(By Correne Coetzer) Eric Larsen has already skied two full routes to the Geographic North Pole (90ºN); that is from land to the Pole. This year he and his mate, Ryan Waters, will be attempting an unassisted, unsupported sledge-haul, again from Cape Discovery, Canada.
ExplorersWeb caught up with Eric, who shares his passion for the ice and knowledge gained over the years.
Most polar explorers don’t even consider skiing all the way, from land, to the North Pole, but here you go again for the third time. What attracts you?
Eric: How much time do you have? This answer could get a bit long winded...
The Arctic Ocean is truly one of the last great wildernesses left on the planet and the traverse from land to the Geographic North Pole remains as one of the most difficult expeditions in history as well. The Arctic Ocean makes Antarctica look like (and feel) like the Bahamas. Every year the ice is different. Each team takes a slightly different route. There are no regular flights. No comfortable base camp with showers or chairs or much of anything else.
But therein also lies the beauty of this adventure. Even if you can get the money to pay for the logistics (after you arrange them yourself) there are only a handful of guides who will take anyone the full distance and then maybe.
So this adventure still remains in the purest sense, exploration. You have a starting point and 490 miles away is your end point and what happens in between is a mix of poetry and hell. There are no maps that mark routes of safe passage. Each step takes you deeper into uncharted territory. Of course, we are not discovering this place for the first time (hundreds of people have made this journey), but we are discovering the place as it exists today -- which is very different from what it was like 20 years ago or even four years ago for that matter.
Ultimately, the reason why I want to go back is to help tell the story of a place that I think is so misunderstood. Few people know about the unique characteristics of the Arctic Ocean sea ice, that it is moving, that there is no land at the North Pole, etc... I feel that this expedition is an opportunity to show people, in real time, what this place is like and how it's changing.
After all, I name this expedition Last North, because I honestly believe this may be one of the last opportunities to complete a land to pole unsupported Arctic Ocean traverse.
Are you even a bit scared / apprehensive / worried?
Eric: Yes, yes and yes. Even though this is will be my third North Pole expedition, there are still a lot of details to finalize before departing for Resolute. Simply getting to the 'starting line' at northern Ellesmere Island is a huge gamble as well - you can't help but worry when you think that there have been no land to pole expeditions in the past three years.
Once we're on the ice, all sorts of things that can go wrong too. That environment destroys gear. The key is to be safe and make decisions carefully at the start, constantly assessing where we're at and how we feel. We just put in our time every day and make changes as we need to.
Of course, there is the added pressure of the huge amounts of money we're spending as well as trying providing value to our partners. There is a lot of work that goes into making a successful expedition and only part of it (for me) is completing the physical journey.
Why do you and Ryan make a good team?
Eric: Ryan and I are focused on the same goals and we seem to have found a means of collaboration that allows us to be both good team members while still planning our own separate projects. As we are both guides, we are also used to doing a majority of the work on expeditions; therefore, splitting the workload in half is a welcome relief and almost seems like a vacation at times (despite the fact we're freezing our you-know-what's off).
I respect Ryan's judgement which I feel is a fundamental tenet of team work. Over the past few years, we've also spent enough time together that we understand each other's personalities and have seen the good and the bad sides of our character.
How does you clothes system look, compared to your other years?
Eric: I think one of the funny aspects of polar travel is that there have been only a few changes over the years. You and your gear have to deal with the same basic variables: It's really cold. The ice is rough. You have to pull a lot of weight in a sled.
I really like synthetic base layer (as a layer next to the skin) as it actually wicks moisture away from your body. After that, we'll be wearing Bergans gear as our outer shell which is easily the standard now.
Sled: Acapulka Arctic Challenge 230 with custom Granite Gear sled covers
Skis: Asnes Amundsen - with 35 mm 3/4 length skins
Snowshoes: MSR - lightning ascent - best snowshoes ever made
Boots: Alfa Mørdre Pro - with Sorel wool/felt liners, Yaktrax thermal insoles and custom OR insulated overboots.
How do you handle the extreme humidity on the Arctic Ocean? For example the sleeping bag that gets filled with ice and loses isolation; with no resupplies you don’t have the luxury of getting new sleeping bags along the way.
Eric: The easiest way to handle the humidity is to simply not breathe, sweat, move, or melt snow. OK total exaggeration. During the day, I focus a lot of my efforts on doing my well-practiced 'polar strip tease' (no pole dancing required). Basically, I unzip or take layers off as I heat up and zip up and add layers as I cool down. Mostly it's just my hood, hat and mittens/gloves that come off an on throughout the day. In 2010, I was skiing without gloves on at 40 below just so I didn't over heat.
You have to be careful cooking in the tent at night - not letting the water boil, etc. We keep the sleeping systems in the vestibule in bivy bags until all the cooking is done. I use a triple layer sleep system - vapor barrier liner, down bag inner bag and synthetic outer bag. In 2010, I made a 'bib' out of one of my Granite Gear stuff sacks to prevent extra frost build up on the outer bag while I slept at night. Each morning we wake up and put the bags outside before lighting the stoves. It's painful, but it keeps the ice down. Still, we'll bring a second outer bag as well and switch half way through the expedition.
It's pretty rough overview, of course, and not really groundbreaking information, but you get the idea.
What weight do you plan to pull from the start?
Eric: Yikes! It hurst my back just thinking about it all that weight. I'm not totally sure as we are still knee deep in packing and preparations. I'm guessing that with all of our camera equipment we'll come in at roughly 350 lbs / 160 kilos.
