Steger reunites with Trans-Antarctic dog-sled trek team

ST. PAUL This time around, there won't be 60-day blizzards, cyclones or getting lost in snowdrifts -- just sharing memories in the sauna and reflecting on what it meant to be the first people to walk across a continent at the bottom of the world....

Will Steger
Explorer Will Steger talks to Valley Jr. High School students about his historic expeditions and climate change several years ago in Grand Forks. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.


This time around, there won't be 60-day blizzards, cyclones or getting lost in snowdrifts -- just sharing memories in the sauna and reflecting on what it meant to be the first people to walk across a continent at the bottom of the world.

For the first time in 20 years, all six members of the International Trans-Antarctica Expedition -- the dog-sled trek across Antarctica led by Minnesota adventurer Will Steger -- have joined together for a 20th-anniversary reunion of the record-setting 1990 feat.

Team members are meeting this week with Steger at Homestead, his wilderness headquarters in Ely. This weekend, they'll appear at public events in the Twin Cities.

Here's what the trip means to each team member, 20 years later:


Will Steger, 66, United States

Most memorable moment of the expedition: "Actually making it to the end was one of the greatest moments of my life. No one died. It was a totally safe expedition. The feeling for me was like a helium balloon. The responsibility was off my back."

How the expedition changed his life: "In a very big way for me, the Trans-Antarctica Expedition gave me an incredible opportunity to work on an international level on diplomacy and the environment. It really set me up on an international platform and stage. That gave opportunities I was so thankful for. I became a spokesperson for the environment and particularly the polar and Arctic regions."

The impact of the expedition in the past 20 years: "I worked for a year and a half after the expedition to get Antarctica set aside from exploitation. (In 1991, the Antarctic Treaty protecting the continent from oil and mineral exploration was ratified.) That was the greatest thing of my life."

(Steger, a lifetime achievement award winner from the National Geographic Adventure Magazine, has traveled tens of thousands of miles by kayak and dogsled in the past 45 years. His Will Steger Foundation is dedicated to education and exploration to slow global warming.)

Victor Boyarsky, 60, Russia

Most memorable moment of the expedition: "December 11, 1989, when we reached the South Pole for the second time in history by dogs (after Roald Amundsen). In fact we became not just the second but the last one, since dogs are now prohibited in Antarctica. March 2, 1990, when we found team member Keizo Funatsu, who got lost in a blizzard, after 13 hours of searching. March 3, 1990, when I met my wife on the ice near the finish.

How the expedition changed his life: This expedition became the highlight of my entire life. I became quite a famous guy in my city, and it gives to me certain power and helps to develop my own business connected with polar expedition and helps me to support the Arctic Museum and save it from hard times in 1990 in Russia."


The impact of the expedition in the past 20 years: "I wrote a book about the TAE, which survived four editions, and have had several TV programs and continue to promote the spirit of the TAE, which gives definitely positive impact to young generations of people visiting our museum."

(Boyarsky currently heads the Arctic and Antarctic Museum in St. Petersburg and has led numerous expeditions in the Arctic. He was with Steger on three of his expeditions.)

Keizo Funatsu, 54, Japan

Most memorable moment of the expedition: "The moment when I was found in blizzard conditions on March 2, 1990. I've participated in many sled-dog races in Alaska. Whenever I experience blizzard conditions, I always remember that moment. And I was always encouraged by remembering that moment."

How the expedition changed his life: "It did not change my life. Even if I did not become a member of the TAE, I think that my life would have been the same, because I always wanted to live with nature and stay in nature. But TAE was a very big expedition, one that nobody had ever done before. I could talk to many people and many kids about this expedition. I could experience many kinds of jobs related to the Arctic and Antarctic region. I could guide people in the Arctic region. I could move to and live in Alaska and have my own kennel. So TAE changed my life in a sense."

The impact of the expedition in the past 20 years: "The world has changed a lot, especially after 9/11. We have to remember the TAE spirit now again. We could cross Antarctica with international cooperation. All human beings on Earth can live together with peace and love."

(Funatsu was asked to join the team because of his dog-mushing skills. After the expedition, he began competing in dog-sled races like the Beargrease and Iditarod. He now runs the Silver Cloud Kennel in Alaska.)

Geoff Somers, 60, United Kingdom


Most memorable moment of the expedition: "My most dramatic and memorable moment of the Antarctic crossing was 16 miles from the completion of the journey. We were hunkered down, two of us in each of the three tents, a storm was raging outside. Life was good. Our trials almost over. We were fit and physically healthy. Soon we would be home. And then we were brought to earth with a bump. We had lost a team member! Keizo had vanished from the camp. He was gone. He was out of sight, from earshot, disappeared into the swirling mass of driving snow and approaching darkness. How could we locate him in such dangerous and impossible conditions? He could not survive! That memory of desolation has never left me."

How the expedition changed his life: "The expedition did change my life to some extent, but I could probably say it more extended a trend my life was already taking. I had been traveling and working in wilderness areas for many years, but this time it led me into a greater concentration of polar journeys, guiding to the poles, Greenland and Arctic Canada."

The impact of the expedition in the past 20 years: "The accumulated media coverage of team members in their quest to demonstrate climate issues will have generated interest in environmental issues, particularly in the polar regions, making many individuals more concerned with the impact our human race has on our world."

(Somers has worked with numerous polar expeditions and lectured widely, including the first commercial expedition to the North Magnetic Pole and the first self-supported commercial expedition skiing to the South Pole.)

Jean-Louis Etienne, 64, France

Most memorable moment of the expedition: "To me, one of the best moments is when the project comes true, when it starts to irrigate all your thoughts. You live within a permanent happiness. It gives you energy. You don't mind if it is Monday or Friday. This happened in August 1986, at Will's Homestead in Ely, when we decided to join forces and experiences and do the first ever Trans-Antarctica Expedition by dogsled."

How the expedition changed his life: "It has been a great international experience. I became confident in the capability of man to cooperate beyond their language and policy barriers."

The impact of the expedition in the past 20 years: "Organizing expeditions in the Arctic or Antarctic gave us the strength and the legitimacy to speak about the impact of global warming, which is evident when you travel in the polar regions. As an example, it would not today be possible to start Trans-Antarctica from the northern part of the peninsula as we did, just because there is no more ice. The Larsen Ice shelf along the east shore is gone."


(A doctor specializing in sports biology and nutrition, Etienne has taken part in expeditions on land and at sea at both poles, the Himalayas, Greenland and Patagonia, raising public awareness about the climate and carrying out research on biodiversity.)

Qin Dahe, 63, China

Most memorable moment: "The cooperation, having the team helping to collect ice core samples. It was a very hard job. I could not finish it myself. The team helped me."

How the expedition changed his life: "After the expedition, I was able to take on work that involved being outside.""

The impact of the expedition in the past 20 years: "It demonstrated cooperation between the countries and created focus on environmental protection."

(Qin is a glaciologist and climatologist and research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was the co-chair of Working Group 1 of the 4th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His activities helped IPCC become a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.)


An expedition reunion public event is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Anne Simley Theater at Hamline University, 1536 Hewitt Ave., St. Paul. Tickets are available at North Face stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul.


Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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