Ice man

Boulder’s Eric Larsen speaks for the poles

Tom Winter

Hard work. Two words that mean many different things to many different people. But to polar explorer and word traveler Eric Larsen, they sum up a philosophy. A philosophy that not only drove him to both the North and South Poles, but also to the top of Everest — all during the past year. Any one of those destinations would constitute the trip of a lifetime for a normal person. And while Larsen claim’s he’s normal — “I was never the fastest, strongest or smartest,” he says — he’s not normal in one very important aspect. He just works harder, much harder, than the rest of us.

Hailing from Wisconsin,
this part-time Boulder resident (he’s in the process of relocating here
permanently from Minnesota) has always been attracted to cold weather.
Prior to the Save the Poles expedition, which took him to both ends of
the planet as well as its highest point, Larsen cut his teeth with a
variety of ambitious dog sledding adventures, including trips across
northern Ontario and the Great Slave Lake in the Canadian Northwest

also climbed McKinley and had a successful stint as a musher, competing
in Iditarod-qualifying races, as well as working as a guide.

Larsen was always thinking about bigger things. And the storyteller in
him was driven to draw attention to the changes that he’d personally
witnessed during trips to some of the coldest places on the planet.
Those places weren’t as cold as before. The ice was melting. And Larsen
was coming face to face with compelling visual evidence of climate

idea for the Save the Poles expedition started on a return to the North
Pole in 2006,” says Larsen over chai at a North Boulder espresso joint.
“There was much more open water, and it brought home how dramatic the
changes were. Living in the United States, it was an issue that wasn’t
being talked about, and I realized that an expedition would be a
powerful tool to talk about what was happening. The Arctic Ocean was an
iconic cold place, as is the Antarctic and Everest. I decided to do an
expedition that combined all three, not only to create awareness but
also to stimulate action. These are some of the last true wildernesses
left on the planet. I didn’t want to have the feeling that it’s too late. I
wanted to tell their stories and wanted people to act, but not some huge
action — just do one or two little things.”

Adds Larsen, “I
think it’s just creating a general awareness of those places. I still
get questions like, ‘Is it really melting like they are saying?’ I think
it is important to bear witness. I’m not a scientist. I’m just a normal
person, and that has really resonated with people. If that’s what
happens out of my Save the Poles trip, and the conversation is
continuing to occur, then I’ve been successful.”

Larsen says that, due to the remoteness of the poles and high mountains from our
normal daily experiences, it’s easy to become detached and think that
you can’t help save a glacier or change the rate of melt of an ice cap.

“But if you decide that you’re going to ride your bike one day a week, that can make a big difference,” Larsen says.

belief that small things can effortlessly add up to big things
permeates Larsen’s approach to life. And it’s a lesson that’s well taken
when it comes to making little changes that can have a multiplier
effect when many people start to act. It’s also an approach that has
enabled Larsen to achieve success when it comes to his expeditions.

When it comes to working to mitigate your own carbon footprint or heading out on your own adventure, Larsen’s advice is simple.

“Just take one step,” he says. “It’s amazing to me how much I’ve learned from expeditions. Just take the first step.”

doesn’t mean that you won’t be walking for a long time before you
achieve results, though. Larsen admits that despite support from
sponsors, including Bing, Terramar, Goal0, Atlas, MSR, Optic Nerve and
Boulder-based Sierra Designs (among others), he still lives an
extraordinarily simple existence.

“My gear is all in my girlfriend’s basement,” he says, admitting that he doesn’t have a place of his own to store it.

this regard, Larsen’s imminent move here will put him in good company,
as he’ll join a cadre of elite local athletes who rely on significant
others to help hold down the fort while they pursue lofty goals.

with both the first step and the last step taken from his extraordinary
adventure to both poles and the highest place on earth, the obvious
question is what’s next for Eric Larsen? After all, the bar has now been
set pretty high.

big part of my future is continuing to tell the story of the Save the
Poles expedition,” says Larsen. “I’ll be doing presentations at schools,
a book and documentary. I want to make sure that I do this story the
justice it deserves. I’ll also be working with Michael Ramsey on a
documentary of the Arctic Ocean, and I want to continue doing
expeditions that highlight environmental issues. The platform of a
journey has broad appeal. And for me, as someone who loves winter and
loves cold, I want to continue to be an advocate of those places.

“For me it’s about storytelling,” continues Larsen. “It is sharing those beautiful places with people.”

And his take on the future of these places awash in a frozen beauty?

an optimist,” he says. “You have to be. I think there are a lot of
examples in our history of us overcoming some major environmental
crisis. Unfortunately those are all examples of how we’ve responded to a
crisis. And that’s the problem with climate change: It’s not impacting
us in an immediate way. I’m very worried that by the time the crisis
hits it will be too late. I feel we have the ability to change, but do
we have the will?”

Details, details

you’d like to learn more about how you can take action to help save the
world’s most remote places, read personal accounts from Eric about his
trips, check out amazing photos from Eric’s adventures, follow Eric on
his blog or know when you can hear Eric speak in person, please visit