For the first time in 25 years, the eight-person Steger North Pole Expedition team reunited in St. Paul for a two-day reunion slash lovefest attended by hundreds of Minnesota fans. Held at the Minnesota History Center, the May 17 event included displays of the famed Polar Capsule, on loan from The Explorers Club; an original sled and clothing; and vintage copies of the September 1986 National Geographic magazine that featured what is recognized as history’s first confirmed and unsupported dog sled expedition to the North Pole.
Steger credited Paul Schurke’s knowledge of the sextant with navigating the team in an era before GPS. He also revealed that 1909 photos of Cmdr. Robert Peary ferrying his teams on blocks of ice over open leads provided the 1986 team with the idea of doing the same. “Now you can’t make the pole by dog team because of the open water caused by global warming,” Steger told a capacity audience of 330.
Added Richard Weber, “Today you can’t use a sextant because it’s too warm and there is less sun to shoot. It’s unbelievable how thin the Arctic ice is now.”
Later Weber said, “If someone says climate change doesn’t exist they should take a trip to the Arctic because it’s really, really scary up there.”
As one might expect from such a dedicated, athletic group, the years have treated each kindly. While perhaps a bit heavier and grayer, some saddled with reading glasses, the Steger team has continued to follow their passions for exploration:
• Will Steger, Ely & St. Paul, Minnesota – In 1989-90, he led the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica with a team of seven from seven countries, another milestone in his 45-year career of leading some of the most significant polar expeditions in history. He has become a formidable voice on Arctic climate change and a global environmental leader through his "Global Warming 101" website and Will Steger Foundation. For over 22 years he’s been building a five-story conference center on an isolated lake outside Ely that he hopes will someday become a center for leadership in environmental policy and industry. It is funded not with sponsorship, but the old fashion way through sweat from lecturing, writing and photography, and clothing design.
On a personal note, Steger can stretch a dollar until it’s screaming for mercy. He picked us up in a 1992 Camry with 258,000 miles on it, purchased for $1,400 over 100,000 miles ago. There was dust on the dashboard, a year’s supply of expedition gear in the back, spare tires all the way around, and some sticky, food-like substance between the seats. This guy knows how to save a buck in addition to saving the planet.
• Paul Schurke, Ely, Minnesota – In 1989 he co-led the Bering Bridge Expedition from Siberia to Alaska, a journey that Presidents Bush and Gorbachev credited with hastening the opening of the U.S.-Soviet border following the 40-year Cold War. He and his wife Sue operate Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and founded Wintergreen Northern Wear, an outdoor apparel business based upon designs Sue developed for the 1986 North Pole trek. They live on a beautiful lake outside Ely with 70 sled dogs, three house dogs who think they rule the place, and an endearing pet rat named “Chevy” who comes running when called. (For more information: www.dogsledding.com).
• Ann Bancroft, Scandia, Minn. – In 2001, Bancroft and fellow explorer Liv Arnesen skied to the South Pole, securing Ann's place in history as the first woman to trek to both ends of the earth. Her Ann Bancroft Foundation promotes the potential and achievements of women and girls. Ann is planning another expedition to Antarctica in 2012. (For more information: www.AnnBancroftFoundation.org).
• Geoff Carroll, Pt. Barrow, Alaska – A wildlife biologist living in the northernmost community of the U.S., Carroll is an expert on arctic ecosystems and sea ice and maintains a dog team to enjoy life on the land.
• Richard Weber, Alcove, Quebec – Canada's top polar explorer, he has lead over 50 arctic expeditions. In 1995, he completed the first and only trek from Canada to the North Pole and back with no outside assistance, and with his wife, Josee, operates an eco-lodge on Lancaster Sound in the Canadian High Arctic. (For more information: www.weberarctic.com).
• Brent Boddy, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut – Granted the Order of Canada award for his polar endeavors, Boddy continues his love of arctic adventuring in his retirement from overseeing public works for a native village in Canada's western arctic.
• Bob McKerrow, New Zealand – A mountain climber and polar explorer who was a member of one of his country's first teams to winter in Antarctica, he works with the International Red Cross. Since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, McKerrow has been coordinating relief efforts and public health projects in India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia. An avid blogger, you can read about his reunion trip at http://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com.
• Bob Mantell, Albuquerque – "Ironman Bob," as he was called for his dogged perseverance and legendary stamina on the 1986 expedition, is a former employee of Outward Bound who now works installing cell towers.