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.
– See more at: http://m.hometownfocus.us/news/2016-03-04/Today’s_News/30th_anniversary_of_North_Pole_triumph_marked_with.html#.Vt-sWRjWMyN
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.”
– See more at: http://m.hometownfocus.us/news/2016-03-04/Today’s_News/30th_anniversary_of_North_Pole_triumph_marked_with.html#.VuBrdxjWMyO
Steger to make long ice-out solo expedition
By Sam Cook on Mar 5, 2016 at 11:00 p.m.
Thirty years to the day after Ely’s Will Steger and seven others left northern Canada for the North Pole, Steger will begin a different kind of trip. He’ll make a 350-mile solo expedition, traveling over lakes and rivers from a remote drop-off in Ontario back to his homestead near Ely.
Steger, 71, has made similar solo trips several other times, including a 21-day, 200-mile trek last year from the end of the Gunflint Trail north of Grand Marais to Rainy Lake during the spring breakup.
This year, too, Steger will catch the spring breakup, pulling or paddling a specially designed canoe. But he’ll start the trip far to the north, on skis and pulling a toboggan, after being dropped off by train in Ontario’s Wabakimi Provincial Park.
“I wanted to do a longer trip this year,” Steger said in a recent interview in Duluth. “I was hoping to catch some 30-below weather — which I doubt I’ll get this winter — and then catch the end of winter, moving into spring and the breakup.”
These spring breakup trips can present dicey travel conditions on slowly decomposing ice and rushing open water in places. As he did last year, Steger will wear a drysuit when breakup is imminent to protect him from an accidental dunking. On the last half of the trip, he will tow or paddle a 13-foot Kevlar canoe reinforced with runners on the bottom.
The News Tribune interviewed Steger last month in Duluth and asked him about the trip.
Q: What went into your decision to choose this spring’s route?
A: I wanted to go farther into Ontario … just because there’s nobody there. I wanted to do a longer trip. The first half of the trip is totally unknown to me.
Q: You devote much of your time now to your new Steger Wilderness Center near Ely and working on climate change through your foundation, Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy. You’ve talked about how these extended and challenging solo trips help you reach your “mental and physical baseline.” What does that mean?
A: I wanted something that would really challenge my skills
100 percent and challenge me physically 100 percent, too. Just to go up against it all and see how I fare. For myself, in a way, it’s sort of like an ultimate personal best. It’s a big enough trip that there are lots of unknowns. I’m sure I’ll make it through OK, but there are some major challenges.
Q: You talked about wanting “to catch some 30-below.” You’ve done many Arctic expeditions and your 1989-90 Trans-Antarctica Expedition, all in severe cold weather. What is it about the cold that attracts you?
A: (Laughing) I just feel so at home in it. I feel very comfortable there. I just wanted to get back to the north country in winter and experience the beauty of that.
Q: And doing that in the wilderness is important to you?
A: I need the wilderness. In the challenging conditions, you get more into the present moment. It gets you much deeper in the wilderness. More than anything, I need my shot of wilderness each year. The more challenging, the better. It’s a paradox for me. Yes, it’s hard doing these things, physically, but I don’t look at it in terms of hardship.
Q: After last spring’s trip, you encouraged others to get out and do challenging things. Why do you say that?
A: First, I think it’s very important for anybody to get into the wilderness, to revitalize themselves and their spirit. And I think it’s important for most people to push themselves physically a little bit. It doesn’t have to be extreme, but whatever you can think of that is pushing your limit a little bit. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at yourself and your performance.
Q: You’ll be carrying about 150 pounds on your toboggan at the start of the trip and about 200 pounds in your canoe-sled during the second portion. At 71, how are you feeling?
A: I think I’m in pretty good shape. My knees — everything checks out. The vital moving parts are all in good shape.
To follow the expedition
To follow Will Steger’s 350-mile solo expedition from Ontario’s Wabakimi Provincial Park back to Ely, go to stegerwildernesscenter.org. Steger will be sending back daily satellite phone reports, and a GPS device will plot his position on a Google map on the website.
