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A Change in Trajectory – Boulder Weekly

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“I should write a song called ‘Crying in my Goggles,'” Ryan Waters recalled, mumbling aloud as he and fellow polar adventurer Eric Larsen prepared to cross a gap between Arctic ice.

It’s day 53 of Waters and Larsen’s 2014 ski expedition to the North Pole, and the two are only a day’s push – just three miles – from the pole when they encounter another break in the plateau. arctic, a floating shelf of ice that forms where continental ice meets the sea. These breaks have become increasingly prominent as the Earth’s climate has warmed, pushing huge glaciers into the sea , raising ocean levels and slowly drowning coastal cities around the world.

Waters and Larsen – who both live in Boulder these days – took turns stripping into wetsuits and swimming between those holes in the ice while pulling the sleds and their fellow adventurer. Now it’s Larsen’s turn to swim and Waters to float. On the other side, Larsen struggles to pull himself up the shelf. After several tries, he finally ran aground on the ice.

The duo kicked off their journey at Cape Discovery on Canada’s north coast, packing two sleds weighing over 300 pounds each. For 53 days, the couple endured temperatures as low as minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit, pressure ridges in the ice reaching 12 feet, and polar bears lurking in the arctic tundra.

The final three miles took a grueling eight hours, but upon arriving at the North Pole, Waters became the first American to complete the True Adventurers Grand Slam. To join us, an adventurer must climb the Seven Summits – the highest mountain peak on each continent – and ski unassisted (no supplies or outside help) and unassisted (no mechanical aid, wind or guide) to the two poles of the Earth.

It has been seven years since Waters and Larsen completed their Arctic expedition, giving Waters time to reflect on his accomplishment in his recently published book, The Grand Slam of an American, the unlikely journey of a true adventurer (now released from Falcon Guides).

Part adventure story, part memoir, Waters details his transformation from a high school football player who craved time outdoors, to his desk job as a geologist, to assistant rock climbing instructor. for Outward Bound in North Carolina, to his travels to the North and South Poles and to the conquest of the Seven Summits. He will talk about his adventures during a book reading at the Boulder Bookstore on November 10.

“Almost by accident”

Waters remembers dreaming of climbing mountains on the first day of his final physics class at Ole Miss. He found himself unable to concentrate on the lecture, transfixed by the idea of ​​climbing a snow-capped Himalayan peak called Pumori – “girl mountain” in the Sherpa language. Waters promised to one day visit the mountain and climb its “graceful slopes”.

Waters earned a degree in geology and took a job in Atlanta as an environmental consultant. After three years there, he applied for a job with Outward Bound in North Carolina.

“That was the literal moment when I felt the direction of this life was starting to take a significant turn,” he wrote in his book.

Waters worked at Outward Bound in North Carolina for a year, then landed a job with the company working in Patagonia. Before heading to South America, Waters took every opportunity to get out and climb, whether it was the high mountains of Wyoming or the sandstone rocks of Horse Pens 40 in Alabama’s Appalachia. In the wild and pristine environment of Argentine Patagonia, Waters honed his skills moving through rock, snow and glaciers.

“When I first started working in South America, it was a great experience,” Waters says, “because not only was I instructing people, but I was working with other instructors who were doing a lot… and learned things from them.”

In 2007, while part of an expedition to summit Cho Oyu, a Tibetan peak ranked sixth in the world, Waters met Norwegian explorer Cecilie Skog, who had completed the True Adventurers Grand Slam. The two became friends and during a visit to Boulder, Skog raised the possibility of crossing Antarctica. Waters jumped at the chance.

“I think of myself as a mountaineer first,” admits Waters. “The polar stuff happened almost by accident meeting these people in these circles that I was in. It’s not like you just go cross-country skiing in Colorado. It’s remote. There is a difficult environment. There are a lot of different skills that I didn’t know about. So once I accepted [cross Antarctica with Skog]I had this feeling like, ‘Damn, now I really have to figure this out.’

Waters and Skog skied across Antarctica in 70 days in 2010, covering 1,117 miles from Berkner Island to the South Pole, completing their journey by skiing to the Ross Sea.

Four years have passed, and in that time Waters has ticked off Mount Vinson, completing his Seven Summits bingo card.

Waters and Larsen’s 53-day ski expedition to the North Pole has yet to be repeated, and a ski expedition from the coast of Canada to the North Pole is unlikely to ever happen again due to global warming. temperatures resulting in less stability of the pack ice. .

“Conditions and thin ice make it much more difficult now than in the past, which is a major obstacle in itself,” says Waters. “Equally important, the company that supported flight options from Canada has since decided to no longer support expeditions to the North Pole due to the challenges posed by seasonal ice thinning. So that’s kind of a sweet thing. -bitter to have potentially made what could be the last trip this way.