The Quest To Reach The North Pole In The Era Of Climate Change And Extreme Weather

“Right now the Arctic is warming at twice the global average,” says adventurer Sebastian Copeland. “To not react to that is essentially a suicide mission.”

When Copeland speaks on this matter we’d all be wise to listen — he’s a true polar adventurer who’s led multiple expeditions to the world’s coldest places since 2000. His latest trip was an unassisted trek to the North Pole, departing from the barren reaches of Northern Canada. Copeland undertook this challenge because he feels certain that we’re perilously close to the end of an era and that soon the idea of a human walking, unassisted, across solid ice to the North Pole will be a memory.

“If you want to understand what is going to happen in the rest of the world,” he states, “you need to look no further than the polar regions.”

Copeland’s trip, which began on March 6th, was titled the Last Great March — a 50-55 day trek to the icecaps across 482 barren miles with fellow adventurer Mark George. For the duo, this trip was like taking a barometer reading for the planet while also serving as a call to action for others.

“You come back with images that generate that level of emotional response,” he says, “and you’re helping people fall in love with their world as a means of wanting to protect it and care.”

The effect of climate change on the polar regions is unarguable — 15 years of Copeland’s photographs reveal as much — but the trip ended up teaching a secondary lesson, one which is also worth remembering: Mother Nature is still running things, and she’s still inclement to tantrums.

As the trek began, Copeland and George walked headlong into the most brutal Arctic cold snap in decades — with temperatures down in the -75-degrees range (it’s worth noting that neither side of the global warming debate should be using anecdotal examples for why their side is right, it’s long term science that proves global warming). The cold was devastating to the trip, almost immediately.

With temperatures dropping to perilous lows, all of Sebastian’s equipment began to malfunction. Five of the expedition’s six propane stoves failed and while trying to fix them Sebastian got fuel on his hands. This spill quickly led to frostbite so severe that the expedition was called off less than two days after it began.

“We couldn’t have been more prepared,” he says, “it’s just that sometimes you also need a little luck and unfortunately we came short on that this time.”

Speaking via Skype, Copeland vowed to return to the arctic and finish the mission he was forced to abort. In the meantime, we can be grateful to adventurers like him for showing us the corners of the globe we rarely see — and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell stories that need to be told. Even when things don’t go exactly to plan.