This year I am expanding on what I learned from my two previous expeditions of traveling on rivers at spring break up. I have doubled the distance I will be traveling and have moved my starting point to Northwestern Ontario, about 300 travel miles north of the Steger Wilderness Center. On the morning of March 7th, I will be boarding the Canadian Railroad (as a passenger) at the small village of Savant Lake, Ontario. The train will take me an hour to the east and drop me off at the bridge that crosses the Allan Water River. From there I will make my way south first by toboggan and then, as the ice begins to break up, by canoe sled.
I am leaving earlier this year with the hope of catching the mid-winter cold. I will be hauling a custom-made 10-foot toboggan with a 160 pound load of food, fuel and supplies. The county is especially challenging because of its remoteness, deep snow and flowing water. There are stretches of rivers where the danger is obvious but the challenge will be on many of the lakes with currents that creep through them. It looks like the break up will be early this year so the travel conditions will be a wild card.
A hundred travel miles into the trip, my route crosses the Trans-Canadian Highway. The village of Upsala is close by and I have made arrangements to cache my canoe sled and water gear there, along with a wet suit, food and fuel. The river section starts here at the Firesteel and the Siene River. I will traverse Lac des Mille Lac, cross the divide and head southwest down the French River drainage into the Northeast corner of the Quetico. I then follow the lakes and rivers south through the Quetico Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
In general, the travel will be slow at first because of deep snow. Five miles might be a good day. As the spring advances, the snow begins to melt down. At times a thick crust forms, providing fast travel. Often the days may be too slushy to travel but the surfaces freeze solid during the cold nights. In these circumstances, I travel at night navigating by the stars. Once the snows melt completely, the lake surfaces become iced and provide very fast travel. I can make up to 25 miles a day under these conditions. In some situations at break up, it is impossible to travel. There may be a two-day wait or a 10-day wait. Because of this variability, I have to travel with extra food and fuel.
I feel well prepared for what lies ahead. I am in fairly good physical shape and mentally I am strong. I am looking forward to living intuitively in the moment again. So please follow along to see how the adventure unfolds as I journey back home toward the Steger Wilderness Center.
See where the adventure will take Will in 2016.
Click to watch an overview of the route!
Northwestern Ontario 2016 Solo Expedition Check back every day for updates!
Will Steger’s Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016
“You have to be at your very best, all the time, totally alert. Totally in the moment. In this situation is where you really learn, one of the best learning experiences, that I’ve found in my life. More than just learning, it’s in the realm of intuition and instinct. You add onto it with experience, but some of it is something like… you always have it, but it’s just being more aware that you have it. Aware of that moment, aware of your self, and your relationship and the relationships to the world. It’s peeling off these layers around your being. These long trips do that for me.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #39 – April 15th, 2016
“Made it back. Really quite exhausted. The last three days I’ve been really pushing hard. Unbelievable weather, must have been 73 degrees today… It’s nice being home, sleeping in my bed tonight. Although I will miss the trail life a little bit. I look up at the moon and the stars here and kind of think about what it was like being out there.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #38 – April 14th, 2016
“I’m camped in the United States on a very beautiful island, facing south, on Basswood. If all goes right, I should make it in tomorrow. I’m going to try and get up early. I don’t know if it’s going to freeze here tonight. It’s just a gorgeous evening. I’m setting up camp. I’m actually on a campsite, on ground. First time I haven’t slept on ice. Setting up here right at sunset and I heard a song sparrow, it was a really very beautiful song. It’s just kind of nice, in the last 40 days from where I started. I started right in the winter time, right when the thaw started coming. I had this incredible experience all the way down. Now I’m right on the home front. I should make it in tomorrow. I’m feeling really good, kinda tired and I’m not looking forward to anything other than just being right here, at the moment, right now. Checking out here. Will, over and out.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #37 – April 13th, 2016
