Trek to the North Pole
In 2006, I completed the first ever summer expedition to the North Pole in what has easily been the most difficult 72 days of my life: shifting ice, pressure ridges, mind numbing whiteouts and even a close encounter with a polar bear. Back in the States, exhausted, broke and girlfriendless, I swore to myself I would never go back.
For better or worse, time erased all that polar suffering and the promise I made slowly disappeared. By March of 2010, I was back on the Arctic Ocean as part of my 'Save the Poles' project – expeditions to the South Pole, North Pole and the top of Mount Everest all in one year. It was more pain, the most intense cold I've ever felt, and constant fear and stress – not simply about my potential success but rather my basic ability to survive.
Finally, after nearly six months in the world's coldest places, I summited Everest concluding my 'three poles' record. A few weeks later, I had peeled off my base layers and securely placed my pasty white frame on a beach in Mexico. Flip-flops and board shorts, I decided, would be my expedition attire now. After a couple of warm Coronas (remember – I was 'done' with the cold) I made a blood oath to NEVER return to the North Pole.
The most difficult expedition on the planet
There are promises and then there are promises. And there is also the buffering of time and distance. However, my memories of the North Pole did not fade and my desire to go back to this unique and little understood environment only increased over time… So last year, I made the decision to make one more trek to the North Pole before I would never have the chance to go again.
In my mind, the journey from land to the Geographic North Pole is one of the most difficult expeditions on the planet. While there have been over 6,000 Everest summits, fewer than 300 people have completed a full expedition from land to the North Pole. Sure, Everest has avalanches and altitude but the traverse across the Arctic Ocean has polar bears, bitter cold (55 below zero temperatures at the start), moving ice, open sections of water and ice so thin that it bends underneath your skis.
There are no sherpas to carry your gear or huge base camp tents, either. Each day we pull all of our gear (350 pounds at the start) across some of the worst surface conditions ever designed by Mother Nature, and then set up our small tent on a (hopefully) stable piece of ice.
I call this type of expedition travel 'death by 1,000 cuts' and it requires careful planning, efficiency and resiliency to be successful. There is this constant wearing down that occurs day after day after day – every minute equals another 'cut', a little bit of energy that we never get back. Navigation and route finding, lifting heavy sleds over huge ice blocks, swimming open leads (water), traversing ice rubble and pressure ridges. And this polar expedition is not just a day or a week, but nearly two months.
The last chance?
But right about now, you are probably asking yourself: why? To what end? What could I possibly gain from going back to the North Pole and purposefully subjecting myself to all that pain and suffering only to swear off the whole experience when it's over. Realistically, this may be the last opportunity anyone has to complete a journey of this type, in this region. The ice is melting at historically high rates and is becoming significantly less stable with each passing year. These conditions will make expeditions in this area impossible to complete in the very near future.
Despite being one of the most cold and hostile environments on the planet, the Arctic Ocean has seen a steady and significant reduction of sea ice over the past seven years. In August of 1996, ice coverage spanned 3.16 million square miles, whereas this past August, Arctic Ocean sea ice coverage was measured at only 2.25 million square miles. As an explorer, I am no longer tasked with discovering 'new' places. Rather my job is discovering how these places exist today. The goal of my upcoming LAST NORTH expedition is to help connect people to one of the last great frozen places on the planet before it forever changes. Not to conquer, but to protect.