Why Cape Discovery and not Ward Hunt Island as your start point?
Eric: On my two previous North Pole expeditions I've left from Cape Discovery and have had (relatively) decent ice... not that a normal person would call it decent, but hey, I'm an optimist. I know that Sarah McNair-Landry left from Ward Hunt in 2010 and had a rough time at the start. Ultimately, our decision was simply based on when we could fly in. Borek wouldn't schedule a Ward Hunt flight until March 11th or so which meant that by default it was Cape Discovery. That said, it's kind of all bad ice, so to me it doesn't really matter where we start.
Have you ever considered traveling rather from the Pole to Canada? Going to the Pole has the negative drift, like walking on a treadmill, which is not only physical tiring, but also mentally…
Eric: I would definitely guide the trip from the Pole to Canada (with resupplies) should the opportunity arise but I haven't been able to wrap my head around where that trip fits in with the 'rules of adventure'. In my mind, it's kind of like being flown to the top of Everest and hiking down. Still, the negative drift is only one small factor in a huge list of obstacles so the trip from the North Pole, south is still a difficult one.
For this expedition, we are focused the journey and unsupported record of going North to the Pole.
How does you training program look like, or by now, how did it look like? What’s left on the to-do list?
Eric: The 'to do' list is huge. Training is a constant. But so is everything else. At this point in 2010, I had just a fraction of the budget, no sleds or food packed. So compared to all that chaos, this year is a cake walk. Still, there is stress and it hurts my head.
I'm jealous Robert Peary and Mathew Henson. Did they ever worry about updating their Twitter from the ice?
Where does fatherhood fit in with all this?
Eric: The most important thing in the world to me is being a good dad and spending as much time with my son as I can. Every day is an adventure. And it is exciting to watch him grow and learn.
Being gone for two months is not easy for Maria either. She becomes the primary care taker and has to deal with the myriad problems that inevitably arise as soon as my plane takes off. Merritt is sick, baby sitter canceled, etc. Luckily, we are able to text back and forth effortlessly with my DeLorme inReach. It takes a little bit of the sting away from being gone for so long.
Merritt will be a different person when I get back, which makes it harder to leave. As Ryan already knows, I spend way too much time in the tent each night looking at pictures of Merritt because I miss him so much (and Maria too :). Still, one big reason why I am doing this trip is for him. My hope is that a world covered in ice and snow will still exist when he grows up.
What are your thoughts on the South Pole cyclists this past season?
Eric: Turning around last year was a difficult decision for me on several levels. First of all, failure is never easy (I should know I've failed quite a bit). I also knew that I was going to be going to the North Pole this year and wouldn't be able to go back to Antarctica and someone else would most likely claim the 'first' title. I'm more of journey than a destination person, so I am at least pleased with my effort.
I saw Daniel Burton shortly afterwards at Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City and he said to me, 'I was excited to hear that you didn't make it'. Now, I know what he meant but I felt it a bit hurt by the statement and it didn't really feel like much of an olive branch. I had other people contact me and try to hide their true intentions as well. It kind of left a bad taste in my mouth about the whole deal so I distanced myself from what was going on.
I don't know exactly what happened or who did what on down there this year and I didn't really catch all the details.
The tricycle was a brilliant idea. It solves the problem of 'float' and 'lack of inertia'. I'm not sure the official word on support or overall distance, so I can't comment further.
As far as I can tell, and I hope I don't get anyone in trouble for saying this, but it seems as if Daniel Burton can now claim first bike to the South Pole. Pulling a sled it turns out was not such a bad idea. My goal was to travel considerably faster than skis so I think that's still a problem that needs to be solved. But he stuck with it and that deserves a huge congrats. As far as Juan, I have no idea what he did or didn't do.
Ultimately, I am a HUGE fan of all kinds of adventures and generally really enjoy reading and following updates. So it's cool to see other people's experiences and understand the world through their eyes. So I am excited to learn more and see who heads down next year.
Eric: Love ice, snow and cold? Stop by my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram and help make cold, cool by posting your pictures of snow ice or cold on #IcePhoto Wednesday.
As I mentioned earlier, my goal is to engage people in real time with the adventure of skiing (and snow shoeing and swimming) to the North Pole. It is a mission I've been involved with for many, many years and my website and social media will have all sorts of information, facts, fun contests, updates, podcasts, real time tracking... did I forget anything... oh yeah and images each day while we're on the ice. So stop on by, I'll try to make it worth your time.
Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters leave Boulder, Colorado, February 28 and have their flight booked form Resolute Bay to Cape Discovery on March 7. The two Americans will be unassisted (no resupplies), and unsupported (no kites/dogs/vehicles). They have decided to charter a Kenn Borek plane from Canada to pick them up at the North Pole, as the other pick up, a helicopter from Barneo Ice Camp near the Pole, Returns to Russia on April 22.
Among anther expeditions, both Ryan Waters and Eric Larsen have climbed Everest. Eric has skied twice from the coast of Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole and twice from land (Canada) to the Geographic North Pole. In the 2012-13 season he attempted to cycle on a fatbike to the South Pole.
Ryan and Cecilie Skog did, to date, the first and only unassisted and unsupported crossing of Antarctica in 2009-10. That was 1800 km from Berkner Island to Axel Heiberg on the Ross Ice Shelf, via the Geographic South Pole.
Follow the team’s daily updates in the live News Feed on ExplorersWeb.
Mountain Professionals (Ryan Waters)
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