“My skis started sticking and I was ready to stop, because I knew the canoe would probably freeze in, but boy my timing was just right. I got on the portage there, made it over to the next lake called Side lake. This was a climbing site for Outward Bound in 1970-71. I was one of the climbing instructors at that time. The nostalgia of seeing the high cliffs there. It was a very important time of my life. Really those cliffs really empowered a lot of people, including the instructors that worked there. Many people remember that area and not many people see it these days.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #36 – April 12th, 2016
“I’m really looking forward to getting up in the morning. I’m hoping it might be clear. It’s kind of partly cloudy right now, but it feels like a thaw coming in. I just don’t trust this weather, but it seems like it’s hanging in there. It’s now 32 degrees, crust is freezing now. So, I’ll check in. Doing really well, I had a really great workout today, really great appetite. Good to be on the move again after sitting around for a couple of days.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #35 – April 11th, 2016
“One of these days I’ll get a break in the weather. I’m definitely on fuel rations. I can’t afford the extra heat here to fry anything. Also on the food, I’m eating a little less, just sitting still. It’s a normal situation when you are weathered in and food is kind of questionable. You eat a little less, because you don’t need much, just enough to keep warm. You kind of build up your muscles a little bit, but then once you get moving you eat more. You just eat more to accommodate physically what you are doing. I’m in really good shape, just sitting around. The past eleven days now it’s been bad weather. It’s been a really good experience.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #34 – April 10th, 2016
“A storm came in actually last night. This morning, with the usual conditions, the canoe literally froze in when I tried to haul it. So I took a day off, second day in this campsite here.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #33 – April 9th, 2016
“I wanted to make it to Sark lake, because from there I can go straight south. Long lakes, very few portages. I can do night travel there if it I got the conditions. What I ended up doing was, I would pull for forty paces and then stop. At this time I was really cold, it was necessary during the haul here to get warm. I would face the sun, rest and then pull another forty paces. Later in the day I also got up to sixty paces. The conditions really didn’t change. I never did paces before, where I actually counted paces. It used to drive me nuts even thinking about it. It was actually a good system, didn’t have to think about anything. It was almost like doing weight training, repetition. It kept me from getting injured. I was concerned about injury in knees or your back, when your pulling. This way I could just do forty, rest, do forty more and eventually like I said, I made it to sixty.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #32 – April 8th, 2016
“It was stormy all day, a little bit of sun. Pretty cold, got up to about eighteen degrees. Impossible to travel today. North winds, usual, same weather. I just killed time today. Really didn’t want to be in the tent again, but their wasn’t much of a choice. It was really cold outside. I’m on fuel rations, meaning that I use just the stove now for preparing food, not for heating. So I sat in the tent most of the day. Wrote in the journal.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #31 – April 7th, 2016
“I got up at 3 o’clock this morning, it was clear, twenty five degrees, perfect travel. I anticipated an early departure. I had everything all set, so within forty five minutes I had the tent down and canoe loaded.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #30 – April 6th, 2016
“Snowed all night last night, into the morning…. quite…. not much wind….real sticky snow…. I wasn’t able to travel at all….*static (LOST TRANSMISSION)”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #29 – April 5th, 2016
“Still snowing out there right now. Thirty two degrees. I’ll see what the day… I doubt I will be able to haul tomorrow morning, but we’ll see here. Just taking every day as it comes. Actually quite peaceful waiting out the weather, I’m not into making miles, it’s just whatever happens.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #28 – April 4th, 2016
“I went down this section, going the other direction last year around this time. I came down the falls chain on my way to International falls, this time I’ll be going up.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #27 – April 3rd, 2016
“Last night it cleared off. It was one of the clearest nights I’ve ever seen. All the winter constellations were setting in the west and west of the horizon. The spring constellations rising in the east, and then about midnight last night I started hearing snow.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #26 – April 2nd, 2016
“I’m feeling really great, really at peace with things. Solitude, I get some questions, people asking about solitude. You know, I just don’t have any trouble with missing anything. I don’t miss anything at all. I’m usually that way even in the city. I’m pretty much content where with I’m at. I don’t get lonely. Some times you are more in solitude when you are in big crowds or with a lot of people.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #25 – April 1st, 2016
