Home > Expeditions & Adventures > ExWeb interview with Eric Larsen: “Even in the fall, Everest is hardly the solitary experience of polar travel”

ExWeb interview with Eric Larsen: “Even in the fall, Everest is hardly the solitary experience of polar travel”

September 1, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Everest season is on, with at least four teams tackling the mountain when it shows its loneliest, snow-laden face. Isolation won’t be a problem for polar skier and kayaker Eric Larsen who, together with a Sherpa team, will have the mountain to themselves as well as all the work on the south side route.

Only Japanese solo climber Nobukazu Kuriki may be forging his way up ahead of Eric. Otherwise, there are no teams signing up for the season.

Although preparations have been hectic, Eric had a minute for a chat with ExWeb prior to departure last Saturday. Here is what the polar explorer from Minnesota had to say about his first Himalayan experience.

ExplorersWeb: Everest is the third and final stage in your “Save the Poles” project, meant to take you to Everest summit, the North Pole and South Pole in a continuous 365-day period. Could you summarize what’s been going on up until now?

Eric: Well, about three and a half years ago I came up with this crazy idea…. I was able to guide an expedition to the South Pole for Adventure Network International. With two clients, we skied from the Hercules Inlet to the Geographic South Pole arriving after 48 days. When I got back to the States, I was able to garner enough sponsors in two months to start the North Pole expedition with two team members (left from Cape Discovery on March 2). We arrived at the Geographic North Pole on April 22 (Earth Day) after 51 days on the ice.

ExplorersWeb: Have you had any previous experience in high-altitude mountaineering? How have you trained for the upcoming climb?

Eric: I’ve spent the past few years training and gaining more mountaineering experience; from training in the Cascades to climbing in Argentina, Alaska, Washington and Colorado. Last summer, I climbed Denali taking advantage of some good weather and managing a summit in six days. I’ve spent the past two summers in Colorado climbing a lot of 14ers, couloirs, etc….

ExplorersWeb: It is said that polar explorers have a “different mind” than that of the mountain climber. In fact, not many people are outstanding in both fields. Do you agree? How different are high mountain climbing and polar expeditions?

Eric: Polar travelers are not generally mountaineers and mountaineers rarely pursue polar adventures. For one thing, the mental process is different. Polar travel is much more about the journey whereas mountaineering is about achieving the goal. There is also considerably less infrastructure surrounding polar travel, so it tends to be quite expensive as well. In polar travel, there is no fooling the elements, even when I am guiding, each person has to completely take care of themselves.

On the other hand, there is by far less imminent danger in polar travel. Unlike mountaineering–where climbers move in stages alternately pushing extreme limits and then resting–polar expeditions are tedious daily slogs. Therefore, the goal is to expend as little energy as possible. While mountaineers master hard skills like belays, setting anchors and cramponing, polar skiers mark progress through efficiency and by establishing systems. The mental challenge of polar travel is far more severe. Staring at a seemingly infinite white horizon as time draws with painstaking sluggishness causing even the most robust will to crack and crumple. Each day is unnervingly like the next. You see the sky. You see snow. Often, sky and snow meld into milky whiteouts where even the horizon is impossible distinguish let alone the contours of the snow underneath your skis.

I really like polar travel because you are self-contained and self-sufficient. That said, I’ve never seen an ugly mountain and that makes a lot of hardships worthwhile.

ExplorersWeb: Why Everest in fall, when it is so lonely? Do you reckon it may be a problem or an advantage to have virtually no one else around?

Eric: Everest in the fall was not my on my initial schedule. However, due to a distinct lack of initial sponsorship I was forced to delay my Everest climb from the spring of 2009 to fall of 2010. Because one of the goals of the Save the Poles expedition is to complete all three journeys in a 365-day period, I needed to schedule Everest for the fall rather than waiting until next spring. While I think Everest in the fall creates more hardships and potentials for failure, the idea of being there without the crowds melds more with my personal expedition philosophy. Having no one else around is both good and bad. On the negative side, there are fewer people and groups to split costs and set the route. On a positive note, there won’t be any bottle necks due to over crowding.

In terms of loneliness… Even in the fall, Everest is hardly the solitary experience of polar travel where you don’t see anything but ice, sky and your team mates for nearly two months. Most modern expeditions (mine included) are anything but disconnected.

Exporation doesn’t exist anymore

ExplorersWeb: Everest is often called the “Third Pole”, do you consider this an accurate nickname?

Eric: Historically, Everest was considered the Third Pole and it continues to be called as such in expedition circles. If you’re into naming things, it’s a good title. I think there are a lot of names for Everest that are fitting.

ExplorersWeb: What would you like to “show the world” through the upcoming expedition?

Eric: In one sense, there is nothing really unique about my expedition. People have been to all these places in all sorts of styles, with many more difficult than my own trips. Regardless, each voice makes a journey unique. My perspective is different than someone else’s and it is the first hand account of my experiences that gives this expedition it’s own personality and platform. Of course, there is also the fact that stringing these three expeditions together in a 365-day span has never been done before.

Exploration, in the traditional sense, doesn’t really exist anymore. Therefore, there is a substantial push to go bigger, harder, faster, farther (I am somewhat part of this trend). This has opened the door for a relentless one-ups-manship; and rather than enjoying the moment, we’re looking for the next rush. I can’t speak for others, just for myself, but I see myself as more of a story-teller than explorer. My journeys are about sharing incredible experiences and connecting people to places, showing them how unique they are, and ultimately, what they can do to protect them.

While we hear lots about the polar ice caps melting, there is considerably less information about the Himalayan plateau. It is the world’s third largest ice store and provides more than half of the drinking water for 40% of the world’s population. To me, Everest is one of those iconic cold places that, like the poles, is forever changing due to global warming.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the ice wondering if what I’m doing is actually helping. I do sincerely believe, however, that my expedition is a source of inspiration and education. I have an expedition philosophy that states: “Begin with one step.” In terms of climate change and reducing our own personal carbon footprints, if we can just make that first step, then the next one isn’t as difficult. Every little bit makes a difference and while our individual actions may not seem like much, the accumulative effort of all everyone’s ‘steps’ can create a sweeping change.

UPDATE Eric checked in safe and sound from Kathmandu yesterday. He was picked up at the airport by leading Sherpa Tshering and is currently enjoying the town and the cultural differences–except for the traffic.

“Not complaining here, but I’m not a big fan of the traffic laws here, or better yet, lack of law (no stop lights for that matter),” Eric wrote. “Crossing the street is like some sick and twisted real world version of the old video game Frogger. My technique: follow a local closely no matter what.”

Polar adventurer, musher and educator Eric Larsen, from Minnesota hopes to raise attention towards polar areas by trying to reach Everest summit, the North Pole and South Pole in a continuous 365-day period.

Starting in November, 2009, he skied 750 miles to the geographic South Pole, arriving on January 2, 2010. Two months later he set off from northern Ellesmere Island as member in an international team who reached the North Pole 51 days later. His next stop is Everest.

Eric will climb O2-supported, together with a small team of Sherpas on the mountain’s south side. Himalayan Trail Blazer Trekking & Expedition will take care of logistics and organization.

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