From the National Geographic Blog. By Dave Freeman

Twenty-five years ago Will Steger led the 3,471-mile International Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica (1989–90). Six men from six countries set out on this audacious, seven-month expedition across the harshest continent on the planet. Their goal was to “make Antarctica famous” in order to protect if from development. The Trans-Antarctic Expedition received over two billion media impressions and captured the world’s attention. After the expedition, the team traveled the globe to meet with world leaders, urging them to ratify the 1961 Antarctic Treaty—which they did in 1991, protecting Antarctica from oil and mineral exploration, and preserving it for science.

In 1995, National Geographic awarded Steger the John Oliver La Groce Medal for “accomplishments in geographic exploration, in the sciences, and for public service to advance international understanding.” The award has only been given 19 times since National Geographic was founded in 1888, and Steger joined Roald Amundsen, Amelia Earhart, Admiral Robert Peary, and Jacques-Yves Cousteau in receiving this honor. In 1996 Will Steger became National Geographic’s first explorer-in-residence.

Will has compiled a humbling list of accomplishments during more than 40 years of exploration, but he continues to push himself through creative and challenging wilderness adventures. On April 9, Steger completed a 22-day, nearly 300-mile solo trek across the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park, and Quetico Provincial Park. Steger chose a route that followed rapid-strewn river systems during the spring break up. Far from the path of least resistance, Steger drew on 50 years of experience traveling over thin ice to complete a bold route that he didn’t think was possible a few years ago.

“I consider it important to challenge myself and do things I couldn’t imagine doing a couple years ago,” explained Steger. “I navigated around 20 waterfalls and rapids. I was very fearful of these waters, but this year I went where the action was.”

I run into Will on occasion while running errands in Ely, Minnesota, the end of the road town on the edge of the Boundary Waters where we both live, but our conversations are usually brief exchanges in the produce isle. It was a real pleasure to talk with him in more detail about his polar expeditions, what drives him to continue to explore, and his most recent solo trek.

What made the Trans-Antarctica Expedition your most challenging project? What did you learn in the process?

We crossed Antarctica by the longest possible route (3,741 miles) over 222 days. Organization alone was as big a challenge as the expedition itself. We had to raise $8 million and there were lots of logistics.

It was a really a tough go. There was no Internet back then and we relied on radio for communication, which usually didn’t work. The sheer distance—and having to leave in mid-winter—made it especially difficult. At one point we had 60 days of storms that we barely survived. It was physically really challenging. At the end our team were the best of friends; the forged friendship and love that came out of the expedition was quite remarkable.

What were your main goals for the Trans-Antarctica Expedition?

Read more at the National Geographic Blog.

I finished the expedition today, April 22.

I have always had faith in nature. It is what guides me. This expedition was no different.

In this audio, I share some of the insights, inspiration and clarity I gained while immersed in true wilderness.

Day 21 – April 7

I made it to Rainy Lake today and am enjoying a night with friends. I’m incredibly hungry and physically exhausted, but it feels good.

Day 20 – April 6

Day 19 – April 5

I covered over 20 miles today; Started out at the last set of rapids on the Namakan River and then I traveled 15-miles across Namakan Lake.

Day 18 – April 4

It was an 11-hour day today; More cold and third day of strong winds and wind gusts as my route continues along the Namakan River. My goal was to portage around the last set of rapids on the Namakan River so I could reach Namakan Lake, a large lake that is still frozen. I reached my goal destination and hope the weather stays cold so I can travel on the ice tomorrow across the lake.

Day 17 – April 3

Third day of traveling the Namakan River. It was an exciting, action-filled day… lots of paddling and navigating rocks and rapids. It’s really important to always be reading the water, wind, currents and eddies. I don’t take any chances or shortcuts.

Day 16 – April 2

Day 15 – April 1

Major warming today; It feels like 60 degrees today, but it was below zero just a few days ago. I completed a 12-mile crossing of part of Lac La Croix. It was a good day of fast traveling. I was able to stay on skis for most of this crossing.

I’m now traveling on the Namakan River. This is a much bigger river than the Maligne; probably 10 times the water flow. There are serious consequences if you tip and end up in the water. This is new ground for me and I’m excited about this phase of the journey

Day 14 – March 31

Sticky snow made it too hard to travel yesterday, so I woke up at 3am to make up time today. I expected to travel by moonlight, but was surprised by rain falling. It was pitch dark for the first hours of my day, making navigating ice that is safe on the Maligne River really tricky. I was relieved to see the first morning light and made great progress the rest of the day.

Wildlife continues to amaze and delight me. Today I was accompanied by incredible snow bunting birds, circling me all in a group then splitting off like fireworks only to regroup again in the water.

Day 13 – March 30

It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. I traveled again along the Maligne River. It expanded to cover a one-half mile span and at this point was frozen all the way across, but not frozen enough to be safe. I tried hauling my canoe, but the sun had thawed the snow from the last storm and it was like pulling my canoe through cement. I put up camp early and had the best day just being with nature.