“I covered a big share of Pickerel lake. I made camp on the leeward side of a beautiful little virgin island. Just a sweet little island there. It was dark by the time I got the tent up. Pretty good workout today, mostly hauled, didn’t ski, but I paddled.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #24 – March 30th, 2016
“Last night I was on French River, canoeing down that. There was a slight halo above the sun, it looked like it was going to clear up, but the halo was an indication of precipitation. I made a night camp and then around midnight I started hearing something real slight, it sounded like rain. It must have been around 2 o’clock it started raining pretty hard. At first I thought it was snow, snow would really stop me in my tracks.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #23 – March 29th, 2016
“Another long day. The travel was good in the morning. Once the sun came around, must have been ten or eleven o’clock. The sun started melting the snow, what was left on the lake, got a little difficult. So what I did was I set up a foam pad in the woods and slept for a couple hours in the sunshine. When I woke up the warmth had melted the snow and the conditions were a little better. I haven’t slept good the last couple of nights because of the sun, the intense sun. The ultra violet kind of poison gives you head aches and weird dreams and that. So two hours off was pretty good.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #22 – March 28th, 2016
“Another really long hard, twelve hour day. The early travel was pretty good, it was frozen. I did the first three hours, relatively easily, on skis, but then the thaw kicked in again. I made the portage, called the Baril portage, between Mille Lacs Lake and Baril lake. It is actually a historical portage itself, it’s called the Dawson Trail.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #21 – March 27th, 2016
“On the clear days I always watch the sun move, sometimes the moon during the day. At night it’s a totally different situation. It’s almost always clear here, incredible stars. I’m looking out the tent right now and you see the whole universe. Mankind, humankind really changed when we lost the night sky, because of light pollution. I remember even as a kid it wasn’t as polluted, even in the city. You could step out the backyard and see the stars. I had a telescope when I was a kid, but we’ve lost that for the most part in the city, where most people live. It really puts you in touch with the universe. We have a tendency of getting too self absorbed in ourselves and the work that we do. We really need a universal view like that.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #20 – March 26th, 2016
“Storm last night, it was wet snow. I went to bed at least and I got up about four thirty. I was hoping to catch a crust on the snow, but what happened was, it snowed about another six inches of kind of a light powder. It was fifteen degrees, it was cold enough, but it was really stick snow. It took me about an hour and a half to scrape the bottom of the canoe of, first of all, from the melted snow on it. And then, I couldn’t budge it.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #19 – March 25th, 2016
“It just feels so great, this last week on the river. It’s just so challenging. Really exercised everything I had to negotiate this. All of my skills I’ve built up in a lifetime. Especially the last few years on the river. It’s almost like an extended wall climb, where you go from one move to the next move and one pitch at a time. You just keep going for days and days. You don’t know how the next pitch could go. I have no idea how I’m going to get through this thing, but I figured it out moment to moment and I felt safe.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #18 – March 24th, 2016
“Not an open section on the river right here, it will be open in the morning. Probably about zero, five below in the morning and I will be paddling that with a dry suit. I should be getting up into the lake, probably shortly after that section. And then, once I’m on the lake, I’ll have a little security and keep hauling and won’t have any open water to contend with.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #17 – March 23rd, 2016
“The Seine (river) two, three days ago it was wide open. It all froze now and you can’t paddle on it and you can’t walk on it. All day today I lined along the shoreline. Used about a twenty foot rope and bounced from rock to rock. Very slippery, very dangerous actually.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #16 – March 22nd, 2016
“Last night about one o’clock (AM). Usually it’s the quietest around 1 o’clock. The wind dies down. I could hear real heavy rapids, probably waterfalls… especially in the spring, in the cold and calm weather…”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #15 – March 21st, 2016
