Young people have got to stand up and take notice of climate change
Looking back at the expedition, it’s almost impossible for me to express the mix of emotions: gratitude, relief, excitement and anticipation for what’s ahead. Let me say this – the North Pole might not look different from much of the rest of the Arctic Ocean, but I can assure you it feels different.
It was just as special to reach the North Pole the second time as it was the first. It is an incredibly beautiful but challenging place and should act as a constant reminder that young people have got to stand up and take notice of climate change. If there is one small contribution I can make, it is using my expeditions to get a greater understanding of this phenomenon so that future generations can work to address it.
During the expedition I tried to find moments to break from pushing north to simply appreciate the beauty and the power of the region I was standing in. I think back over the times when my fingers were frozen numb and my hands were dug deep into the snow in -25C to ensure I was doing the research properly. I feel sad that the expedition is over, even though I was soaking in sweat and freezing at the same time. But I still feel sad because this part is over and I’ve had to leave that beautiful place.
There was an obvious low point for me during this expedition. On the third day, at around 11am, we stopped for a break. It was a beautiful day and I knelt down to get the sampling kit from my sled and start the midday scientific work. When I looked up about ten seconds later, complete whiteout had descended on us. We could barely see more than forty feet in front of us and when we got going again, a feeling of hopelessness, almost rage, set in. The whiteout drove us into some very difficult terrain, and I thought those conditions would never end. That was mentally very challenging.
However, there was a point that evening when the whiteout lifted, and in front of us I saw a huge, flat plain of ice. It was at that point that I discovered what I truly believe to be the purest form of peace – for the first time, I was relaxed and focused; my mind wandered while we maintained an almost perfect trajectory. It was then that I realised that everything eventually averages out – that nothing that is difficult to get through will ever last forever.
At the same time, in order for me to get through it mentally – I needed to visualise success in order to achieve it. I imagined myself triumphantly driving a huge flagpole through the Arctic ice and I imagined myself presenting the findings of my research to 1,500 delegates at the One Young World summit in Pittsburg this October.
Of course, what really happened when we reached the pole was a moment of celebration followed by a realisation that we were all alone. I sat on my sled, and since I had overexerted myself to get to the pole my sweat froze inside my clothing and I froze for three hours waiting for a pick-up. It was, however, an incredible feeling to think that there was no longer the uncertainty of not making it.
There are so many people who have helped me in this journey and stood by me along the way and who I thought about during the long hours spent on the Arctic Ocean. As a One Young World ambassador, I am lucky to be able to count on the support of many young global leaders who I have had the privilege of meeting and working with over the last few years.
The most eternal and sincere of thanks must go to my teammate and great personal friend Doug Stoup, who has led me through difficult moments and helped me to this point from the start of the project almost three years ago.
There is a long road ahead. In July, I will embark on another expedition, attempting to become the first person to circumnavigate Svalbard, a large polar Archipelago about 600 miles from the North Pole. This is by far the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken – at over 1,000 miles in distance, this expedition will likely take our team over six weeks to complete. The danger will also be higher than ever – over 3,000 polar bears live on the coasts of Svalbard, and the last attempt of this expedition ended when one team member was nearly killed by a polar bear. This will be another scientific expedition, extending current research partnerships.
Then, in March 2013, I will attempt to become the youngest person ever to reach the North Magnetic Pole in a 250-mile unsupported expedition starting at the Geographic North Pole.
For now, though, I will spend some time recovering from my expedition and preparing for the long road ahead. I’m looking forward to it.Tagged in: climate change, environment, expedition, Geographic North Pole, North Magnetic Pole, north pole, science
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