30th Anniversary of North Pole triumph marked with new adventures (Hometown Focus – Virginia, MN)
Thirty years ago this March 7, an 8-member team that included Minnesotans Will Steger, Paul Schurke and Ann Bancroft launched a 2-month expedition that was hailed by National Geographic as “a landmark in polar exploration.” In temps that exceeded minus 70F, they left the northern tip of our continent to travel 1,000 miles by ski & dogsled across the Arctic Ocean to reach the North Pole. Their accomplishment, the first confirmed trek to the top of the world without resupply, was featured in a National Geographic cover story, a television special and a best-selling book.
This 30th anniversary will be marked by adventures closer to home. On Monday, Mar. 7, Steger sets out on a month-long solo trek from northwestern Ontario’s Wabakimi Wilderness to travel across Quetico and the Boundary Waters. He will finish at his Steger Wilderness Center near Ely. As a witness to climate change, he’ll share the impacts he observes in posts to the Steger Wilderness Center and Climate Generation websites.
Also on Mar. 7, Schurke departs by dogsled and ski across the Boundary Waters (with one of the original 1986 North Pole sleds) to join up with Dave and Amy Freeman, who are National Geographic “Adventurers of the Year.” Their current “Year in the Wilderness” expedition is focused on preserving the watershed of Minnesota’s canoe country.
The 1986 trek, which gained the team White House commendations by President Reagan, set the stage for adventuring careers for the three Minnesotans:
• In 1990, Steger completed a dogsled and ski traverse of Antarctica. He also traversed both Greenland and the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Canada by
dogsled. He received National Geographic’s Oliver LaGorce Medal and is a leading spokesperson on climate change through the nonprofit Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy
• In 1993, Bancroft skied to the South Pole (and across Antarctica in 2000), becoming the first woman to trek to both poles and gained a place in the
National Women’s Hall of Fame. Her current Access Water project (www.yourexpedition.com) involves treks on all seven continents to highlight global
water issues. Her team recently boated the Ganges River.
• In 1990, Schurke led the Bering Bridge Expedition from Siberia to Alaska, a diplomatic venture which helped reopen the U.S.–Soviet border and reunited native peoples on both
continents. He has since focused on global wildlands preservation and received the Environmental Hero award from The Wilderness Society for his efforts.
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The 30th anniversary events align with recent book releases associated with the men’s polar expeditions. These include the new book “Think South, How We Got Six Men and Forty Dogs Across Antarctica,” by Cathy de Moll, executive director of Steger’s trans-Antarctica expedition, and an updated legacy edition “North to the Pole,” the best-selling book by Steger and Schurke. Both books are published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. “North to the Pole” includes updates on the adventures of all eight team members since the 1986 expedition.
In the wake of the 1986 expedition, the Will Steger Foundation took shape, which led to Climate Generation and www.StegerWildernessCenter.org, as well as the www.annbancroftfoundation.org and its annual Dream Maker Awards to empower young woman. It also fostered winter programming for www.WildernessInquiry.org, the non-profit adventure travel program for people with disabilities that Schurke cofounded.
The expedition also helped launch three of Ely, Minnesota’s iconic businesses: Steger Mukluks which employs 34 people and produces over 10,000 pairs of footwear per year; Susan Schurke’s Wintergreen Northern Wear, which employs 20 people and produces anoraks and other activewear in Ely; and Paul Schurke’s Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge which hosts over 500 adventurers each season.
What has changed at the North Pole in 30 years? Lots, says Steger. The polar ice pack is 30 percent smaller and thinner, and the team’s launch site is gone. “Climate change has disintegrated our staging base which was coastal Canada’s Ward Hunt Ice Shelf,” he said. “It’s no longer possible to depart from there for the pole. Arctic ice, which helps stabilize global weather systems, is rapidly diminishing.”
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