Getting There

How to Camp on the Arctic Ocean

A photographer describes how he prepared for a frozen adventure.

This story appears in the May 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.
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T MINUS Six Months

Gearing up: I’ll be photographing a team of extreme adventurers mountain biking across the frozen Arctic Ocean in Canada. I’ll be on a snowmobile, which is still hard work, so I need to get in good shape. A few months before, I start running and doing core workouts. In the Arctic you can’t sit down if you’re tired—you have to keep moving or get in your sleeping bag. I also put in a request to my sponsors for some gear: a down-filled sleeping mat and gloves I can shoot with.

T MINUS Two Weeks

Essential packing list: Our camp in Auyuittuq is 50 miles from civilization in any direction, so I take everything I need for the 2.5-day February trip.

  • Emergency beacon
  • A satellite phone (which will be on for only two hours a day, so I go over safety protocols with my family beforehand)
  • Macadamia nuts (they have the highest fat content)
  • A toothbrush with pre-applied toothpaste
  • A dozen camera batteries. The cold zaps their power, so I keep them in my vest or sleeping bag.
  • Two sets of long underwear
Pull Quote
The ice was three or four feet thick. We slept right on the ocean, with the tide rolling underneath.
Jon Golden  

T MINUS Two Days

Ready for launch: I get excited in various stages, but it doesn’t feel real until I get on the plane in Virginia. When we land in Qikiqtarjuaq, I go to our Inuit guide’s mom’s house to repack. The team members set up their bikes, and we go over hand signals so I can direct them into the camera’s frame while they ride. Before we head out, I put my stuff into a dry sack in case the snowmobile goes through the ice. The devil’s in the details. I don’t deviate from the plan.

By the Numbers:

2,100

Total miles traveled

-25°F

Average low in February

-9°F

Average high in February