On May 6th, 2014 at 11 PM EST, Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters reached the geographic North Pole, completing a 480-mile land-to-pole crossing from Canada’s Northern Ellesmere Island. The endeavor, called Last North, took 53 days, besting John Huston and Tyler Fish’s 55-day journey in 2009 to set a new American speed record. While Larsen and Waters did not break the overall speed record (49 days set by a Norwegian team in 2006), they are the only team to have successfully completed the arduous journey across the frozen Arctic Ocean since 2010.
Larsen, speaking to Men’s Journal from the North Pole by satellite phone, says it was one of the most difficult expeditions he’s ever undertaken. (He has six polar journeys under his belt.) “You know an expedition is tough when getting stalked by polar bears is the least of your worries,” Larsen says.
Larsen and Waters trekked across the 480-mile stretch of shifting sea ice using skis, snowshoes, and at times swimming through open water sections. They hauled all of their food and equipment in Kevlar sleds – weighing 325 pounds each at the start – that were ‘rafted’ together for the water crossings.
While the route across the Arctic comes with inherent challenges (whiteouts, wind, limited food and fuel,) Larsen also attributes his struggle to climate change. “It’s no question that the ice is different since I was last here in 2006,” Larsen says. He and Waters were constantly slowed by what they call crazy ice. “Imagine two giant ice sheets, now smash them together, then break them apart, and then smash them together again,” says Larsen. “It’s hard to explain but it’s the worst terrain imaginable. And there was not nearly so much of it last time I was here.”
Upon his return home to Boulder, Colorado, Larsen will work in partnership with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project to rally support for the EPA’s proposed rule to limit carbon pollution from new power plants. “While we’re super excited to reach the North Pole,” Larsen says, “it’s disheartening to think that this may be the last time that this style of expedition is possible.”
Animal Planet is producing a special program about Last North, using Larsen’s footage, slated to air in early 2015.