Opinion: Richard Weber about Polar Adventuring Responsibilities

Posted: May 13, 2010 06:39 pm EDT

In a recent expedition that could have been aborted with supplies left for a regular airlift; a North Pole skier was rescued by the military after he had run out of fuel. The story received a good amount of media coverage.

These days, with most extreme points already explored, modern adventurers kick up the difficulty by going with less support, faster, longer, higher, or via "impossible" routes.

Sometimes it gets them in trouble and they become dependent on others to save their neck. It's OK as bending of boundaries is necessary for human progress.

But there is a line between that and reckless projects lack in sufficient preparations. Not only do they jeopardize rescue possibilities for those who really need them, they also risk the lives of rescuers. Worse, some explorers over-dramatize situations simply to gain media attention.

Holder of speed records to both poles and with seven full length North Pole expeditions behind him, Canadian Richard Weber is among the top ten modern polar explorers in the world. A low key guy, often the folks he guides get all the headlines.

But to those who care to take a closer look, Richard's rap sheet says it all, and here goes his view on polar adventuring responsibilities.

Polar Adventuring Responsibilities

"To trek to the North Pole from Canada is a tough, harsh and challenging journey, probably the hardest trek in the world. I applaud any adventurer who dares to take up this challenge.

Adventurers choose to be on the Arctic Ocean. Each adventurer has a responsibility to have the food, fuel and money in place so that they can get off the ice safely using the normal methods (for example a pickup by Twin Otter aircraft).

It is the responsibility of the adventurer to count his or her food and fuel, to ensure they have adequate supplies, taking into account the fickle nature of the Arctic Ocean. Polar adventurers have no right to run out of food and or fuel and to call search and rescue.

The rescuers are trained professionals who risk their lives to save the lives of others. Adventurers have no right to ask these men and women to risk their lives to take them off the Arctic Ocean.

To run so low on expedition resources that one needs to call the military, at the cost of the Canadian taxpayer is completely unacceptable.

It is the personal decision of an adventurer who chooses to dramatize their shortcomings; such as freezing of digits, falling in the water or mixing fuel in the food, in an effort to gain media exposure.

Roald Amundsen once said adventure is bad planning. A well planned and executed expedition does not include dramatics.

When an adventurer turns on an emergency beacon and calls for search and rescue, it is no longer a personal decision. It effects the safety of the search and rescue personnel, it effects the Canadian taxpayers who foot the bill and it effects other (more responsible) adventurers.

This behavior does and will reflect on the entire polar adventuring community.

The Canadian authorities will not accept to pay for very many unnecessary search and rescues before they put in place restrictions and regulations. In Canadian national parks, if a person calls for rescue, that rescue is evaluated and depending on the evaluation, that person may be asked to pay the bill.

The same procedure should be used for polar adventurers. Anyone who calls for unnecessary search and rescue should not be portrayed as a hero on CNN, but as a fool."

- Richard Weber -

Richard Weber has skied seven times from the coast to the Geographic North Pole; among various other Arctic expeditions. He skied to 90°N for the first time in 1986 with the Will Steger expedition. Richards most outstanding expedition was in 1995 with Russian Mikhail Malakhov. They skied to the North Pole and back without dogs or external support; using only caches they placed out enroute for the return. A feat that has never been repeated.

In the 2008-09 Antarctic season Richard and two ultra-marathon runners, Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely, skied unassisted and unsupported from Hercules Inlet to the Geographic South Pole (1130 km) in a speed record time of 33 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes. During the resent 2010 Arctic season, he guided his 20-year old son, Tessum, and two international team members in a very fast trek from Cape Discovery (Canada) to the North Pole (780 km).

Richard and his wife JosĂŠe Auclair offer a comprehensive polar training course in Alcove, Quebec (50 km from Ottawa) for anyone who has an interest in learning more about Arctic and North Pole travel. They are also consultants for North Pole expeditions. They have developed and tested unique polar equipment, including the Weber Polar Mukluks.

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Richard Weber during his 2010 sledge-hauling expedition from Canada to the North Pole (click to enlarge)
courtesy Tessum Weber

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