This Phone Call From the North Pole Is Harrowing

Eric Larsen calls in an update during his last 30 miles to the North Pole, and you need to hear it.
Eric Larsen crossing rough terrain on the North Pole
It's hard work crossing the ice © Last North Expedition
By Josh Sampiero

The North Pole is 10,000 km (6,214 miles) away from the equator, and the hardest part of that trip is the last 50. It is from that last, gruelling push that this satellite phone call comes, as explorers Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters trudge through snow, ice and water in hopes of being possibly the last humans to ever walk to the North Pole.

At the time of the call, they had been on the ice for 53 days, traveling some 480 miles from their start in Cape Discovery. Listen to Larsen's strained voice with accompanying video from the trip in the player below, and make sure to plug in the headphones.

Watch and listen to the intense challenge of reaching the North Pole:

Larsen’s update is as honest and genuine as it gets. We sat down with him to learn a little more about what it was like to fall through ice when the air temperature is hovering deep in the negatives. The obvious question first: How bad is it to fall through the ice?

Eric Larsen: 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 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 or so. Ryan could easily be dead right now.

When I got back and showered and changed, my clothes smelled like a dead animal.

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.

Eric Larsen in the water at the North Pole
Just taking a swim © Last North Expedition

Do you live in constant 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 the 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.

Expedition travel teaches you a lot about resource use, and what you need to survive (versus what you simply want).

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 what pure cold looks like


Condensation freezes on Eric Larsen's face
We hear beards are in © Last North Expedition

At that time of year, it is never night. How long were your days? 

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.

How long did you go between changing underwear?

I wore the same pair of ExOfficio underwear and Helly Hansen base layer for 55 days straight. When I got back and showered and changed, my clothes smelled like a dead animal.

Varying ice conditions keep you on your toes (or your stomach)

Eric Larsen pushes forward – on his belly
Sometimes the only way forward is to crawl © Last North Expedition

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. Traveling like this for nearly two months is like death by 1,000 cuts. You are constantly losing stamina and strength and recovery takes many months.


Learn more about the expedition, and follow Larsen on Instagram and Twitter.

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