“Beautiful morning, five below when I got up. Clear. Coldest day so far on the trip. Which is not really that cold. Cold enough to firm up the ice on the river. The travel, most of the day was really perfect.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #14 – March 20th, 2016
“The river was quite intimidating when I first saw it… What seems like something really terrifying in the morning, by evening it becomes really routine.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #13 – March 19th, 2016
“I’m resting here in Upsala. The last twelve days I’ve been pretty much in motion all the time, in water a lot. Either freezing rain or rivers and so forth. Yesterday, I was hauling down the road most of the day. The exercise is what keeps me really warm.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #12 – March 18th, 2016
“I just did about 20 miles. I got as far as Graham, and a native family picked me up there and drove me, must have been 10 miles or more, to the Trans-Canadian Highway. Then I was going to haul to Upsala but there was no snow on the side of the highway so I waited for a while and a couple of loggers picked me up and got me to the general store in Upsala where Rick was kind enough to store my gear. By the time I got in, I thought it was about 2 0’clock but it ended up being 6 o’clock, I guess they are on daylight savings time. And then I decided I was going to take the day off tomorrow.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #11 – March 17th, 2016
“I did a good twelve hour day. I saw a wolf on this fire road. Often on these roads and long trails you will run into wolves. It’s really common. I saw him in the distance. I had to make out the figure, it was kind of panning sideways. I tried to figure out what it was. I stopped a number of times. I got probably within a couple hundred yards. Sometimes the wolfs allow you to get almost shooting distance away. They keep that safe distance, because they know the difference, what a gun is. I didn’t have a gun of course. So, I would move and stop and the wolf would kind of follow the trail a little bit then stop again and allow me to get within a couple hundred yards. This went on for, man, must have been forty-five minutes. Pretty typical behavior. Then eventually it shot off to the side after a rabbit. And then, it came up on my back later on, which I thought was pretty interesting. I kind of felt something, I turned around there it was again, about two or three hundred yards. This time it was following me, ha.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #10 – March 16th, 2016
“The conditions worked in my favor today. The ice was all froze up, real slick…. I really breezed through this area that I thought was really going to stop me.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #9 – March 15th, 2016
“There is not an option of going out on the ice anymore to avoid the creeks. I have to go inland… I am not sure how I am going to get around this, with the creeks opening up. There is a slight chance I might just get stuck here. Probably less than ten percent. I’ve been hauling a lot of extra food with me, with that intention. I have that as part of a plan. I had no idea that these conditions would deteriorate so quickly. The last five days the winter is just going.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #8 – March 14th, 2016
“The lakes are probably about fifty percent of what they normally are, in fact when we cut ice this year it was the thinnest ice I’ve seen in fifty years. Some of the holes in the lake, the natural holes I poked around with the ski and it’s about eighteen inches. The bigger lakes are okay, but the narrows and the currents were quite dangerous. I made one crossing on a narrows and I put my ski through. It really woke me up. It had all the signs of solid ice, so it totally surprised me. It was a beautiful day though, fifty-three degrees. So I probably would have been able to get out okay. The great thing about it was, it was a very warm day. It was a real learning lesson for me. It made me really think here tonight more about things.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #7 – March 13th, 2016
“It was clear all day yesterday, it got up to fifty degrees and as the sun started setting the temperature dropped considerably. I went to bed around last light. It was about thirty-seven degrees and it looked like their was going to be a big frost that evening. I went to sleep and woke up a couple hours later to a really strong south wind that blew all evening, which was very unusual… I started traveling around first light or so. The only reason I do these solos each year at breakup is a part of my eye witness. I get a sense, I have an intuition of climate. This wind last night, to me was a sign of the El Niño, real severe El Niño weather we are having right now… The changing climate is really quite obvious and the speed at which things are changing. There is still a lot of hope, but we need to act really quickly.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #6 – March 12th, 2016
