(By Correne Coetzer) At age 18, Ryan Waters discovered his passion for climbing and traveling. Since then he became a veteran on 8000 meter peaks expeditions. Not long ago he turned to the Polar regions with a west-east Greenland crossing and in January 2010 completed a record-breaking unassisted, unsupported South Pole crossing with Cecilie Skog.
Next month, on March 7, Ryan and team mate Eric Larsen are booked on a flight to Cape Discovery in the high Arctic to ski from Canada to the Geographic North Pole (90ºN), unassisted (no resupplies), and unsupported (no kites/dogs/vehicles). And for this expedition, Eric added in an interview, they are focusing on the unassisted, unsupported record from Canada to the Pole.
"Things are certainly busy with the last weeks before leaving,” Ryan said when ExplorersWeb caught up with him to hear how he feels about his upcoming North Pole expedition.
You have done Greenland and the SP crossing, and many mountains. How do the mountains and Poles differ?
Ryan: There are a few similarities such as some of the clothing and equipment as well as the desire to do something fun and challenge yourself in the outdoors. The rest is pretty different in my opinion.
Polar travel is a bit methodical and all about efficiency to keep moving and cover ground. Mountain climbing tends to be a lot more broken up into smaller pieces of focus such as climbing from one camp to the next, doing a carry or the summit day. There are always times when you can come back to a relatively comfortable camp and sort of check out for a while.
Both are fun in their own ways but I think you have to be able to be somewhat mentally tougher to deal with long polar travel trips and especially appreciate the landscape your are traveling in. Mountains are naturally beautiful to people, where-as a huge expanse of white feels more desolate, but can also be incredible in its own way.
How do you prepare yourself mentally for the North Pole?
Ryan: I am fortunate to have several people to talk to about the trip that have been there before. This kind of helps you foresee the challenges and get ready for the brutal nature of the trip.
I think that once you commit to doing this trip you sort of do not think about the trip itself that much for a long build up because you are too focused on fundraising, ordering gear, packing things, a million details, so you do not really sit there and think about the cold, pressure ridges, open water, and other hazards of the trip... maybe it is an unconscious defence mechanism to keep busy with details so you do not have to think about the trip!
What makes Eric a good team mate?
Ryan: The obvious things are his lengthy polar resume and time in the Arctic doing challenging trips. I am fortunate to have a team mate with a lot hard earned judgement on North Pole expeditions, which is huge.
The other reasons we make a good team is that we have a lot of similar adventure goals that involve going to incredible places and exploring them for ourselves and trying to bring back cool stories through photography which we both enjoy.
The other thing that makes Eric a good partner is that when he says he is going to do something, that is it, it's happening.
What have you learned from Eric about a North Pole trip that is different from a South Pole trip?
Ryan: Mostly the environmental differences largely around the cold and humidity issues. I know all about the physical demands of the trip and the mental aspect of the Arctic in that you are in a much more dynamic environment that is always changing and a bit dangerous.
I have been in the Arctic several times before but not on this far north full NP trip so I have a little perspective but Eric is always quick to remind me that things are going to be much harder than you can imagine.
I have talked a lot with Cecilie as well about her expedition so I think I have a decent idea of what I am in for... honestly I am looking forward to the engagement you have on the Arctic ice. The route finding challenges and constant problem solving will mesh more with my mountain climbing background.
Both Eric and Cecilie have told me that in some ways the Arctic Ocean goes faster because the days are filled with these problem solving moments and not just hour after hour of skiing on similar surfaces like in Antarctica. I am looking forward to that aspect of this upcoming trip.
What about your South Pole crossing with Cecilie will you take with you on the Arctic Ice?
Ryan: That trip was really difficult from a length and mental toughness standpoint in that we skied a long long way and had a lot of time to deal with skiing inside your own thoughts, which kind of leads to highs and lows throughout the extended journey.
You had to find motivation each and every morning to get out of the tent and step into your skis for 10 hours in -40 degrees over the Titan Dome for example. So that is an unwritten and unexplainable mental edge that people have to develop through experience. I think this will apply to the upcoming expedition as well.
ExWeb interview with Eric Larsen, "a mix of poetry and hell to the North Pole”
North Pole 2014 full route ski expedition list
ExWeb interview with Bernice Notenboom, the Arctic and the world’s climate
ExWeb interview with Ryan Waters and Cecilie Skog, The mental part was the most difficult part
Eric Larsen’s website
Ryan Waters’ website
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