<![CDATA[The Process]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262303 <img src='http://www.x-journal.com/member/ericlars/images/b158_69932_scale.jpg'><br />Since I got back from the North Pole... OK, not back from the North Pole per se, but back from the debacle that was this year's North Pole 'Last Degree' season and my (way too extended) stay in Longyearbyen, I have been eyeing the Slate River in Crested Butte. While I may spend most of my professional life on snow and ice, I actually grew up in a canoe and love paddling on both flat and moving water. I also really like random adventures that have no other reason than simply being outside.<br /> <br /> Long story short, I convinced Maria (who had never pack rafted before) to join me on a trip down the Slate River from Crested Butte to the confluence with the East River and then on to the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery. I thought the paddle might be a bit mundane so I also suggested we road bike from the fish hatchery to our put in on the Slate just outside 'downtown' Crested Butte. We could start right after we dropped the kids off at school.<br /> <br /> Maria has told me that people often ask her if she ever joins me on expeditions. The short answer is 'no'. While she loves camping and is incredibly athletic, cold weather sufferfests aren't really her 'thing'. Needless to say, I was somewhat surprised when she accepted my invitation. But I was also really happy. Most days, Maria and I are in full-on parent mode so to have some time to together while discovering some new areas in our own backyard would be a welcome change.<br /> <br /> The bike was great. Sunny and warm riding up to CB. No big surprise there - Maria and I spend all summer nearly every day on our bikes. The packraft was also great, but probably a bit too much white water (read: a lot) for a beginner, but that's a story for another time. Which (finally) brings me to the whole point of this way too long post. The process. (At least what I'm calling it right now.)<br /> <br /> About half way through our paddle down the Slate (and East) I watched Maria get hung up on a gravel bar. She tried to shimmy over to a small island but was totally grounded - so much so that she had to pull her spray skirt off, get out of the packraft, then walk farther down to deeper water. Then, she got back into the packraft, but couldn't get the spray skirt on. She was just above a class III drop and would need the skirt to avoid swamping. I could see her frustration and despair growing. After nearly 10 minutes of struggle, she decided to get back out of the raft, take off her PDF and spray skirt. Then, without being in the raft, put the spray skirt back on, then squeeze into the raft through the small (top) opening of the spray skirt, put her PFD back on and then shove off. It was an arduous ordeal but she (eventually) found a solution to her problem and managed to continue downstream. I gave her a huge thumbs up when we she cleared the drop. I was proud of both her perseverance and ingenuity.<br /> <br /> Later, I mentioned that what she just went through - the whole series of events - was exactly what most days are like on big expeditions. It goes like this: You are going along fine. Then, unwittingly, you run headlong into a problem. Broken gear, route finding, physical problem with a team mate, whatever. Sometimes, a small fix works but most often it doesn't. As the problem continues, there is a growing feeling of anxiety and stress. The problem seems like it could be expedition ending. The world feels like it's closing in. Then, you take a step back and a deep breath. Formulate a new plan taking extra pains to be both careful and thorough. And so on... until a solution.<br /> <br /> It doesn't seem like much. These little problems. But they add another layer to big expeditions that often times is hard to define as well as explain. The effect is exponential and can break you. In Antarctica this past winter, I struggled with making any decent mileage due to soft snow conditions. I spent parts of several days modifying and then taking off my ski skins while never finding any real solution. But I kept going. At least until I couldn't any more.<br /> <br /> 'Effort and more effort' is the (made up) aphorism one of my prior Last Degree clients used to describe my work. And that is expedition life in a very clear and very concise nutshell.<br /> <br /> The nature of our world is moving toward comfort and convenience so to actively pursue a path to the contrary is incomprehensible to most. Even Maria - who knows more than anyone the struggles that I go through to plan, prepare and execute big expeditions - has a hard time relating to this process. But that is the path that I have chosen and like Maria getting hung up on the gravel bar, I will eventually get my spray skirt on, climb in through the small opening on the top, zip up my PFD and keep paddling down stream.<br /> <br /> Until the next obstacle.<br /> <br /> Where I will repeat the process again; and once sorted (again), continue down stream.