“Temperatures are up to fifty degrees. I sat around and watched the day go by. The water is just pooling up here and there on the lake. And we are having just the very beginning of the breakup, in fact it might even break up yet. The ice isn’t very safe. At this stage the water will start forming. Still a lot of deep slush on the lake and it was clear all day today so I’m expecting the temperature to drop…. this thaw is going to be around for a while. So I’ve got my alarm set. I’ll be up by four.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #5 – March 11th, 2016
“The big thaw has arrived… I travel by the sun, from lake to lake, I don’t use a GPS. With a compass I can get a bearing on the time. For example, the sun is straight south at noon and when it’s west it’s six o’clock p.m. So in between that at southwest would be 3 o’clock, same thing in the morning, at six o’clock in the morning the sun is due east and at nine o’clock it’s southeast. So I use the sun as my bearing and also figure that the sun moves fifteen degrees an hour. So I factor that in. In the polar areas that’s how we travel. It’s a very easy way of doing it. You don’t have to look at any compass or any watch or anything, you just follow the sun.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #4 – March 10th, 2016
“Today was extremely rough, as I expected. I did three or four crashes in the bush. Very deep snow, a little over knee deep with the crust. Real thick brush, Alder brush and Spruce. I skied some of it and then I ended up pretty much hauling by foot. I would go one rope length at a time, about twenty feet, I’d walk twenty feet and then pull the toboggan and then walk another twenty feet. Pretty hard going, good exercise, very wet.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #3 – March 9th, 2016
“Yesterday afternoon in the fog, I accidentally went in the wrong inlet. It was really tough going deep snow, crust and slush for about 4 miles. It happens. I have a GPS, but I don’t usually use it. A GPS would have definitely corrected the error, but I rely pretty much on the map. I use the compass a little bit, but mainly the wind for directions. Their is a little bit of an issue starting off too, learning the scale and the portions of the map, the surroundings. But, whatever I took the wrong turn there for about 4 miles, so I came into camp really late.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #2 – March 8th, 2016
“Last night from about midnight to first light it rained very hard. The temperatures were way below freezing, probably about 24°-25°. Quite an unusual rain. About a half an inch of ice on everything. It took me about an hour to chip everything off. All the lines were frozen up and I got under way. The temperature remained below freezing all day.”
Northwestern Ontario Solo 2016 – Daily Dispatch #1 – March 7th, 2016
“Made a pretty good distance today. First day out it’s best not to really kill yourself and try to go for distances, but that was just the right amount. You don’t always have that option on the first day. Two years ago during the vortex winter, deep snow, I was going to take a short day on the first day, but I ended up…it was just an ordeal. I traveled hard hours that day and I had to relay my supplies. They were too heavy to do in one load. It was on a big lake, I didn’t have a chance at all that whole day to take a break.”
Pre-Expedition Check-in #2 – March 6th, 2016
“It must be about 45° right now. It just feels like summer time. Beautiful blue skies… it looks like some really warm weather coming… It should be an interesting day tomorrow, we’ll see what the lakes and the rivers look like. I’m kind of expecting the worst, but we’ll see what happens.”
Pre-Expedition Check-in #1 – March 5th, 2016
“…trains on time, we have good weather, going up the road conditions were great. There’s a major warm front coming in. Zero degrees this morning. it looks like it’s gonna warm up the next 10 day forecast, it’s pretty warm. So we’ll see what that brings. Checking in here…”
Prototyping the future at Will Steger’s Wilderness Center
While Northeast Minnesota struggles with economic uncertainty in its legacy industry — mining — the potential of a dawning industry is being demonstrated in a remote corner of the Iron Range.
The Will Steger Wilderness Center, founded near Ely by the celebrated polar explorer, is the site of one of Minnesota’s first and largest renewable power grids — a next generation energy system providing all the facility’s electricity with solar (and eventually wind and biomass) power. The whole complex, which includes five buildings and a five-story conference center under construction, is powered by a state-of-the-art network of solar panels manufactured in Bloomington by Ten K Solar, as well as battery packs.
The system currently generates 10 to 12 kilowatts of power, with plans to ramp up to 20 to 30 kilowatts. It was installed by Sundial Solar of Minneapolis in partnership with the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering and Cummins Power Generation. Students from the University of St. Thomas and Anoka-Ramsey Community College are studying the power grid’s operations.
