Polar Trek Proves ‘Powers of Faith and Perseverance,’ Leader Says
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ A 500-mile trek to the North Pole taught six adventurers ″the powers of faith and perseverance″ as they faced bitter cold and the grueling existence of life at the top of the world, the team’s leader says.
″It’s great to be back in Minnesota,″ Will Steger told well-wishers Sunday. ″Your prayers certainly have power because they got us to the North Pole. We certainly didn’t do it alone.″
About 600 people cheered and waved American flags Sunday as four of the arctic adventurers returned to St. Paul’s downtown airport following their 56- day journey.
″What a fantastic, miserable and wonderful trip,″ team member Geoff Carroll told the crowd.
″We all love you,″ Gov. Rudy Perpich told the team. ″And on behalf of all the people of Minnesota, congratulations on a wonderful journey.″
Steger, Carroll and six other members of the International Polar Expedition set out March 8 from their base camp in Resolute Bay, Northwest Territories, hoping to be the first surface expedition to reach the polar icecap without resupply from air or ground since Robert Peary made the trip in 1909. Peary is credited with being the first to reach the pole.
The modern-day journey was not an easy one for the eight-member team. Temperatures would often plummet to minus 70 degrees. One member was airlifted out after a sled rolled over him; another came home because of frostbite.
″It was a very difficult trip, a very educational trip in terms of learning about faith, endurance, perseverance, prayer and so forth,″ Steger said in an interview. ″It was quite an enlightening experience.″
When team members reached the pole Thursday, they were greeted with a temperature of 15 degrees above zero, which Steger characterized as ″a balmy paradise″ compared to what had come before.
It was in the 80s when the four adventurers stepped off the plane in St. Paul, but it was the warmth of the crowd that captured the group’s attention, Steger said.
″It was incredible, overwhelming,″ he said of the reception. ″To see the people and to feel the spiritual warmth firsthand was more than we expected. It was one of the warmest feelings I ever had.″
On Friday, the group reported it had reached the pole the day before. They had duplicated Peary’s race to the pole without air support and navigating only by sextant.
Peary claimed to have trekked to the pole and back in 1909, from the same starting point as the Steger expedition, in 52 days. The use of satellite tracking and a flyover by a Canadian military reconnaissance plane was part of Steger’s effort to verify whether Peary’s feat was plausible.
The adventurers, who were airlifted back to base camp Saturday after nearly two months without news from the outside world, were shocked to learn of the U.S. bombing of Libya and the nuclear accident in the Soviet Union.
Ann Bancroft, the first woman to travel on arctic ice to the pole, was looking forward to seeing her family and planting her garden in Sunfish Lake.
Steger, co-leader Paul Schurke, Bancroft and Carroll were met at St. Paul by Bob Mantell of Anchorage, Alaska, who quit the trek because of frostbite. Team members Brent Boddy and Richard Weber, both Canadians, were making an appearance in Canada, while Bob McKerrow, the team member injured by the sled, had returned to his home in New Zealand.
Team members planned to spend today in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, then travel to the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the National Geographic Society, which was a major sponsor of the expedition.
Despite the conclusion of the North Pole expedition, Steger and Schurke said they have not give up their desire for adventure. The two plan to cross the Antarctic continent by dogsled from east to west, crossing over the South Pole in 1988 or 1989.