<br /> <br /> Image: Maria on her first (ever) pack rafting adventure&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262303'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Tue, 14 May 2019 00:33:03 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262303 38.0145 -106.0165 <![CDATA[Simplicity, Simplicity]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262302 <img src='http://www.x-journal.com/member/ericlars/images/b158_26385_scale.jpg'><br />Since returning from Longyearbyen, I have settled back into family life and the daily adventures of raising a six and four year old. In one sense, the transition is fairly easy. Living in a house, driving a car, sitting at a table... these are things that I have done for decades. It is only when you overlay these against my expedition life do you see any significant contrast (which is stark by the way). <br /> <br /> The effortless of modern life always catches me off guard. Often times on my expeditions, I am struggling just to make a few miles of forward progress each day. Sitting in the driver's seat of my car, I turn the key and and step on the gas pedal. It's so easy. Equally crazy, is the amount of 'things' that we surround ourselves with: clothes, bikes, Christmas decorations, plates, There is an inertia to all this that is almost impossible to avoid. <br /> <br /> Which is why I like self supported expeditions. On most of my trips, we are carrying everything that we need to live in survive with us on our packs or in a sled - sometimes for several weeks or even months. I often wonder what it would be like if I simply put my polar sled in the middle of my living room and ate only the food and wore only the clothes it could hold. I might look a bit funny picking my son up from school in my arctic parka. And there is no way that any avocados would last for more than a week squashed underneath one of several pairs of shoes I wear each week. I don't eat salad on expeditions for more than a few reasons. The practicality of living my home life like I do on expeditions is marginal at best; regardless, there are a lot of lessons that I try to carry with me. <br /> <br /> I've been casually following the Everest season - mostly because many of my friends that I work with either in the Arctic or Antarctic are guides on Everest. Some of my Last Degree North Pole clients are on a seven summits quest as well so it's fun to follow along on their adventures. I think these personal challenges have value on whatever level - whether it be a record-breaking ascent or simply a guided summit. <br /> <br /> There is another side to all this however, that warrants a closer look. While not surprising, I have noticed the trend toward 'comfort' on Everest (and many other wilderness experiences and climbs) that has been growing unchecked for quite some time - base camp tents are getting bigger and more deluxe, gourmet meals, wifi and more. Part of this is a throw-back to the siege-style of mountaineering that first allowed Hillary and Norgay to summit Everest. This is simply how you climb a mountain like Everest. Most outfitters say that the amenities allow their clients to rest and recover properly before they start climbing again. While there is no question that it's easier to relax in a huge base camp, the true purpose of all the infrastructure is to support the growing 'business' of adventure. <br /> <br /> What does it say about our culture that we take the iconic meaning of something difficult (i.e. Everest) and make it a five star spa-like experience? Why do we we want to remove all the hard things from our lives? <br /> <br /> I'm not a curmudgeon - I swear. I fully understand the nature of the industry and the wants and desires of the modern day clientele. But I don't think it has to be the only way. There is value in less. And my challenge for everyone is to consider the alternative. Sure there are places that I go where I am not the expert and I need others to lead the way, but as a guide, I feel that I have a responsibility to educate people on the value of the wilderness experience. <br /> <br /> Personally, I have always looked at expeditions as a way to simplify and strip down life to it's bare elements. I spend time in wilderness because I want to understand these places in their basic forms. Adding layers, insulating myself from the weather, decision making or route finding detracts from my experience. There are so many opportunities in life to eat fancy meals and sleep in comfortable beds. But to fall asleep to the sound of silence in the crisp mountain air? More and more these are the exceptions. Why corrupt these moments with the trappings of human civilization?<br /> <br /> For those of you who get this far in my blog, I know my words won't have a huge impact. But if feels important for me to say these things regardless. These are my beliefs. And in writing this hopefully it will create an opportunity to examine your own beliefs and preferences. I am no saint in any of this, either. I live in two very different worlds (my expedition world and my normal / family world) that don't always square with one another or my quixotic ramblings. <br /> <br /> Thoreau nailed it way before me.