Q&A with polar guide Alex Taylor

Alex Taylor is one of SOI’s integral expedition team members. He sets up the communication system, he drives zodiacs, captures incredible video footage, and so much more. He has also explored the Polar Regions for more than 20 years, and has spent more than 15 seasons in Antarctica. One of his many southern jobs has been providing technical and safety support for film crews in Antarctica, including an award-winning feature Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure.


How did you get involved in SOI and how many expeditions have you been on?

I first worked with SOI on the Antarctic trip in 2007 and have been on every trip since, to both poles. That makes about 14 expeditions. Geoff and I first met when I donated Endurance Designs’ Shackleton posters for SOI’s fundraising efforts. We also had many mutual friends from South Georgia and the polar adventure tourism business.


Alex recovers weather monitoring data during the 2011 Antarctic expedition. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

Alex recovers weather monitoring data during the 2011 Antarctic expedition. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

In the years that you’ve been visiting the Polar Regions, what are some of the changes you’ve witnessed?

The majority of my visits to the polar regions, and those of anyone who travels to the polar regions for work or pleasure, are on a short time scale of months or years. And although I first traveled to the Antarctic in 1992, with work for the British Antarctic Survey, and have seen a number of changes like glacial retreat over the years, the biggest changes are conceptual and beyond the scope of first hand observation. With few exceptions the entire Antarctic continent is losing glacial ice mass; annual sea ice formation is less and less most years. These changes cannot be seen by the naked eye. They are observed through scientific monitoring and data analysis for the most part. Indigenous people of the north experience the loss of sea ice through first hand observation, generations of experience on the land and changes in wildlife distribution and population numbers. But they live in the Arctic, full time and are witnesses to changes over time. My travels north and south are mere sojourns in comparison.


Was there a time on expedition when something didn’t go according to plan but it ended up being for the better, and something amazing resulted?

Hmmmm, that’s a tough one. I’d say that no expedition goes according to plan. That is to say that the best laid and formulated plans always need modifying on the fly; they need adaptation to the weather, circumstance and happenstance that occurs every day and sometimes moment to moment. Weather disrupts flights, ship destinations and our ability to do workshops or operate certain scientific equipment. “Flexibility is the key!” is a frequent refrain on an SOI trip.

On an Antarctic expedition in 2009 we were unable to get the ship into an important landing spot because of too much ice. We were all a bit disappointed. But Geoff adapted by collaborating with a willing ship captain and we explored an uncharted channel instead. Soon the clouds parted, the sun shone through and we were gifted with an unbelievably beautiful landscape of ice-covered mountains and calm waters. The captain pushed the bow of the ship up onto some fast ice, we got out onto the ice and had a magical time in an ethereal landscape for a unique experience and a highlight of the trip for many.

Photo (c) Alex Taylor

Photo (c) Alex Taylor

What do you do when you’re not exploring the Polar Regions?

When I am not working or exploring new places in the polar regions I live in the Canadian Rockies in Canmore, Alberta and work for Parks Canada as a Human-Wildife Conflict Specialist. What that means is working with a great team of like-minded and experienced individuals whose responsibility it is to keep the wildlife and people safe when and where they cross paths. With millions of visitors and lots of wildlife sharing the same habitat in the mountain National Parks, it takes a lot of work to keep the people from interfering with the wildness of animals like bears and elk. The critters just want to go about “making a living” but many humans want to get close and take photos for that may be a once in a lifetime experience (with a grizzly bear eating dandelions roadside, for example). So we spend a lot of time managing people and bears. We track bears, haze them from townsites and campgrounds, assist in scientific monitoring, recover animals who have died on the roads and railways and so much more. We are trained to respond to wildlife attacks and operate in all kinds of mountainous terrain. The rewards of interacting closely with, and observing these amazing animals, are huge. It’s a fantastic job that I really enjoy.

Follow the 2014 Arctic Expedition!

The 14th Annual Students on Ice Arctic Expedition will take place July 9-24, 2014. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.