Over the weekend I had the good fortune of obtaining an interview with Newsvine's first polar explorer, Eric Larsen, as he was making his last preparations before departing for the North Pole. Many of you may not have caught wind of Eric's efforts during the last leg of his year-long expedition, which brought him to the South Pole just a couple months ago. So, I thought I'd re-introduce him to the Newsvine Community by framing his expedition within the context of an interview, as well as pointing all of you to the Save the Poles Newsvine Hub.
As the backdrop to my interview, perhaps it's best to know what Eric Larsen is up to via the description on his web site:
In November 2009 Polar explorer Eric Larsen began the Save the Poles Expedition a first-ever journey to the South Pole, North Pole and summit of Mt. Everest in a continuous 365-day period. His purpose? To travel to the "front lines" of global warming to document the changes occurring in these last great frozen places.
"This expedition will tell the story of these remote places so we can better understand how our actions affect the poles and ultimately the planet," Larsen says. "We all need to be reminded that we must act now to stop global warming."
Jumping into the interview (my questions in bold)....
Is it all about climate change, or is some of your motivation purely personal? Please describe.
For me, it's hard to separate my personal motivation with the focus of the expedition. They are both intricately intertwined. I have been involved with environmental education for all of my adult life. My goal has always been to help people better understand the world we live in, how it's changing and how
we can preserve its integrity for future generations. Of course, I love winter and camping too. I also really enjoy the physical and mental challenges of living and traveling in extreme environments. Still, these
trips are only really important to me because I have the ability to share and educate.
Was there a single moment, event or trip in the past that resulted in the convergence of your love for exploring, your interest in climate change and this ambitious plan to reach the North & South Poles and summit of Mt. Everest in one year?
Yes and no. Part of where I am is because of a slow evolution of experiences and education. However, in 2006 I completed [my] first Summer expedition to the North Pole. On that journey the farther north we traveled, the more open water there was. I was continually surprised because we were expecting thick
flat ice with little open water. Any debate was over, I realized that we need to act now. I also realized that the story of an expedition is an effective way to advocate for environmental issues.
Who's on the Team?
Darcy St. Laurent (CA) and Antony Jinman (UK) will be making the physical journey with me, but there are many more helping out. Elisabeth Harincar will be acting as liaison (and general go-to person) on Newsvine as well helping with the daily blogs. Her husband Tim from Harincar Internet Engineering has developed several programs that help me map my progress and keep everyone updated. He also designed the Save the Poles web site.
Regular Contributors to Newsvine will be:
- Rose Braz - Center for Biological Diversity
- 2. Chris Miller - Seventh Generation
- Peter Smerud - Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center
- Lynae Anderson - Lakeville High School
Hopefully my mom will add some comments too :)
What's the single most under-appreciated aspect of putting together an expedition like the ones you're embarking on this year?
Personal Sacrifice. Fundraising, training, developing gear, coordinating logistics, developing media partnerships, public presentations, web site development... There is no end to the list of tasks. I spend a lot of my time on the road, sleeping on friends' couches. I have terrible health insurance and any extra money I have goes into the expedition. Nothing about this is easy... unfortunately.
I imagine that these trips are pretty expensive. How do you manage to fund these excursions, and what happens if you run out of resources along the way (including food, fuel, transport, etc.)?
These expeditions are insanely expensive. I have been trying to raise the money for this expedition for almost three years. Fundraising during America's economic crisis has not been easy. Luckily, I was able to secure a major sponsorship from Bing (Microsoft). Antony from the UK also brought in a big funding partner, the University of Plymouth. Terramar, Seventh Generation, Goal 0 and Atlas Snowshoes have helped as well. I've defrayed other equipment costs by getting most of my gear sponsored.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal)
While we will be getting one resupply on the way to the North Pole, we don't have room for any excess. Therefore, each piece gear, item of food, is carefully weighed and tracked so that we have the right amount, but not too much. If we run out of something or break something that can't be fixed... We're screwed.
I bet that drinking water is pretty tricky to manage, being below freezing and on the move all the time and all. How do you manage keeping properly hydrated?
Staying hydrated is very important. Basically, all of our drinking water is made from melting snow. It takes nearly three hours in the evening and an hour and a half in the morning to make all the water we'll need [for that day]. I've modified my MSR XGK stove to be a little more efficient as well.
As far as drinking on the trail, it takes a bit of practice drinking when its -40F but you learn to do everything really quickly! Stanley insulated flasks keep water warm in the intense cold, too.
Do you ever get sick of the foods that you eat along the way?
Our menu is relatively boring. We eat the exact same thing every day. You would think that after nearly two months of Clif Bars and freeze dried dinners we'd get a bit tired [of] our food, but we don't. I've learned to not judge taste and flavor of any food item until a few weeks into an expedition. You'd be surprised to find how good something is when you're really tired and really hungry.
What was your most memorable encounter with wildlife during your recent trip to the South Pole?
Wildlife in Antarctica? Most, if not all of the wildlife in Antarctica lives at the zone where land (or ice) meets water. We started our expedition at a place called Hercules Inlet on the Ronne Ice Shelf. This is where ice on land flows into the ocean - way out into the ocean. I didn't see any water and after two separate South Pole expeditions, I have yet to see any living creature other than a human.