<br /> <br /> "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." --?Henry David Thoreau<br /> <br /> Image: This way to the big E&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262302'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Mon, 29 Apr 2019 00:45:03 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262302 38.0145 -106.0165 <![CDATA[Earth Day Tribute]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262301 <img src='http://www.x-journal.com/member/ericlars/images/b158_358348_scale.jpg'><br />The love and concern for our environment is something I have always known. Growing up in Wisconsin, I was outside as much as possible - camping fishing, riding my bike... But back then, my mind didn't stretch much farther than my own backyard. For that, I credit writers like Farley Mowat, Sigurd Olsen, Barry Lopez and many others who were able to describe places of which I barely knew existed. They were some of my biggest sources of inspiration and their words instilled a longing to experience true wilderness for myself. But Robert Service's 'The Call of the Wild', more than any of the others, stirred an unrelenting aching to grab my pack and go.<br /> <br /> As a tribute to Robert Service's eloquent words as well as the planet that is the foundation of both our dreams and health, I gathered up footage from the past eight years and five continents for an Earth Day tribute featuring some of Service's lines.<br /> <br /> You can watch the full edit here:<br /> <br /> https://youtu.be/MjgwtFsd1V8<br /> <br /> And if you think this video and poem might inspire someone else, please share it.<br /> <br /> In the years since I discovered 'The Call of the Wild', I feel that I have lived each line tenfold. But that doesn't mean I don't need a reminder that the fate of our planet is in our hands. Earth day is a good start. But our efforts to reduce waste and pollution, curb greenhouse gas emissions, protect endangered species or remove plastic from our oceans should not end when the clock strikes midnight. There are a lot of great environmental organizations doing important work on behalf of our planet and I suggest that you support one or two or more. Of course, we need to take responsibility for our own actions as well. The environmental crises we face today are not problems for someone else to solve and we all need to make significant efforts on both the individual and global level.<br /> <br /> I've spent several Earth Day's on the Arctic Ocean either at, or very near, the North Pole. On April 22nd, 2010, I wrote this, "The weather started out relatively calm but the wind steadily increased to what I would consider near brutal proportions. We skied with our down parkas at times. Brrr. I guess it was the Arctic Ocean's fun little way to remind us who's in charge around here."<br /> <br /> So often on my expeditions, I feel insignificant and afraid, barely withstanding the extremes of our planet. But today, we all venture into uncharted territory. Human beings have an unprecedented ability to change and alter our environment. While we all need resources to be able to live and survive, which resources we use, how we use them and if they're renewable or not should be cornerstone to every decision we make.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262301'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Mon, 22 Apr 2019 01:10:03 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262301 38.0145 -106.0165 <![CDATA[Ready for Home]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262300 <img src='http://www.x-journal.com/member/ericlars/images/b158_664659_scale.jpg'><br />I have not necessarily reached the end of my rope but I can see if from here. After three weeks in Longyearbyen, I am ready to go home. Already this year, I have spent way too much time waiting for flights in frozen places. Several days at the South Pole. Then several more at Union Glacier, Antarctica - nearly a week all tallied. With the delay for the North Pole, I may have surpassed my (sometimes) expedition partner Ryan Waters who, besides being in delayed in Antarctica the same time as me, was also shut down by weather trying to reach Carstensz Pyramid. After eight days, he had to abandon the trip and go home.<br /> <br /> Of course, other places in the world are experiencing real problems. And today's news, like most other days, make me realize how insignificant any issues that I have are.<br /> <br /> For me, it's moving on to the next project. There are few, if any, slow moments in my line of work. It's a constant hustle. Back in the day, we would take three YEARS to plan and prepare for one big trip.<br /> <br /> In high school, I wanted to go on adventures so badly that I was constantly day dreaming about trips both future and past. My good friend Kevin and I would look at maps, plan routes and stare at our slides (pictures) trying to simultaneously relive our favorite moments and quell the urge to just bolt into the woods right then and there. We were kids and we didn't know anything. We got lost. We got caught in thunderstorms. Sometimes we went hungry. And I loved every minute of it.<br /> <br /> Every once in a while when I'm back visiting my mom, I'll stop by Kevin's and we'll pull out the old slide shows from our Boundary Waters trips and talk about that one time when... It is weirdly painful to confront all those innocent memories. They were such pivotal moments - full of all the zest and vigor that life should be full of. But they also make me a little sad, because the world will never be that new to me again.