The North Pole is 10,000km away from the equator. Literally. The hardest part of that trip? The last 50. It is from those last 50 gruelling kilometres that the following satellite phone call comes, as explorers Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters trudge through snow, ice and water in hopes of being maybe the last humans to ever walk to the North Pole. At this point, they had been on the ice for 53 days, travelling some 775 kilometres from their start in Cape Discovery. If you haven’t already watched the video above – hit play, and make sure to plug in the headphones.
Larsen’s update is as honest and genuine as it gets. We sat down with him to learn a little more about what its like to fall through ice when the air temperature is hovering around -25 degrees Celsius.
On your hands and knees
The obvious question first: how bad is it to fall through the ice?
We are prepared for most things on the ice and have trained extensively. Our dry suits are more like survival suits and provided they don't leak we can spend nearly 30 minutes in the water. However, the bigger issue is falling through the ice unprotected which also happened on several occasions. My expedition partner, Ryan Waters, fell through up to his chest and was able to get out. We got very lucky as it was a sunny and calm day and the temperature was only -25 degrees Fahrenheit (-32 degrees Celsius) or so. Ryan could easily be dead right now.
Would you want to swim here?
That’s not a lot of margin for error.
Ultimately, the 'margins' that we are working under are very narrow. Everything that we do is overshadowed by being in one of the harshest environments on the planet. It's hard to describe the overall stress that occurs on a daily basis in these types of adventures. The consequences of anything we do are so severe as we not only have to deal with an environment that is seemingly trying to kill us but we are also so far removed from the potential of an immediate rescue that if we were to get into a life-threatening situation, there would be no outside help.
Do you live constantly in fear?
You get very good at managing fear over time – falling through the ice, getting stalked by polar bears... there are enough close calls that you become quite comfortable with uncertainty and unknown.
With the warming conditions, was this the hardest expedition ever?
We have the convenience of modern satellite communication and global tracking through a DeLorme inReach tracking and SOS beacon. While the first attempts at the North Pole in the early 1900s were probably the most difficult, any expedition to the North Pole is 10 times more difficult than climbing Mt. Everest. I called the expedition 'Last North' as I honestly believe that this is realistically the last ever land to pole full expedition in history due to changing ice conditions. Because of climate change, North Pole expeditions are going the way of the passenger pigeon – they are becoming a thing of the past. No one has completed a full expedition in the two years since Ryan and I reached the pole. I've heard there may be another team attempting the traverse next year, but the main logistics provider in Canada has ceased flying operations. So it's unlikely there will even be another attempt. Last year, two polar adventurers in a different area of the Arctic fell through thin ice and were swept away by currents and died.
This is the look of pure cold
At that time of year, its never night. How long were your days? And how long did you go between changing underwear?
By the end of the journey we were spending 15 hours a day on the ice and consuming nearly 8,000 calories per person. Food is our fuel and we often joked that the food we ate didn't ever make us feel 'full', it just was used to make our muscles move. I wore the same pair of ExOfficio underwear and Helly Hansen base layer for 55 days straight. When I got back showered and changed, my clothes smelled like a dead animal.
You get there any way you can
You learn a lot on a trip like that.
One of the things I always say about big expeditions like this is that I'm pretty much the same person; however, I will also be forever changed. These experiences affect you in huge ways that slowly come out. I feel lucky to travel to a place like this that so few people have ever been to. Expedition travel teaches you a lot about resource use, and what you need to survive (versus what you simply want). I try to incorporate the mentality of conserving resources into my normal life. Physically, the trip took a huge toll. Travelling like this for nearly two months is like death by 1,000 cuts. You are constantly loosing stamina and strength and recovery takes many months.
Since the video doesn’t tell you, we will: they made it. The expedition was 55 days long (Larsenheir 2014 expedition may be the last human-powered trip to the North Pole – ever). Since then, warming temperatures mean riskier conditions, a significant increase in challenge – and with the only flight operator in Canada having ceased operation, the North Pole is even further out of reach. Only time will tell if someone will ever make it again, but for now, lets be glad Larsen and Waters made it – and made it back. Learn more about the expedition here – or follow Larsen on Instagram and Twitter.