Eric Larsen loves extreme cold, and he has made a living out of exploring the least hospitable places on earth. In 2010, he became the first person to reach all three of the planet’s terrestrial poles – the North Pole, South Pole, and Everest – in a single calendar year. From fatbiking on Antarctica to skijoring Greenland, he is usually found moving quickly under his own power in the frozen parts of the world.
Larsen is in Resolute, Canada, about to step onto the ice for another journey to the North Pole, this time in an attempt to break the speed record for an unsupported journey, 49 days, which was set by a Norwegian team in 2006. We caught up with him first at home in Boulder, Colorado, and then in Resolute as he waited with teammate Ryan Waters for the weather to lift so they could fly to Cape Discovery and step onto the ice.
1. You leave for the North Pole in a week. What does your house look like right now? What is the vibe at home?
If I would have answered this question a few hours ago, I would have said complete chaos. I’ve managed to get everything a bit more under control and organized since then. We’ve been ticking off things on the ‘to do’ list while still managing to get out and train as well. The big stress was (and still is) trying to get our sleds shipped to Resolute, where we will stage for 6 days before leaving for Cape Discovery. The latest snafu is having to haul the sleds to FedEx Cargo versus simply dropping them off at the main station in Boulder, CO. We’ve put a lot of effort into making sure the sleds are well prepped and will make it north and we don’t have a lot of extra time for delays so each missed step is a bit frustrating.
The home vibe is a lot of things. Getting ready to leave for two months is never an easy thing to do on a lot of levels. Most days up late and up early. Additionally, I’m trying to focus on family time with Merritt and Maria.
Fast forward one week: I’m now in Resolute and the pace has slowed a bit but the work has not. We have just spent the last three days working on gear and sorting food. We hope to fly out at the end of the week but the weather is not really looking that good.
2. On your Save the Poles expedition, you reached the three terrestrial poles: Everest, the North Pole, and the South Pole. Which of the three efforts was hardest?
Everest was difficult only because there were so many unknowns for me, especially since it was my first 8,000 meter peak. There were hard moments and then we would be back in base camp relaxing. Personally, I think the North Pole was the toughest of the three expeditions. Just arranging the logistics is stressful and the prices are so over the top crazy. Unrelenting cold, terrible surface conditions and I was pulling it all together at the last minute on a shoestring budget.
3. You’re not a person accustomed to failure. But, on your last big expedition, Cycle South (fatbiking to the South Pole) you were forced to turn around because your rate of travel didn’t match up with your food stores. Tell me what that decision was like in the moment, and the days leading up to it.
I’m actually have a fairly intimate relationship with failure. The number of times where I’ve come up short, made big mistakes or turned around are too numerous to list here. That said, I didn’t go down to Antarctica to not make it to the pole. It was a difficult decision and heart wrenching in the moment, but at the center of the decision was a simple calculation base on the number of days I had left versus the amount of distance I needed to cover.
Of course, the big key here is that I tried. I think too often we don’t even attempt difficult things because of looking stupid or failing. Therefore, ultimately, I don’t really look at the effort as a failure.
4. What explorers, past or present, do you look up to?
Fritjolf Nansen, Will Steger, Mike Lebecki, Felix Baumgartner; the list goes on and on. I am a huge fan of all kinds of adventures and explorers.
5. What advice would you give someone who wants to explore the world and make it a better place?
I think we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place. And I think that can happen on a variety of levels. Most important is to remember we can all make a difference.
6. What’s the deepest moment of doubt you’ve had? How did you get past it?
For better or worse, self-doubt is my constant companion on the ice. It’s hard to be strong when nearly everything seems against you. Weather, ice, personal injuries… In 2006, we were on a summer expedition to the North Pole and I hit my limit after around 37 days. I didn’t think I could go on, but I looked down at my skis and there was this phrase that a friend had written there: ‘begin with one step…’ And that philosophy really changed the rest of the journey. I was no longer worried about this huge big problem. I just broke up that huge problem into manageable pieces.
7. What is the best meal you’ve ever had in the field? What’s your comfort food upon return?
Best meal on the trail? The one I’m eating at the moment. For me, food is fuel. And I pretty much eat the same thing every day I’m on the trail. When I’m back, it’s definitely nice to eat a good meal and have some fresh food, but what I really like is just the simple act of sitting at a table and relaxing with friends and family.
8. What are you most proud of?
Being a dad and having an amazing partner. After that, I’m pleased that I never gave up. There were so many roadblocks and obstacles along the way. Even for #LastNorth, we were never really sure if we would get all the funding. So the fact that I’ve been able to keep all this going – at least the appearance of it- for so long is something that I never dreamed would be possible.
9. Adventurers and explorers today need to sell themselves as media gurus, educators, and scientists. Does self-promotion and wearing multiple hats detract from your passion for exploration? Does adventure really have anything to say about science, education and climate change?
I call myself a storyteller more than anything and my ultimate goal is to share these amazing frozen places with as many people who are willing to listen. My background is also in education -I worked as a teacher for nearly five years- so using my expeditions to educate and inform is really second nature. That said, it takes a lot of work and extra effort to give sponsors a return on their investment. I have great relationships with all my partners and we work together very closely to achieve bigger goals.
As far as adventure and climate change, I give a lot of presentations and schools and other organizations. Adventures are inherently interesting to most people. Being able to use my expeditions as a platform to educate, inform and inspire is really the objective.
10. Do you believe in luck?
I believe in our ability to plan, prepare and build experience that helps influence the outcome of situations. And I do believe that sometimes, yes, you can get lucky.
BONUS: How do you define adventure?
Any endeavor that helps you better understand the word, challenges you physically and/or mentally or provide new insight into who you are or your role in the world.
Photos courtesy Eric Larsen. You can follow his LastNorth expedition at www.ericlarsenexplore.com.