Day 12 – March 29

There was a big storm last night. I had to get up and tie the canoe down to make sure it stayed safely in it’s spot. When I woke up this morning, it seemed unusually dark until I shook the 10 inches of snow off the top of the tent.

I spent more time on on the Maligne River today. This is a really spooky river – the water is almost black and many large boulders and rocks are just below the surface. It makes for treacherous traveling – especially with the shore ice jutting into the river and the strong, springtime current down the middle of the river.

Day 11 – March 28

I crossed Sturgeon Lake today. It’s a large lake, about 10-12 miles across. I skied across – the first time on skis during this journey. I experienced some of my most memorable and beautiful moments of the journey today thanks to the wildlife immersed in their spring rituals.

Day 10 – March 27

It’s been a great couple days of wilderness adventure. Swift currents, stunning waterfalls and challenging portages to find and travel have been the themes for the past two days. Much of today I have been traveling along the Sturgeon Narrows towards Lake Sturgeon. The weather has been very cold.

I am grateful for the rocks midday that have been warmed by the sun for my lunch stops and for the gorgeous clear skies at night.

Day 8- March 25

It snowed all day today so I took the day off. It’s too hard to read the ice with the snow covering it. I had to stay within 10 yards of my camp in order to stay on safe ice.

Day 7-March 24

Day Six-March 23

The area I am traveling through today is known for its pictographs. There is a long history of native settlements around here due to the abundant fishing and hunting. It’s rarely visited as each entrance to the lake has several waterfalls making it hard to reach.

I ended up three miles ahead of myself today. It’s great to have good traveling conditions, but I ended up disoriented for a bit, not realizing how far ahead of my scheduled route I was. I figured out my location fairly quickly, but reminded me of many other times on other expeditions when it wasn’t so easy.

Route Snapshot

Here’s a bit more information about part of the route. This is where Will was traveling around the 5th day of his Solo 2015 Expedition.

This area is called  Falls Chain. It’s a series of flowage water falls. At points the river opens into lakes, but lakes with distinct and potentially dangerous currents.  Traveling during the Spring thaw requires diligent reading of the ice, shoreline and other details to create safer traveling conditions.

Thank you to Tasha Van Zandt and Sebastian Zeck for producing the Solo 2015 Expedition video series  .  Photo and video credit: Tasha Van Zandt  

Day Five

It was a beautiful day today. I negotiated three more falls. One was especially impressive. It was created by a whole lake traveling through a canyon with 100-150 feet stone walls on either side. The water cascades through the canyon for one-quarter of a mile.

Day Four

Day Three

Day Two

I slept on the ice above the water falls last night. I always sleep on the ice if I can. It’s cold and you can hear a lot of rumbling and cracking sounds from the ice. But it’s flat and I can anchor my tent into the ice with screws.

Day One

Getting Ready

Pre-trip Preparations

Minnesota is experiencing an unprecedented thaw. In one week, here in Minneapolis, the temperatures warmed from below zero to highs in the mid-sixties. What little snow we had melted off in 48 hours.

The thaw has also effected the north county. The rivers are beginning to open, but the lake ice is still solid. I was hoping to catch the tail end of winter when the river ice would still be fairly safe. But this year will be different.

I can expect melting ice, ice dams and raging water. Because of the deteriorating conditions I plan to leave for my Solo on Wednesday, March 18th instead of my original plan of leaving on Monday, March 23.

I am also changing my strategy to take into account the dangerous waters. I will be fully prepared for cold water immersion events. I will cover these changes and the equipment involved as i am traveling.I look forward to the upcoming challenges and I am fully prepared for the task at hand
canoeyard2Here my canoe sled lies out of place in a South Minneapolis back yard. I will be driving up to Ely with my canoe sled and all of my gear today.

The picture shows the ‘cargo net’ system that Cooke Custom Sewing made for me. This system secures my canoe load so if I tip over I will not lose valuable gear.

March 16, 2015


Today I loaded my car with my gear, strapped down my canoe and headed North out of Minneapolis to Ely, MN.

I did odds and ends in town and arrived at the StegerCenter at sundown. I have all of the equipment and food in order and tomorrow I will be doing the final pack-out before I leave for the Solo 2015 Expedition.

There is some good news. The temperature is dropping in Ely and the ground is freezing up again.



Paddling through Minnesota’s springtime ice break-up is nuts. What is Will Steger thinking? In late March, polar explorer Will Steger will embark on one of his trickiest expeditions to date: a 200-mile, month-long solo voyage through Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. by Stephanie Pearson, Outside

Continue Reading…

Expeditions are where I get a lot of my vision and my energy.  I hope to share this approach and these experiences more broadly. Expedition thinking is central to the thinking and work of the Steger Wilderness Center I’ve been building in Ely, MN for the past 25 years.  Because expedition thinking can help us address many of the serious challenges facing us.




Thank you to Tasha Van Zandt and Sebastian Zeck for producing the Solo 2015 Expedition video series.  