<br /> <br /> Don't tell anyone, but I'm pretty excited about summer, although it will be a long time coming to Crested Butte. When I left, we had over six feet of snow in our yard, and the snow banks along our driveway were twice that height. Still, there's only one thing that I love more than polar expeditions and that's bikes. I can't wait to start riding again!<br /> <br /> I have also been kicking around the idea of leading a bike tour in Svalbard next year. Not sure the exact dates, but I'm going to call the trip the 'Svalbard Fat Bike Safari' and I plan to ride some of the main 'trails' here. The goal is to still travel 'expedition' style, but I will be arranging snowmobile support. Every night we will make camp and sleep in tents, but we won't be bogged down with all the winter gear that can slow bike progress through snow to a walk. My initial thought is to ride from Longyearbyen to Pyramiden but that route is contingent on the trail conditions. If this is something that might interest you, send me a message.<br /> <br /> In between meetings about logistics last week, I managed a short call with the design team at Therm-a-Rest. My signature sleeping bag the Polar Ranger is getting an update. Yippee! I love the bag as it is but there are a few tweaks that will make it even better. I am looking forward to getting a prototype in the upcoming months. I've tallied it up and I think I've slept in mine for nearly four months over the past year a half!?!<br /> <br /> I've also started pouring through the interviews from our ColoradATHON adventure that I did two years ago. We've had the trailer finished for quite some time but I'm looking forward to working with Ben Duke to get the whole story out. Every time I watch the trailer that Ben and his team put together I smile. It was a fun trip and a surprisingly hard one.<br /> <br /> The weather today felt unusually warm. I went out to take some pictures on near the sea ice that we had trained on last week, and for a while, the light snow even turned to rain. It seems that winter is loosing it's hold here which only makes me even more ready for home.<br /> <br /> Image: One last look at sea ice.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262300'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Mon, 15 Apr 2019 17:27:03 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262300 78.0037 15.0104 <![CDATA[Packing up]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262299 <img src='http://www.x-journal.com/member/ericlars/images/b158_77287_scale.jpg'><br />In one sense, the termination of the season was a huge relief. For nearly two weeks, there had been a roller coaster of back and forth about ice conditions, logistics, permits, weather and more. The daily anticipation was nerve-wracking so to actually have control over our situation is considerably better than more uncertainty. Now, I am packing up all my gear and putting it in storage for next year, a process I usually really enjoy.<br /> <br /> But now there is only a feeling of emptiness and this pit of my stomach when I think about the future. It is not so much from not accomplishing our goal of skiing to the North Pole from the 89th parallel, but rather simply not being able to do what I do. I love Arctic Ocean and North Pole expeditions even more that Antarctic adventures. Skiing and navigating on the sea ice is both complex and subtle. To successfully traverse shifting pans, thin ice, wide cracks, pressure ridges requires a level of craft that I have been honing for nearly 20 years now. Mine is a love affair with the ice and the process of traveling through it. And the years of courtship may be coming to an end, but not because I want it to.<br /> <br /> It's like the North Pole just sat me down and gave me the, 'It's not you. It's me.' speech.<br /> <br /> Ouch.<br /> <br /> In one weird twist of weirdness, I haven't been listening to many of the playlists I downloaded (or made) from Spotify. Instead, I am listening to Hans Zimmer soundtracks from Interstellar and the new(ish now) Blade Runner. I am trying to find the silver lining in all of this and hoping to find some sort of inspiration in this inspirational music. Battling back from one set back after another is not easy. It's like swimming upstream. You can do it. You can make progress but every force of nature is pushing against you. Hesitate for a second and you will go backwards. On a good day, it can wear you out. On a bad day, make you want to give up. It's a lonely and difficult game.<br /> <br /> There are so many things that I still want to do and my expedition list is ever-growing. But from a business expedition perspective, I continually worry about these 'failures'. This has been a less than ideal winter / polar season for me, starting back in December with warm weather and snow depths that thwarted my South Pole solo ski record. Luckily, nearly all of my sponsors from last year have signed on for another year (with only one exception). I don't like to talk about the 'business' of expeditions and guiding that much but I feel the same gut wrenching anxiety about being able to pull off the yearly balancing act of supporting a family with an 'expedition life' as I do stepping onto a less than stable piece of ice. And now that I think of it, skiing on thin ice is probably more comfortable to me.