He's led some of the largest expeditions in modern history - to the North Pole, Greenland south to north, and across Antarctica the longest way possible. This time however, polar explorer Will Steger, 70, of Ely and St. Paul, Minn., is going it alone. This month the wiry adventurer will begin a 200-mile canoe-sled solo expedition over the northern rivers and lakes along the Minnesota/Canadian border. Through daily satellite dispatches, he will share the adventure along the way, attempting to answer, as he puts it, "just what goes on inside an explorer's head, the 'why' behind my 50 years of expedition experience."
The route travels through Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park and the border lakes of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota. The expedition will begin on Lake Saganaga at the terminus of the Gunflint trail eventually ending at his cabin north of Ely. It's a rough wilderness of waterfalls, rapids, and steep narrows, ranging from small gem-like lakes to large complex bodies of frozen water. As the ice breaks up, he'll have less hauling and expects to log 20 to 30 mile days. Steger will travel with four weeks of food and fuel that he can ration down to last five weeks or more, if necessary. Maybe longer if he decides to eat his boots (just kidding).
His 40 lb. Phoenix canoe sled from Northstar Canoe is an amphibious craft that can be hauled through snow or over ice, or paddled in open water or down rivers. It's the same craft that enabled him to travel when the spring ice broke up in the polar and arctic regions as well as in northern snow country.
"Traveling in the wilderness is a continual learning experience for me, even after 50 years. Constantly adding to my knowledge base, in turn, helps build my intuition," he tells EN.
"Most of my decision-making is intuitive or spontaneous. Because I often need to act immediately, I seldom use a conscious thinking process, which is too slow and clumsy and can be dangerous. I have traveled on thin ice for most of my life. However, there is always more to learn and rivers at spring break-up are good teachers."
Regarding safety, he says, "I know when to back down. I have turned back on four major expeditions in my career; each took years to plan, to train and to fundraise for. It was hard to turn back, but evaluating the risk and acting responsibly is why I am still around."
He continues, "I travel with humility and respect, which I consider the core values of the northern cultures and the basis for their survival. In the wilderness, the risk takers and the over confident are playing the odds. The odds are that nature always wins and you will either get yourself injured or, worse yet, killed. On a solo expedition there is little if any margin for error.
"I have had plenty of experience in the past on traveling rivers in the winter and early spring. I have great respect for the current that flows under the ice; in fact, I have a healthy fear of it," Steger emails.
For more information: www.Stegerwildernesscenter.org
The above story originally appeared in Expedition News.