Polar Explorer

Exploration has always been at the core of my instinct.

I felt it as a kid but my first real attempt to go polar was back in 1986 when, travelling around the world with my girlfriend, I felt a strong desire to visit Alaska. Although we only made it to the panhandle, not polar by a long stretch, I was hooked on travelling as far from the equator as possible.

+ Biography + Chronology

Early exploring

It wasn't until 1992 that I made it across the Arctic Circle, a long way across, to the icy wilderness of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic. This was my first expedition and it was back in the day when guided polar trips were virtually non-existent. I learned everything from scratch. Cross-country skiing and snow camping in Australia; a mountaineering course in New Zealand; wilderness savvy from a career in Outdoor Education; early dabbling in equipment design and modification. It all blended to make for a successful trip - a crossing of Ellesmere's largest icecap and an ascent from sea-level of it's highest mountain, Barbeau Peak. I was hooked.


I dreamed of the North Pole solo but I was far from ready for such a mammoth challenge. I had nightmares about thin ice, polar bears, being stranded, and switched my thinking to Greenland. My intuition paid off and in mid-1995 I made a multi-disciplinary expedition across the icecap. My team paddled part way down the east coast in white-water kayaks, then used them as sleds to cross the icecap. But I had a secret weapon up my sleeve. At the time I lived in a Melbourne suburb that was close to the foreshore and almost daily I could look out of my lounge room window and see kites bobbing around in the sky. One day I introduced myself to the kite buggyers playing there and to cut a long story short, my team took a quiver of Quadrifoil traction kites to Greenland and we covered almost half the crossing using wind-power. It was the birth of traction kite travel in the polar regions.


After a season working with the Australian Antarctic Division at Mawson Station (crossing the Antarctic Circle for the first time on board Australia's icebreaker Aurora Australis) I organised my first South Pole expedition. It would turn out to be quite a failure and a lesson in team dynamics. Our intention was to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and reap the reward of snowkiting back to the coast again, without any resupplies or support. We would just rely on our own depots, placed strategically en route. But, plagued by conflicting agendas, our team only made it as far as the South Pole before being flown out and I believe we still hold the record as the slowest ever ski team to the South Pole - 1425km in 84 days! But, I'd reached the bottom the the world, we pioneered a new route up the colossal Shackleton Glacier, and I began a life-long friendship with an Aussie adventuring icon, Jon Muir.


2002. An exciting snowkite and kayak crossing of the South Patagonian Icecap from Jorge Montt glacier, past Cerro Torre and FitzRoy and down the Upsala glacier to Lago Argentino. A crazy place, full of crevasses, blizzards, striking mountains and sparkling lakes. A must for every polar adventurer.

The Arctic Ocean

In 2002, together with Jon Muir I embarked on my first Arctic Ocean expedition, from Siberia to the North Pole. Due to poor ice conditions we started 30km offshore but it was everything I imagined. Committing, remote, cold, icy, and exceedingly difficult. We had a polar bear encounter, immersions, frostbite, lost and broken equipment, and yet we endured it all - 900+km in 58 days - and found ourselves at the top of the earth's axis on April 30, my 40th birthday. I've been back to the North Pole almost every year since.

Guiding began

From 2004 guiding took over my life, a natural pairing of polar adventuring and outdoor education, and I loved every moment, every trip, every participant. I've since been to both Poles more than 30 times combined, and have many more to come. In 2011, together with an international team of guides, I launched the International Polar Guides Association, of which I am its President and a Polar Expedition Guide.

+ IPGA website

Keep exploring

I continue to have my fixes of private trips. In 2008 I crossed Svalbard from Ny Alesund to Longyearbyen and in 2015 completed a 2-week solo kite-ski expedition from ALCI Airbase to the iconic peak of Ulvetanna in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica. And In 2016 together with my daughter Mardi we skied for ten days across the amazing glaciers and icecaps of Spitsbergen.

I'll forever follow the urge to go where others haven't. To explore the path less travelled. It's what drives me every day of my life.

New routes

I've pioneered four new routes to the South Pole. The Shackleton Glacier in 1998-99, the Reedy Glacier in 2016-17 and the Kansas Glacier in 2017-18, all through the Transantarctic Mountains; and one from the Filchner Ice Shelf up the Support Force Glacier in 2022-23. There are many more new routes that I have planned, both for myself and others.

Polar Expeditions Classification Scheme

In 2020, together with a team of dedicated polar commentators, I created and launched the Polar Expeditions Classification Scheme which harmonises the language of polar adventure and exploration. Using standardised keywords and definitions, the classification system provides adventurers, media and the public guidance on how to accurately and equitably compare, promote and immortalise polar journeys.

+ PECS website
© Eric Philips 2024. All rights reserved.