On Tuesday, May 6, Polar adventurer Eric Larsen successfully reached the geographic North Pole after a grueling 480-mile unsupported traverse across the Arctic ocean. Along the way he negotiated severe windstorms, unusually thin ice, arctic swimming and polar bears.
Larsen and his teammate Ryan Waters completed this unsupported, unaided Last North expedition in 53 days—setting a new American speed record (a Norwegian team did it in 49 days in 2006). They were the only team attempting a “land to Pole” crossing to reach the North Pole this season, and the only team since 2010 to accomplish the feat. They are only the second American team to ever complete the crossing.
Larsen, who in 2010 was the first person in history to successfully complete expeditions to the South Pole, North Pole and the summit of Mount Everest in a continuous 365-day period, described it as “one of the most difficult expeditions” he has undertaken. Larsen and Waters traveled across the 480-mile stretch of shifting sea ice using skis and snowshoes and, at times, swimming through open water sections.
“You know an expedition is tough when getting stalked by polar bears—who are known to actively seek humans and attack them when hungry—is the least of your worries,” Larsen said when he reached land.
Claiming six major polar expeditions notched in his proverbial belt, Larsen’s overarching goal now is to connect people with the last frozen places on earth, while highlighting the environmental issues impacting them. With the release of the National Climate Assessment in May (http://www.globalchange.gov/ncadac), his experiences and observations from the front lines of global warming seem especially relevant.
Larsen has partnered with Protect Our Winters (protectourwinters.org), whose mission is to unite and engage the global snow sports community to lead the fight against climate change, as well as Climate Reality Project (climaterealityproject.org), an organization dedicated to the global cultural movement demanding action on the climate crisis.
Larsen just happens to call Boulder, Colorado, home, and we were able to ask him a few questions about the expedition.
You mentioned “a shrinking logistics window” for these types of trips. What does that mean?
To get to the North Pole expedition starting point at Cape Discovery requires a 4.5-hour flight in a Twin Otter. Because the sun is just coming above the horizon, the earliest that flight can occur is March 5. However, due to the changing climate, there are more frequent storms and bad weather at that time of year and we were delayed (as were expeditions in previous years) for eight days. Additionally, the last possible pick-up day is May 4 (anything later and conditions are too warm to land a plane). This pick-up date is also becoming earlier and earlier each year due to warming temperatures and deteriorating ice conditions.
There are still people in this country who don’t believe in human-caused climate change. What’s the one simple thing you might say to these people?
My hardliner stance: You either believe in the fundamental principles of science or you don’t. Facts and science are not subjective. My softer approach: Regardless of what your personal beliefs are, energy efficiency and reducing the amount of resources we use can save you money. The statistics are undeniable…over the past seven years, the Arctic Ocean has seen a steady and significant reduction of sea ice and is becoming significantly less stable with each passing year. Right now, a major initiative for the Climate Reality Project is to rally citizens to support the EPA’s proposed rule to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. My goal is to rally everyone I can reach to get behind this movement and support legislation that helps ensure a cleaner, safer, and healthier future.
How can we save polar bears and still live our first-world lifestyles? How do you find this balance in your own life?
There is a difference between need and want. I think that one of the things that polar travel demonstrates so clearly is the fact that we can actually be quite comfortable with a somewhat finite amount of resources. Additionally, it’s important to remember that, despite not having concrete long term solutions to the problem of climate change, we still need to take the first step. As individuals, it’s important to remember that we can make a difference and the cumulative effect of all our efforts is substantial.
What are one or two pieces of gear that you consider indispensable?
I think the DeLorme inReach is a total game changer—two-way communication and emergency locator beacon from anywhere in the world. And MSR snowshoes and the MSR XGK stove are hands down the most bomber gear ever invented!
Visit Larsen’s website at ericlarsenexplore.com for more information. And get ready to go along for the ride: Animal Planet will be producing a special program on Last North, integrating Larsen’s footage from the ice and documenting the team’s journey, slated to air in 2015.
What does your gear list for a trip like this look like?
Skis – Asnes Amundsen
Binding – Rottefella
Snowshoes – MSR Lightning Ascent 25″
Poles – MSR Flight – custom
Arctic Challenge 230 Kevlar Pulk with custom Granite Gear sled cover
Granite Gear pulk harness custom
Helly Hansen Dry Suit
Tent: Hilleberg Keron 3 GT
Shovel: MSR Responder shovel
Stoves: MSR XGK – 2
MSR fuel pumps – custom
Whisperlite International – 1 (spare)
Pot – MSR Dual-handle 5.3L hard-anodized aluminum pot
MSR Heat Exchanger – Custom
Stove board – custom
8 MSR 30 oz fuel bottles with expedition fuel cap
Tent brush – 2
Sleeping Bag – Nemo Equipment Canon -40 (down) and Mezzo Loft 30 (synthetic)
Sleeping Pad – RidgeRest Solar- 2 each
Bivy Bag – Misc
Boots – Alfa Extreme 75 mm
Overboots – modified Outdoor Research Brooks Ranger Overboots
ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go® Sport Mesh 6″ Inseam Boxer Brief
Helly Hansen DRY 3/4 PANT
Helly Hansen Warm Pant
Helly Hansen PACE Short Sleeve
Helly Hansen Warm Ice crew shirt
Helly Hansen Warm Ice 1/2 zip
Helly Hansen H2 Flow jacket
Bergans Arctic Expedition Jacket
Bergans Arctic Expedition Bibs
Bergans Expedition Down Light Jacket
Mountain Hardwear Compressor pant – insulated
Wigwam Socks – Merino AirLite Pro to ice sock
Wigwam Glove liners – 2 pairs
Bergans finse mitten shells
Apocolypse designs fleece mittens – 2 pair
Brenig polar overmits
Ergodyne apparel kit
MSR knit Hat
Outdoor Research windproof balaclava
Ergodyne 813 fleece utility gloves
Ergodyne 819WP Thermal Waterproof Gauntlet – custom
Zeal Optics Slate Goggles
Suunto MC-2 World Balanced compass
DeLorme inReach 2 way communicator
DeLorme PN-60 GPS
Iridium 9505a Satellite phone
Sony Action Cam
Sony NEX-VG30H camcorder
Nokia Lumia 1020 windows phone
Granite Gear insulated cell block – 1 qt.
Stanely 1 qt Mug/Bowl
Stanley 1 qt insulated flask
Stanley .75 L insulated flask
Stanley insulated food jar
Mossberg 500 pump action pistol grip shotgun
Ice screws – 3
snow stakes – 4