“The whole idea is that it is a demonstration project to show that [power grids] can be done,” explained Sundial CEO Jon Kramer. “It blows my mind what we’re doing.” Future plans call for using solar panels that will be manufactured by Silicon Energy in the nearby town of Mountain Iron.
The Wilderness Center encompasses Steger’s home, the lodge where all his polar expeditions were plotted, housing for staff and interns, a wood workshop, and the architecturally stunning conference center. Conceived by Steger during a prolonged blizzard on a dogsled expedition across Antarctica and built over the past 25 years mostly by apprentices working with master craftspeople, the conference center will bring together small groups of business, political, and citizen leaders to brainstorm solutions to critical environmental and social problems. The renewable power grid, Steger explains, will remind meeting participants about all that’s possible.
The center — which looks like an amalgam of a ski lodge, Gothic cathedral and solarium — is 85 percent complete and will host a pilot symposium about clean energy this fall, according to Steger.
This past weekend the Steger Wilderness Center came to life with a community rallying around clean energy. Will Steger and a group of friends gathered to cut ice from Homestead lake. Every year the ice harvest is different. This year’s Ice Ball turned out to be an unusually wet one. Steger said, “Two years ago we had over twenty four inches of ice, it was a record thickness for us and this year was a record thin. We only had about eight inches of clear ice maximum.” Despite having to work in about ten inches of water, the gathering was a success. By the end of the evening the ice house was full.
I have been cutting ice since 1967. Back then I lived two lakes from the nearest road and I had just finished building my log cabin (which I still live in today). I remember how comfortable it was having shelter in the wilderness for the first time.
My next biggest need was refrigeration. My solution? Digging out a primitive ice house down by the lake and covering it with a log roof and 4 feet of soil.
In Ely, MN there were still plenty of ice saws and thongs remaining in old sheds used before the advent of electricity when ice was the only source of refrigeration . The old timers willingly parted with their tools knowing that they were going to be put back to good use. I spent many afternoons around their kitchen tables, drinking coffee and soaking up their stories of horse teams pulling sled loads of ice from lakes to huge ice houses that would be used by the community throughout the summer.
Cutting ice at the Homestead since then has not only been a tradition but it is a necessity. My goal when I moved into the wilderness in the late 60s was to be self-sufficient. I wanted to build all of the structures from the rock and wood from the surroundings, clear land for the gardens and forage and fish to meet my needs. And, I needed ice to keep our food fresh.
I have never used fossil fuels for refrigeration, I have only cut ice.
Today we have a first class ice house build from cement blocks with a reinforced concrete ceiling covered with ten feet of soil that nourishes the virgin pines above. The mini-forest above the ice house shade the ground and keeps the earth cool so our ice will last throughout the summer. It works so well that as we start cutting ice this year we much first throw out the left over ice from the winter before.
Ice cutting is labor intensive and our annual event has grown to a what is now known as the Ice Ball or the annual Homestead ice harvest. Lisa Ringer’s four work horses that haul tons of ice out of the lake are the central Spirit of this 60-person operation and celebration.
The day is brisk and busy as scores of people cut and form teams to haul the ice out of the lake and ready to be loaded on the sled. Then there are the stackers who tightly pack the ice blocks in the icehouse. Later, the full icehouse is covered by dry sawdust from the shop. Sawdust provides an effective layer of insulation that dramatically slows the melting. The ice will last from the first week of February, when it is cut, to well past October.
In the end, the tools are put away for the another year, the horses are bedded down and the party begins.
There are cooks and helpers in the kitchen that feed this working mob.The festivities start with a feast. A string of smiling red cheeked people holding empty plates weaves its way to the counter and the steaming food. Corks from wine bottles are popped, the keg is tapped, conversations flow. Later the music starts, most listen some dance.
As the evening progresses a bonfire is lit once again drawing the grows into the cold air.
In the early AM, when the spring constellations rise, the fortunate sleep in beds while the remaining sleep on mats and cots in the heated wood shop.
On Monday, January 25th, 2016 at 9 PM Will Steger’s interview on The Mary Hanson Show will air.
