Larsen will share stories of adventure, climate change at Aspen U
The Aspen Times
While adventurers typically like to be the first to accomplish a feat, Eric Larsen believes his journey across the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole might have been the “Last North Expedition.”
He’s bummed about it because it is a consequence of climate change.
Larsen will discuss the journey to the coldest and harshest climate in the world and the changes it is facing at Aspen Skiing Co.’s first Aspen U presentation of the season Thursday night.
“The melting north is the most relevant story to a snow-based industry, and helps us understand the reality of the climate problem,” said Auden Schendler, Skico senior vice president of sustainability and community engagement.
Larsen and Ryan Waters covered nearly 500 miles from Northern Ellesmere Island to the geographic North Pole in March 2014. They traveled self-supported across the ever-shifting sea ice by skis, snowshoes and even occasionally swimming through semi-frozen slush.
They were the only team to accomplish the journey in the past seven years. Larsen believes they likely will be the last for a variety of reasons — primarily the changing conditions of the Arctic Ocean ice.
“I did my first successful North Pole expedition in 2006,” Larsen said in a phone interview last week. “That span to 2014, that’s a really unique perspective that no one else really has. Just the nature and the character of the sea ice are so much different.
“You have thinner sea ice that you see, you have overall warmer temperatures, a much more sporadic drift probably because there is less landlocked ice around the perimeter.”
He recalled that in the 2006 expedition his team would encounter huge, flat “pans” of ice that they could ski across for one to two hours at a time between pressure ridges and cracks. In 2014, they found much smaller pans and more broken-up ice.
“That’s a function of much younger ice,” Larsen said. “That ice isn’t getting as thick anymore and it breaks up more.”
The people of the Canadian Arctic, many of whom have lived there for generations, are witnessing the changes.
“The reality is the freezes are coming later and the thaws are coming earlier,” Larsen said.
The thinning of the ice has resulted in the drift and movement changing drastically. On expeditions to the North Pole, that can be a deal-breaker.
“That’s the thing that’s so unique about a North Pole expedition. You could have two people start on the same spot and they won’t travel the same route,” Larsen said. “The route is an imaginary line across a continuous moving surface. No two expeditions are the same.”
In addition to changing sea ice, Larsen believes his trip was the last because logistics for the expedition are getting too complicated and so few people are interested in that type of human-powered journey.
“I’m kind of a dinosaur in the sense that there’s not people to pass this down to,” he said.
So he revels in being able to describe the unusual environment of the Arctic to people since it’s so remote and unknown.
“You talk about Mount Everest, you have an idea what Mount Everest is,” Larsen said. “You talk about the Himalayas or the Alps or Alaska, even Colorado, everybody has a very clear picture of what those places are like.”
He uses adventure as the “hook” to educate people about the North Pole and other destinations. He has no shortage of adventures. In 2009-10, he became the first person to undertake expeditions to the North Pole, South Pole and Mount Everest within a 365-day period.
“My goal is always to push my personal line a little bit but also to do unique and compelling things,” Larsen said. “I think in terms of adventure we’ve gotten focused on these very singular things, which is like climbing Everest or doing this particular thing. For me, I want to do original trips and I want to have fun and I want to make unique challenges.”
Case-in-point — Larsen completed a trip across Colorado by bicycle, foot and boat in late October. He and a partner cycled across the eastern plains, hiked across the Flat Tops Wilderness, then floated the Colorado River from New Castle to the Utah border.
They covered roughly 600 miles in just 12 days.
“Many of us get in this mindset that the Rocky Mountains are everything,” Larsen said. “The reality is that Colorado is the high plains in the east and the desert in the west separated by a thin line of the Rocky Mountains.”
Larsen said he hopes to inspire people to realize that adventure is everywhere. He also is an unabashed promoter of all things cold and winter — and a promoter of taking actions to preserve them.
“I’m kind of on a lifelong quest to get people stoked on winter,” he said.
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