Has the North Pole Seen its Final Expedition?

With Arctic ice reaching record lows, Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters completed what many say could be the last human-powered expedition to the North Pole. Now, viewers can relive it with them.
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With Arctic ice reaching record lows, Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters completed what many say could be the last human-powered expedition to the North Pole. Now, viewers can relive it with them.
Eric Larsen

Courtesy of Eric Larsen

Polar explorer Eric Larsen is on a mission to tell the story of one of the most remote places on the planet before it disappears forever.

On May 6, 2014, Larsen and his partner Ryan Waters completed an unsupported 480-mile expedition to the geographic North Pole, joining a group of only 50 people who have ever completed the journey. The team trekked there by skiing, snowshoeing and even swimming through open water, all while hauling 325-pound supply sleds.

On December 9, viewers will be able to follow along with their journey in a two-hour special on Animal Planet, Melting: Last Race to the Pole. In the course of making it, the pair braved frostbite, stretches of thin ice and encounters with hungry polar bears to document the astronomical changes wrought by climate change.

“My goal, even more than setting the record, is just to tell a story, and there’s no question that those pictures and images are very powerful tool to help people paint a picture of what that experience is like,” said Larsen.

Sea ice is melting faster in the Arctic Ocean than anywhere else on the planet, threatening to release so much fresh water that it could disrupt how the ocean regulates global temperatures, causing dramatic effects on global climate patterns, weather conditions, temperature extremes, gas cycling, and marine life.

The entire documentary was shot by the duo, which added an extra element of difficulty to an already strenuous journey.

“It’s hard to get out the camera when things aren’t going well. It’s hard to show yourself as not your best person. But to me that’s kind of the goal of this story, to tell a really unfiltered look at what happened,” says Larsen. “It wasn’t always pretty. We weren’t always in a great mood. We weren’t always the toughest people in the world.”

What they captured is an environment that is quickly fading. Ice that was once easily skiable is now too thin to manage. Difficult-to-cross pressure ridges (created by colliding pans of ice) became one of their biggest hurdles.

“We didn’t have those big, flat areas to ski across,” he said. “That slows you down considerably because it’s just physically harder to travel and navigate through that type of ice.”

Larsen is humbled knowing that only a small fraction of the world’s population will ever experience his journey, and that he might have been one of the last to do so.

“I feel a big responsibility to share this footage and why its important,” says Larsen. “People will only care about what they can see.”

On Wednesday, December 9th Animal Planet will premiere “Melting: Last Race to the Pole” (9pm ET/PT; check local listings).