Photo: Eric Larsen
Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters are about to set off on what may be the last unsupported ground expedition to the North Pole. Global climate change is decreasing polar ice making the journey to the North Pole increasingly treacherous. Not only do Larsen and Waters intend to endure frigid temperatures, polar bears, and unstable ice conditions – they are seeking to complete the journey in record time.
The duo will depend on a large amount of gear during their trek north. Not only will they need to pack all their food, but they will have to be ready for anything from swimming through half frozen slush to close encounters with polar bears. Gear Institute editors were able to pose a few questions to Larsen while he waited on Ellesmere Island before the two set out for the pole.
Which pieces of gear are most essential to your success on this trip to the North Pole?
It’s hard to pick out any one item that is more important than another as they all represent an equal part of our success. Take away just one item and we wouldn’t be able to move foreword. That said, communication is a big part of our safety on the ice so my DeLorme inReach has become an invaluable tool in any of my adventures. As we are traveling unsupported, our MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes provide critical traction in the rough ice. The construction is totally bomber so we can kick and smash ice with them to help create a better route. I’m using Helly Hansen base layer now which has basically transformed my life as it’s wicking ability is really unparalleled.
Photo: Eric Larsen
What will be unique about this trip to the North Pole than your previous trips, and have you prepared differently?
We are traveling unsupported and unaided which means that everything we will need to live and survive will be carried with us. There will be no second chances. Therefore, we have been focusing on the hundreds of details that will keep us safe and moving forward – making sure that all of our gear can withstand the extreme cold, is easy to use and can withstand the repetitive nature of this type of expedition. My preparations are relatively the same as previous trips, the difference is that I’ve been focusing on this one adventure for nearly a year (versus a lot of other trips).
What kind of customizations have you done to specific pieces of gear before you set out?
Nearly everything get’s customized or modified for an expedition like this. The Arctic Ocean environment is unlike any other on the planet and it DESTROYS gear. It will be 50 below at our start and it’s very humid as well. So all of our gear has the potential to get icy and break. At those temperatures, most materials become very fragile as well. Ultimately, everything gets modified in one way or another. If it’s something as simple as wrapping hockey tape around our MSR fuel bottles or Stanley insulated flasks to custom MSR snowshoe bindings (that are more pliable in the cold) for our Lightning Ascents to longer zipper pulls on our Bergans outerwear to a longer lanyard on my Suunto compass so it will go over my big parka hood more easily… I even made a special lightweight camera case out of a Granite Gear Zip Sack and a ThermaRest Ridge Rest. It’s light and durable!
Photo: Eric Larsen
How do you prepare for gear failure on an unsupported expedition such as this one?
We have two basic philosophies: First if we think it could possibly break beyond repair, we bring a spare (tent pole, ski binding, ski, etc). After that, we have a very comprehensive repair kit that includes everything from zip ties to epoxy to wire to screw, nuts and bolts, to extra fleece, dental floss (for sewing) and needles.
How do you test the gear you’ll bring on this expedition, especially new items you haven’t taken to the arctic on previous trips?
A lot of the gear I’m bringing, I’ve actually used on expeditions previously so I know it will work. I’ve found my XGK stove to be so reliable that I just know it’s going to work all the time. We did a lot of our testing on gear and ‘systems’ in Svalbard last spring – a very similar environment to where we are now. We also have a bit of time in Resolute to do a few short outings to finalize our choices. It’s also a good time to work out ‘systems’ of how we will use gear. For example I found out I have to keep my Nokia Windows phone in my inner pocket so it doesn’t freeze. Of course, a big part of which gear we use is also based solely on experience. At a certain point, you know what will work and what won’t.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m trying to help make cold, cool by getting people excited about snow, ice and cold. Each Wednesday, I ask people to post their #IcePhotos. You can find out more at www.ericlarsenexplore.com