Support the Timberjay by making a donation.

Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

POLAR EXPLORATION

Fond memories, shocking change

Ely anniversary stop highlights teamwork and reasons to persist

Scott Stowell
Posted 5/20/11

The Ely reunion for the 25th anniversary of the 1986 polar expedition on Wednesday brought out stories of training, companionship, gratitude and fending off polar bears with a frying pan.

Team …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
POLAR EXPLORATION

Fond memories, shocking change

Ely anniversary stop highlights teamwork and reasons to persist

Posted

The Ely reunion for the 25th anniversary of the 1986 polar expedition on Wednesday brought out stories of training, companionship, gratitude and fending off polar bears with a frying pan.

Team members Paul Schurke, Ann Bancroft, Richard Weber, Geoff Carroll and Bob McKerrow regaled a packed room at the Grand Ely Lodge with their adventures before and during the trek, and perspectives they have developed 25 years later. Will Steger was on the road and unable to attend.

McKerrow said Ely should celebrate its role in making the expedition happen. The explorers trained in the Ely area, primarily at Steger’s homestead north of town. He remembered the camaraderie that resulted, and how teamwork and lack of ego got them to the North Pole.

“People [were] doing things…and not looking around for each other or affirmation or recognition,” McKerrow said. “They’re still modest and still unaffected to a large degree by the fame.”

Bancroft also reflected on training in her “adopted” town, saying the reunion “kicked up” some memories she hadn’t quite forgotten, but were hidden “under a first layer of dirt.” She said training in Ely generated some of the funniest and most poignant stories—the kind that could only happen in Ely.

She told of coming to town by dogsled and stopping at the bakery for donuts. Then she’d head to the high school workshop where the team constructed the expedition sleds because they had no place large enough to accommodate sleds that size. On their way, they crossed through Whiteside Park and passed signs that said, “No dogs allowed.” When they pulled up to the school, the students didn’t act like it was a big deal.

“It was out of the graciousness of not only all of you, but certainly that school community, [which] bent over backward to allow us to do that for several weeks,” she said. “Just to live in a community that embraced the wackiness of what we were doing and our hodgepodge way of life, we just sort of blended in with all of you…It was really a joy.”

She added that even when following a dream, life could still get lonely when she was away from her family and friends for an extended time. But Ely came through for her.

“You helped ease that period,” she said.

As they reminisced, they also cited the consequences of climate change that have occurred in just 25 years. Schurke said that those who have had the chance to return to the polar region can see it “melt before their very eyes.”

“It’s shocking, visibly and viscerally shocking, to see how real the changes are,” he said.

Weber explained that the expedition they took in 1986 will never happen again because the Arctic Ocean is completely different. The ice is thinner with open water in many places. Now, expeditions wear dry suits to swim across rather than use a sled team.

“I am quite convinced that in a very short time you will not be able to ski to the North Pole,” he said. “I go up there and pinch myself because it’s just not the same.”

Carroll said walrus are directly affected by the loss of ice. They’re forced to reside on ice in deeper water, which is farther from the clams they eat to survive. Or they’ll haul themselves onto the shore.

Similarly, warmer temperatures are impacting caribou. He said their range is being hit hard, with a 50 percent population decline from 15 years ago. At some point during recent winters, temperatures have risen above freezing and can include rain. When the precipitation refreezes, the caribou food is beneath the ice and harder to obtain.

Schurke noted how American consumption contributes to climate change and energy issues. However, the solution is not a failure of imagination, dreams and creativity, but that of leadership.

“It’s up to us to light a spark under our political leaders to get something happening to change the culture, to change the mindset, to change the American dream that’s one of unbridled abundance that simply can’t carry on no matter how you slice it,” he said.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment