (reindeer and whale). Off your plate, puffins, seals, and porpoises play, and you'll find 8,000-year-old petroglyphs carved into granite cliffs and the occasional school of stark-naked kindergartners swimming at town beaches.Outfitter: Crossing Latitudes Sea Kayaking Adventures When to Go: August Price: $1,675 Difficulty: Moderate—Mary Catherine O'Connor

Catch a Chill Antarctica: Climbing Vinson Massif
Spend 20 days traversing an enormous ice flat interrupted only by the jagged peaks of the Ellsworth Mountains as you make your way up Antarctica's tallest peak, 16,066-foot Vinson Massif. The weather is as fierce as you'd expect, sometimes dropping to minus 40 degrees (think of a shorter, colder McKinley climb), the moderately steep slopes require crampons, and the base-camp-style sleeping arrangements are, well, extreme.Outfitter: International Mountain Guides When to Go: November–December Price: $26,000 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Kutuk River First Descent
A first-ever descent for whitewater canoeists who are long on pioneering spirit but short on technical boating skills. Aerial scouting of the Kutuk, in the Brooks Range of northern Alaska, reveals Class II-III rapids cutting through 200-foot-deep limestone canyons. Start the ten-day, 27-mile float by hiking five miles to the Arctic divide and the headwaters of the Kutuk, a tributary of the wide, waterfall-fed Alatna. Then find your airdropped Grabner inflatable canoes and push off to ply the unknown, which is likely to include boreal-forest views of the 3,500-foot Arrigetch Peaks.Outfitter: Arctic Divide Expeditions When to Go: August Price: $2,950 Difficulty: Moderate
Canada: Walking and Kayaking Newfoundland's Labrador Coast Rivers
This is the African safari's cold stepsister. Arm yourself with down and a telephoto lens to explore the Torngat Mountains along the northern border of Quebec and Newfoundland, a mere five degrees south of the Arctic Circle. The eight-day trip consists of excursions from a base camp (heated tents that sleep three to four people), including kayaking the highest concentration of ocean fjords in North America, hiking 1,200-year-old glaciers, and climbing 5,418-foot Mont D'Iberville to see land's end, polar bears, and caribou.Outfitter: Rapid Lake Lodge When to Go: July–August Price: $2,200 Difficulty: Moderate
Greenland: Tundra Trekking
Hike across 93 miles of southwest Greenland's tundra toward the Greenland Ice Sheet, a polar ice cap, from Sisimiut, a former whaling town, to Kangerlussuaq, an abandoned army base. By August, the 20 or so other human visitors who walk this popular (by Arctic standards) route each year should be gone, as should the mosquitoes and no-see-ums. You'll need to be able to carry two weeks' worth of gear and food (about 40 pounds) across trail-less, rocky terrain and over 400-foot fjord wallsfor an average of 12 miles per day.Outfitter: Northwinds Arctic Adventure When to Go: August Price: $2,360 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Backpacking the Brooks Range
The critters up north have to scurry to take advantage of the Arctic's short summer, and you will too if you want to fit in everything your NOLS instructors want to teach you. Grizzlies, wolves, muskoxen, and blisters will be your companions as you learn survival skills hiking over soft tundra and up braided river channels during your 15-day stay in the vast Brooks range. Outfitter: National Outdoor Leadership School When to Go: July, August Price: $3150Difficulty: Strenuous


Norway: Hiking Aurslandsdalen
You'll trek briskly through the countryside with the Norwegian Hiking Association for seven days on this trip, stopping along the way to spend the night in staffed lodges. Your speedy Norwegian guides will point out the region's flora and fauna as you power your way up the mountains. Few Americans end up in backcountry of Norway, so you'll have a chance to interact with European and Norwegian alpine aficionados. In the interest of national pride, try to keep up. Outfitter: Borton Overseas When to Go: July, August Price: $659 Difficulty: Strenuous
Alaska: Following Caribou Herds
Spend eight days following migrating caribou through glacier encircled valleys and wide-open tundra in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. You'll trail the herd to its summer grazing grounds, crossing dozens of unnamed creeks and mountains on your 40-mile trek. In addition to the thousands of caribou, there will be chances to see wolves, grizzlies, and golden eagles in action. This may be the time to cultivate a herd mentality. Outfitter: Arctic Wild When to Go: June Price: $2100 Difficulty: Moderate


Greenland: Kayaking Ammassalik Island
The fjords around Ammassalik Island are brimming with narwhals, seals, ermine, arctic wolves and dozens of other cold-comfort creatures. To see them, paddle your expedition sea kayak around four-story icebergs and forbidding mountains that rise directly out of the ocean. The 16-day adventure will also include time to scramble up unnamed peaks and chat with native Greenlanders who subsist on hunting and fishing in their unforgiving arctic homeland. Outfitter: Mountain Travel Sobek When to Go: July, August Price: $3190 Difficulty: Strenuous

Alaska: Rafting the Noatak Wilderness
Between fishing for grayling, climbing nearby mountains, and watching fattened caribou cross the river on their southern migration, you'll float 100 miles down the Noatak River on the edge of the arctic for nine days. Along the way, there will be an opportunity to scale a vertical mile on 7310-foot Mt. Oyukak and to watch the Northern Lights jig across the sky. Outfitter: Arctic Wild When to Go: August Price: $2600 Difficulty: Moderate

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