Polar Exploration: The Story of Pain

Baffin Island, Canada. (Photo by Christopher Morris - Corbis/Getty Images)

Eva Holland attended Extreme Polar Training, a school that teaches how to survive what mother nature has to offer 2.5 degrees south of the Arctic Circle. In addition to treacherous, bruising ice, it includes temperatures of -40F and wind so cold and strong it gives you a headache before it tries to blow you over. For Outside, she recounts the experience and the final exam — a weeklong 40-mile loop in the frozen Canadian north.

Now Jonatan, Lin, and I had 72 hours to find our way back to town. To get there, we would have to ski across the ice in harnesses, towing heavy pulks—fancy sleds, basically—loaded with all the gear we needed to stay alive in extreme cold. We would have to navigate using all the tools at our disposal: compass, maps, sun, wind, and the sastrugi, lines carved into the snowpack by the prevailing northwest winds. We would melt snow for water, pitch our tent in gale-force gusts, eat and sleep and ski and piss and shit in temperatures as low as minus 40 Fahrenheit. And we would do it all while dodging dehydration, frostbite, hypothermia, injury, navigational error, loss of critical gear, fuel spills, a tent fire, and a good old-fashioned societal breakdown in our civilization of three.

I had winter-camped in extreme cold before: A year earlier, I spent my 34th birthday on a frozen lake, on a night that plunged to minus 29, part of a fat-biking expedition that was meant to simulate conditions at the South Pole. So I knew what it felt like to lie awake, shivering in an inadequate sleeping bag, too cold to sleep and almost too afraid to try. Now, as I slogged through deep snow and deeper darkness toward my tent, tripping and scraping my shins on chunks of broken ice concealed by fresh powder, I reminded myself that I had come here intending to suffer.

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