What was the most harrowing moment of any expedition you've been on in recent memory?
Polar travel varies between the hardest thing you've ever done in your life and watching paint dry. A lot of it is a slow steady slog, often in white out conditions. I attempted a North Pole expedition in 2005. We left from the coast of Siberia. The ice was thin, I fell through many times, we kept drifting backwards on moving sea ice. To top things off, we had a polar bear jump on our tent while we were sleeping in it. I wasn't really sure I was going to make it out of that one alive.
Is either the North Pole or South Pole more difficult to reach?
[The] North Pole is easily 10 times more difficult [to get to] than the South Pole - even though the expedition to the South Pole is over 200 miles longer. To get to the North Pole you have to deal with moving ice, pressure ridges, open water, thin ice, negative drift, extreme cold (-50F, and humidity), inability to get rescued at times, polar bears, the list goes on and on.
What is the one piece of gear that you absolutely don't want to lose along the journey to the North Pole, and why? Actually, even if there's more than one, please tell us about your most essential equipment.
Everything is essential. We don't really have any luxury out there. So everything that we take is directly tied to our ability to live and survive. No tent - we freeze, no snowshoes - we can't pull our sleds or fall through thin ice, no down jacket - we get hypothermia during breaks, no food - no energy, improper food choices - heavy sleds and no energy, no satellite phone - [we] can't schedule resupply, no power - [we] can't use [the] phone or send updates. The list goes on and on. I've developed some gear with the help of some of my sponsors. With Sierra Designs' aid, we developed a new polar tent, jackets and sleeping bags. Scarpa made a special ski boot. I have to say I'm also very attached to my Terramar Long underwear. It's cool to be cold, but its nice to stay warm too.
That said, I am pretty closely tied to my GPS. While we don't use it to navigate during the day (we use compasses), I use it every morning and evening to check my position, how much we drifted and our current declination. My Atlas snowshoes are really important as well. Strapping them on is like putting my feet in four wheel drive.
You've been doing this for over a dozen years now. How has technology come to impact exploration and travel? Is everything made better, or are some things actually harder or less enjoyable because of advancements in technology?
I'm no luddite. I like being able to use technology on an expedition, and I rely on it for my safety - especially since I can't use a sextant. Honestly, I'm not the first person who's ever gone to the North Pole or South Pole. I am a storyteller. My goal is share my experience and the place in which I am traveling with as many people as possible. The technology we take, Iridium phone, Ruggedized PDA, X-plot mapping program - all make this possible.
While technology has advanced considerably in the last 10 years, we're still using the same basic type of equipment to communicate and stay safe. There are some notable exceptions with things like Personal Locator Beacons, but for the for the most part things are very similar (if not a little smaller). Go back 20 years and that's a bit of a different story. That said, what has changed dramatically over the last 10 years is how people interact with the information that I'm putting out there. Through social media, I have a
greater ability to reach a broader audience. People are also interacting with the information in dynamic new ways as well, which I think is a dramatic shift as well.
Regardless, while there are many advancements, polar travel also hasn't really changed that much over the years. You ski. You pull a sled. You eat. You sleep. You try to not to freeze! The principles are still basically the same.
You're embarking on such an ambitious mission to reach some of the coldest places on Earth. Will your next trip involve looking at some tropical regions, both because climate effects are global and also so that your toes can thaw out?
My next trip will involve a couch, six pack of beer and three mindless movies. Kidding. I really like what I'm doing. For me, I think the story of an expedition is a perfect platform to talk about environmental issues. Climate Change is an issue that affects everyone, so whatever I do in the future will relate in one way or another to this issue.
On a basic level, my goal is to simply connect people to a place. I would like to continue to do expeditions like this; however, I have to be practical and try to find a way to support myself financially too. That's the tough part. As far as some place tropical, I like the sun and warm, but those places are really dangerous.
How can the Newsvine Community tie into what you're doing with Save the Poles?
I think there are many great opportunities for the Newsvine Community and Save the Poles. Ultimately, my goal is to help people better understand the issues surrounding Global Climate Change and how we can move towards positive solutions. Knowing what the issues are, engaging in a dialogue, objectively evaluating information, asking questions, offering opinions... These are cornerstone components of change. This, in my mind, is a big part of what Newsvine is all about. Therefore, I hope that the Newsvine community is able to actively engage us in the conversation.
Related to the last question, can you please send out the first ever tweet from the North Pole, using a witty suggestion by a Newsviner, please?
First suggestion.... I'm standing here with Santa Claus and he says your behavior really needs to improve.
You've got two months to come up with a good answer.
--- end interview ---
And there we have it. I look forward to getting brief updates from Eric along the way, on his journey to the North Pole. Please follow Eric's journey by clicking the "Follow Eric Larsen Explore" button on the Save the Poles hub page. Once he returns safely from the North Pole his team will be posting a ton of photos, video and journal entries captured during the journey. Between now and then, let's have a conversation about climate change, the last remaining frozen places on Earth, and how important it is to stay connected to nature through exploration and adventure.