Minn. man conquers Everest, North Pole

DULUTH, Minn. -- Even as he approached the summit of Mount Everest last week, Eric Larsen thought about turning back. He had years of training and months of preparation -- to say nothing of thousands of dollars -- on the line, and still he didn't...

Eric Larsen
Courtesy Photo by Eric Larsen Eric Larsen, a part-time resident of Grand Marais, Minn., celebrates on the peak of Mount Everest on Oct. 14.

DULUTH, Minn. -- Even as he approached the summit of Mount Everest last week, Eric Larsen thought about turning back. He had years of training and months of preparation -- to say nothing of thousands of dollars -- on the line, and still he didn't know whether it was wise to forge on.

But Larsen, who splits time between Grand Marais and Boulder, Colo., did forge on with five Sherpas and reached the summit of Mount Everest on Oct. 14.

The successful ascent meant that he became the first person to reach the North Pole, South Pole and summit of Mount Everest all within a year's time. In January, Larsen and his team successfully completed a 750-mile, 48-day ski traverse to the South Pole.

Larsen and a separate team reached the North Pole on April 22 after a 51-day, 500-mile push that included snowshoeing and skiing across shifting sea ice.

Larsen hasn't been able to call out as he descends Everest, but he did answer several questions from the News Tribune posed to him by e-mail. Here is what he had to say:


Q: Describe your last day, approaching the summit, especially in regard to difficulty, weather and risk.

A: I almost turned around at the south summit. Our weather forecaster predicted (very accurately) that the weather was going to turn bad on the 15th (we left a little before midnight on the 14th).

Most of the morning had been great weather, but by the time we got to the south summit, clouds were rolling in and blowing over the summit ridge, it was getting late in the day -- around noon -- and we had also run out of rope so we had to use some of our fixed line from lower down. The Hillary Step (200 meters from the summit) also looked like a mess -- choked full of snow.

I could see the summit but felt that the variables were starting to stack up against us. I very seriously considered turning around. It was heartbreaking to even have to think about.

I asked Chhering (the Sirdar, or climbing leader) what his opinion was of the devolving situation.

"No problem," he said.

Q: Did you use supplemental oxygen?

A: Yes, and it was great, but only on the way to Camp Four (the last camp before the summit) and above. I felt that to climb an 8,000-meter peak for the first time without oxygen would be too many variables.


Q: How many Sherpas reached the summit with you?

A: Five.

Q: How long were you on the summit?

A: Ten minutes

Q: You had felt before Everest that this would be the most challenging of your three "poles." Is that true in retrospect?

A: Yes and no. Overall, I feel that the North Pole was probably the most physically and emotionally taxing of the three journeys; however, there were some pretty intense moments of physical danger and stress on Everest.

Q: One of the reasons for your Save the Poles expedition is to call attention to global warming. Some people might say you burned a lot of fossil fuel getting to all three destinations. What's your response to that?

A: When I ask people to look at their lifestyles, I am addressing myself as well. I understand that these expeditions consume quite a bit of fossil fuels. I do buy carbon offsets to mitigate my travel carbon footprint.


For better or worse, I wouldn't have the platform to talk about these things if I hadn't completed this journey. Still, I'm not asking that people stop everything that they're doing, just that they consider their small piece.

Q: You told us before the trip, "I feel I'm medium prepared in terms of personal fitness and general mountaineering experience, but I'm not at all prepared for being on an 8,000-meter peak." What are your thoughts on making the summit of the world's highest peak?

A: I'm more relieved than anything right now and as we are still hiking out, I am still somewhat in expedition mode. Planning, preparing and executing this expedition has consumed over three years of my life and I am excited to be able to hopefully spend time with friends and family a bit more.

I am also a little bit sad. These experiences are fairly intense and going back to normal life just seems different. You know --forks, grocery stores, chairs...

Q: Will you be in debt after the expedition?

A: Yes, $35,000 that I have to pay back to a friend.

Q: Try to describe the bond you now have with these Sherpas whom you didn't know before the expedition.

A: These guys are amazing. They are so strong, tough and patient. I think we developed a huge mutual respect for one another as well as the friendship that comes from spending time together in intense situations. I feel that I probably learned more from them than they learned from me, but it was together that we accomplished this goal.

Cook is a reporter for the Duluth News-Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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