Boulder explorers Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters dodged polar bears on the way to the North Pole
The two Boulder-based explorers were just beginning their campaign to complete a rare, unsupported land-to-pole trek, walking almost 500 miles across the sea ice from Canada's Arctic shores to the North Pole. It was fantastically difficult feat, the kind that no one had pulled off since 2010; this year, no other team even tried. But as the massive paw prints in the snow attested, that didn't mean they were alone.
Hungry polar bears were just one of the litany of obstacles that Waters and Larsen faced on their 53-day trip to the world's northern extreme. Over the course of nearly two months, the pair contended with long stretches of frigid open water, mounting physical and mental fatigue, and drifting sea ice that slowly erased their progress, carrying them south as they slept. Their persistence paid off on May 6 when they reached the pole. In the process, the pair set a new American speed record for the trek and narrowly missed the world record of 49 days set by a Norwegian team in 2006.
Few adventurers can match the professional cred of Larsen and Waters, both career explorers with lengthy resumes. Larsen is one of the world's best-known polar athletes, the first person to reach both poles and summit Mt. Everest in a single calendar year, and a musher and expedition fatbiker to boot; Waters, a professional mountain guide, has traversed Greenland on skis and completed the "grand slam" of adventure by climbing the Seven Summits and reaching both poles. The pair got to know each other on a climb of Denali, and almost journeyed to the pole once before, in 2010, before Waters had to drop out.
Larsen and Waters spent over a year preparing for their trek, fundraising and training. When they weren't looking for backers, they worked out, hauling truck tires up the trails near Boulder, hiking with rock-filled backpacks and biking to build up their endurance. The pair further refined their setups on a two-week-long training sortie to Svalbard last year.
Continue for more on Larsen and Waters's trip, including their encounter with polar bears.