<br /> <br /> Equally familiar is picking myself up after I have fallen. I remember one time in 2014, when I climbed up on an ice chunk to take a picture of Ryan skiing. On the way back down, I slipped and crashed hard on my back. My camera flew out of my hands, and in a perfect arc, landed right on my forehead. Both my back and my head hurt so much I initially thought I might have to get evacuated. But with no other option, I got up, brushed the snow off and kept skiing. A month later, we would reach the North Pole in what realistically will be the last ever land to Pole North Pole expedition in history.<br /> <br /> Life imitates expedition. There is a bit of a sting now, but it will fade. Soon, I will be home and working on the next project and the failure of the North Pole season (like all my other failures) will have passed as well. Of course, you all know this as well.<br /> <br /> In one last parting apology, I am sorry to take you on the maze of firing (and may times not firing) neurons that make up my thoughts. No one wants to continually read tales of 'woe is me'. That said, my goal with all my adventures has always been to tell the story as it happens. Good and Bad. I am not the guy sitting outside (perfectly positioned) near the tent (without the rain fly on) at sunrise drinking a cup of coffee or petting my golden retriever. And it's not because I don't have a golden retriever, either. These are curated scenes that show an idealized reality, not the every day trenches in which you and I so often camp.<br /> <br /> My tent is snow covered and crooked. (No one is taken pictures of the tent either, because it's too difficult to bring a camera crew along.) I am inside and shivering. It is cold out - way below zero. And I am waiting until the last moment to go outside because nothing besides my own hard work will keep me moving forward.<br /> <br /> Image: Up and Over. More Longyearbyen Training.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262299'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Sun, 14 Apr 2019 06:40:02 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262299 78.0037 15.0104 <![CDATA[It's Over]]> http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262298 <img src='http://www.x-journal.com/member/ericlars/images/b158_325155_scale.jpg'><br />It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you all that the 2019 North Pole season has been cancelled by the team that operates Barneo, the temporary ice camp near the North Pole. After suffering nearly 10 days of delays due to political wrangling for planes between Russia and the Ukraine, the final straw was that the back up plan failed as well.<br /> <br /> Because we could no longer count on the use of an Antonov 74 for the season, a Basler (DC-3) was contracted from the Canadian company Kenn Borek. The crew successfully made the long fight via the ice camp at Barneo to Longyearbyen with little or no problems. However, due to unstable weather in Longyearbyen, the Basler would not be able to fly for several days, impacting future flying operations (and safety) for skiers potentially on the ice. It's a perfectly logical decision, and in one sense, a relief. We have been living in uncertainty for so long that the only thing better than a 'yes' is a 'no' in this situation.<br /> <br /> This decision ends the nearly 10 days of roller coaster information that often times swung wildly from one side to the other. Just this morning there was a 'guides' meeting reviewing flight schedules and other important logistics. Only an hour later, we received a message that everything was cancelled. Then maybe not. Then an official cancellation. This is not a place for the feint of heart.<br /> <br /> There is no question that this has been a frustrating process for everyone involved. Worse, this is a situation where everyone looses. Skiers, guides, the Barneo team each of us invested a substantial amount of time, energy and expense. It will not be easily recovered from.<br /> <br /> And then, there is the Arctic Ocean. There is a reason why these things happen in a place like this. It is untamed wilderness - one of the last great frontiers left on planet Earth. No matter how much we try to wrangle it into compliance for a few weeks every Spring, the sea ice still has the final say. At least for now. I fear that the opportunity to do these types of adventures will not last. While I'm positive the North Pole season next year (and many years into the future) will go off without a hitch, the clock is running out on ice; and that, more than the cancellation of this season, makes me sad.<br /> <br /> Image: The polar banana (me) leading the team on a short training ski.&nbsp;(<a href='http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262298'>View Post...</a>) Eric Larsen Fri, 12 Apr 2019 18:20:03 -0500 http://www.ericlarsenexplore.com/updates/journal/[xjMsgID]?xjMsgID=262298 78.0037 15.0104