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. (January 25, 2016) – Polar explorer Will Steger speaks about his experience in the wilderness, clean energy solutions and ties it all together by announcing the Steger Wilderness Center on The Mary Hanson Show. Mary Hanson has the longest running independently produced cable access show and has been hosting MN leaders since 1995. Mary consistently feeds her audience with information that can lead to positive changes. In this episode Will Steger talks about his 2015 solo expedition, the challenges the next generation faces today and how his philosophy and the opening of the Steger Wilderness Center can bring awareness about clean energy action and speak to the public on this crucial topic. Will is just weeks away from his 2016 solo expedition and the rerunning of this episode seems to be right on time as he gears up once again.
Will has always had a strong faith in the wilderness and can see how the power of innovation and group dynamics will help to create balance in today’s rapidly changing world. Will asks questions like, “How do we get away from coal?” and “How do we build a new economy?” While speaking with Mary he gives his outlook, talks about his experience in the wilderness and at one point comforts us all by saying, “There is a really great generation of young people in their twenties… they are taking on a world that is going to be challenging and I believe that generation is very capable…” Will believes that we have the power to solve the worlds energy consumption problems and can adapt to a less materialistic lifestyle.
If you live in the Minneapolis area, stay tuned to channel 6 on the Metro Cable Network. If you just can’t wait to check out this informative and encouraging episode follow the link below.
Will Steger has accomplished the most significant polar expeditions in history. Steger is a recognized authority on polar environmental issues and a popular speaker, giving more than 100 invited presentations annually. To find out more about Will Steger visit www.willsteger.com.
Black Friday started like any day in the wilderness. There was no clock or alarm, rather I awoke when my body was rested. During the long nights of winter I go to bed early and get up an hour or so before first light. This morning I awoke early, tricked by the light of the full moon, but instead of getting up I drifted back into deep, adventure filled dreams. I awoke a second time, remembered it was a special day of relaxation and drifted back into dreams again. Finally when I opened my eyes I looked out from my bedroom window to see the orb of the full moon setting above the ridge. It was first light. I had slept in.
Venus and Jupiter greeted me through the picture window as I lit the fire. I opened the door and called for Homer the cat, who had been hunting mice in the wood shed, but he ignored me. I sat in a chair by the stove as it crackled and watched the light change as the sun rose above the pines. It was a crystal clear day; the cold had a bite to it.
Later I walked down to the lodge to find that a half dozen friends had arrived late the night before. They where cooking breakfast, hanging out and talking. I had tea, chatted for a while and then browsed through the library. Picking up a book here and there, I paged through old books, read a little poetry, studied a photo or two and then got into a discussion with Peter about Plato’s Republic.
I drifted over to the shop, stoked the stoves, and checked on some of my woodwork that I had glued up the evening before. The woodworking shop is my favorite place during the winter. It is always snug and warm with the intoxicating fragrance of wood. I am based out of the shop most of the day. Beth, an instructor at Summit Academy on the north side of Minneapolis, assisted me on some of the projects. I had been working on a production run of a dozen doors for the center, but seeing that it was a wilderness holiday, I worked on small personal projects, a cutting board for my cabin, a picture frame for my houseboat, simple things. Friends came in and out, often sitting on the stools near the fire to get warm, drinking coffee and chatting. Homer the cat came in and was constantly under foot complaining about something, being an all around nuisance. Later I kicked him out. Shortly he returned with a better attitude and was soon back to his affectionate self.
Lunch came and went, the twilight colors returned, ushering in the stars that barely twinkled in the crystalline sky. Everyone gathered in the lodge for the much-anticipated Black Friday dinner. We ate and drank and toasted friendship and peace. Later everyone sat around the big table, some in conversations, some reading, and some playing games. Homer sat in front of the stove, content after eating his holiday tuna.
The moon rose, the sauna was stoked and people jumped into the hole in the ice. Shrieks of joy and exhilaration swirled and curled with the wood smoke that drifted up into the starry heavens.