Jacob Davies Shares His Extreme Gap Year in the North Pole

Jacob Davies has returned from three months on the remote island of Svalbard, 600 miles from the North Pole. Jacob was one of only 21 students selected from across the UK to take part in the BSES Expedition to Svalbard in March.

Throughout the expedition, Jacob was required to work with the other members of the team, carrying out environmental fieldwork projects and taking part in a range of adventurous activities. Jacob tells us more about what he got up to during the expedition.

When we arrived in the North Pole, temperatures were down to -27°C. We were camping and after a few days we were confronted with frostbite and the possibility of hyperthermia - and even death - if we didn’t look after ourselves and our kit. The first week was difficult because it was all new to us and it included the worst storm seen in Svalbard for several years. This was one of the most exhilarating times for me as everything seemed to be going wrong and we were required to learn so much in an extreme and totally new situation.

There were points where we were 75km from the nearest town so we had to be self-sufficient and deal with all our problems together. I really enjoyed the periods when I was being tested and I think we rose to those episodes as a team.

Over the course of the expedition we did lots of mountaineering trips and cross-country skiing and generally became comfortable moving around on all terrain in Arctic conditions.

Every day was a new adventure with glacier travel, ice climbing, sleeping out on a mountain ridge, snowholing, seeing my pulk (sledge) shooting off down the hill and exploding after a 14-hour mountain crossing, and seeing a polar bear 150m away through the door of my tent at breakfast time.

During the expedition we saw Svalbard reindeer, arctic foxes, beluga whales and polar bears. The polar bears were a constant threat (the largest land carnivore and the only animal to actively hunt humans) so we had to carry a rifle and pen flares with us at all times and put trip flares around every campsite we made. We had a close encounter with a bear out on the sea ice - it came to within about 80m of us so we had to fire two flares at it to scare it off!

When we were at the west coast towards the end of the trip, we saw an explosion of bird life, highlights of which were little auks, Brünnich’s guillemots and king eiders.

The cold temperature to begin with meant we had to be very careful with how we did things in general. We couldn’t touch metal objects with bare skin; couldn’t get clothes wet as there was no easy way of drying them out; and we couldn’t get snow in the tents. We melted snow for water and ate dehydrated rations which provided 6,700 calories a day - but I still managed to lose a stone during the expedition. However, as we went on we got much better at campcraft and learnt hundreds of tips for surviving comfortably in the Arctic.

The expedition taught me a lot about myself and how people work and I have an increased appreciation of the fragility of the Arctic environment and the earth.

Further Information

Check out our interview with Sam Eve who trekked to the North Pole and was part of the first all-female team to complete the Scott Dunn Polar Challenge race.

And if you’re looking for something a little different to do for a stag or hen party, how about reading Stag dos in the North Pole.

If you fancy yourself as a bit of a dare devil, take a look at our list of Things to do Before you Die for more inspiration.