Solo 2015

In late March 2015, I will begin a 200-mile canoe-sled solo over the northern rivers and lakes along the Minnesota/Canadian border. This expedition during the spring break-up is a personal journey to experience the beauty of the season and to expand my knowledge and skills. Through daily satellite dispatches, I will be sharing my adventure along the way. As I travel, I will attempt to answer just what goes on inside an explorer’s head, the ‘why’ behind my fifty-years of expedition experience.


The route that I have chosen is most challenging. I will travel through a string of rivers and lakes. It’s a varied country of waterfalls, rapids, and steep narrows, ranging from small gem-like lakes to large complex bodies of frozen water. There will be danger and hardships, but beneath this veneer is the beauty of the moment. In fact, survival depends on being ever-present and spontaneous rather than moving passively along a pre-determined course.

2014 quetico leadimageThe ice, too, will vary as the spring break-up moves along. As I start off on the last edge of winter, most of the rivers will be frozen, except for dark ribbons of fast moving current that wind through the thin ice. As the spring sun intensifies, the current will begin to erode the river ice, making it unpredictable. There will be a thaw/freeze cycle where the temperature cycle takes wild swings with highs above freezing and lows that plunge to the sub-zero. On these nights a crust forms allowing me to travel using the stars as my guide. Sometimes there are deep snowfalls; even blizzards or I might hit temperatures without substantial night freezes. These warmer conditions with the deep slushy snow at first bring on tough hauling, forcing me to relay to make forward progress. Once the snow melts down on the lake ice, these friction free surfaces allow me to travel 20-30 mile days.

Next, the rivers will open, as long shore leads form on the lakes. The hauling season will soon come to an end as I will switch to paddling my canoe through the open water. This complex break up process can take anywhere from three to seven weeks. I will travel with four weeks of food and fuel that I can ration down to last five weeks or more, if necessary.

It is going to be a great adventure and I hope you can follow along with me to explore the spring break-up in the north country.


The Route

My route will take me through Ontario’s, Quetico Provincial Park and the border lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. The expedition will begin on Lake Saganaga at the terminus of the Gunflint trail. I will follow the Falls chain north to Sturgeon Lake. At Sturgeon, I travel southwest down the Maligne River, across Lac La Croix and then west down the Namakan River. If I reach Lake Namakan successfully, I will either take the large border lakes west to International Fall, or travel east, following the border lakes and rivers back home to my cabin north of Ely, Minnesota.


What is a Canoe Sled?

A canoe sled is an amphibious craft that enables me to haul through snow or over ice, or paddle in open water or down rivers. Canoe sleds have enabled me to travel when the spring ice is breaking up in the polar and arctic regions as well as in northern snow country. The canoe sleds that my expeditions have used on the rough pack ice on the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay had runners. In the deep snow country runners are unnecessary. For my expedition this spring, I will be using a canoe with a reinforced bottom but without runners.

Ted Bell and I have designed canoe sleds for almost two decades. His present company is Northstar Canoe. I consider Ted to be the best designer/builder of both solo and tandem canoes. He has been in the industry for thirty years.

In the mid 1990s, we designed a series of prototypes that led to the canoe sled that I used on my 1997 Solo from Pole Expedition. This year, Ted customized a special canoe sled based on his Phoenix Solo Canoe. The 14-foot Phoenix is designed with rivers in mind, yet it handles comfortably on lakes. My specialized Phoenix weighs in at 40 pounds, and features a reinforced haul with a ‘snubbed’ bow and stern that enables the canoe to toboggan through deep snow.


Safety Rules

The amazing thing about my fifty-year career of polar and northern expeditions is that I have always stayed safe. There are some basic reasons why. First, I know when to back down. I have turned back on four major expeditions in my career; each took years to plan, to train and to fundraise for. It was hard to turn back, but evaluating the risk and acting responsible is why I am still around. Three of the four times, I was able to reorganize and go back to successfully complete the original expedition.

On this Solo, if conditions are too dangerous, I will either retreat or wait until the conditions become more favorable.

Second, I travel with humility and respect, which I consider the core values of the northern cultures and the basis for their survival. In the wilderness, the risk takers and the over confident are playing the odds. The odds are that nature always wins and you will either get yourself injured or, worse yet, killed. On a solo there is little if any margin for error.

Traveling in the wilderness is a continual learning experience for me, even after fifty years. Constantly adding to my knowledge base, in turn, helps build my intuition. Most of my decision-making is intuitive or spontaneous. Because I often need to act immediately, I seldom use a conscious thinking process, which is too slow and clumsy and can be dangerous. I have traveled on thin ice for most of my life.

However, there is always more to learn and rivers at spring break up are good teachers.


Follow Along

This year, I am taking a big step by opening up my personal day-to-day adventures to those who are interested in following me online. Before the expedition, I will post entries to explain the preparation process, the area I will be traveling through, the weather conditions that I expect, the canoe sled, my strategy, safety, and I will share details about two areas critical to success: t my equipment and diet.