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Adventurer plans youthful trek to Arctic

Will Steger is fit and trim at 63, planning his latest grueling expedition to the far reaches of the planet, and loathe to take a vacation. But he's getting ready to turn things over to the youngsters.
Arctic Trek
Explorer Will Steger talks about his upcoming trek to the Canadian Arctic as Lois Quam of Piper Jaffray looks on Dec. 20 in Minneapolis.Jim Mone / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Will Steger is fit and trim at 63, planning his latest grueling expedition to the far reaches of the planet, and loathe to take a vacation. But he's getting ready to turn things over to the youngsters.

When the famed Minnesota explorer leads an expedition to the Canadian Arctic early next year, to draw attention to retreating glaciers and other apparent signs of climate change, the oldest of the six explorers accompanying him will be 28.

The idea is to focus on "emerging leaders," tapping into their idealism and the way they use the Internet and other technology to engage each other, Steger said.

"Young people have a really strong social network, and we can reach a lot of people that way," he said in an interview at the Will Steger Foundation near downtown Minneapolis, where he works when he isn't on a trek, at his houseboat on the Mississippi River or at home in the northeastern Minnesota woods near Ely.

He added: "The purpose of the trip is to bring an audience to the front lines of global warming."

Steger and his team — which includes two Americans, two Norwegians, a Canadian and a Briton — will travel 1,400 miles by dogsled to Ellesmere Island, a snow-capped mass on the tip of North America about 500 miles from the North Pole. The explorers plan to use the sleds to trek across fjords, mountain ranges and ice shelves.

The oldest of the young explorers is Thorleif Tobias Thorleifsson, 28, a Norwegian lecturer and mountain guide. The youngest is Sarah McNair-Landry, a Canadian explorer who is just 21. The 60-day journey is slated for April and May.

The team plans to leave time-lapse cameras on northern Ellesmere Island to document retreating glaciers and other apparent signs of global warming and will record their findings on the Web site

Steger's adventuring career started at age 15, when he took a motor boat down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans. He has crossed Greenland and Antarctica and been to the North Pole. But over time, the thrill of going where few people have gone before has given way to a personal quest of educating the public about climate change.

Earlier this month, he traveled to Norway, where he met with the country's Ministry of the Environment and others to talk about climate change and alternative energy. He also met with former Vice President Al Gore, who was in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change.

He has spent nearly three years visiting churches and schools across Minnesota, where he shows slides of melting ice shelves and runs through the science that he says shows humans are contributing to climate change.

Asked if he ever takes a vacation, he said, "I guess I could use a few weeks off. ... But what could be better than, say, going to Norway and meeting these people?"

Lois Quam, who heads environmental investments for Piper Jaffray and has retained family ties in Norway, accompanied Steger on the trip.

They see Norway and Minnesota as crucial players in the push for alternative energy. Both are engaged in new energy technologies like wind and biomass, and the countries should be able to work closely since they are already connected culturally through Minnesota's Scandinavian heritage. Moreover, the U.S. and Norway both have land in the Arctic region where climate change is most evident, they said.

"There's a real connection between Minnesota and Norway when you're there. You can just feel it," Quam said.

Many young people turned out to see Steger in Norway, where an appreciation for exploration and the natural environment is ingrained in the country's heritage.

"I guess it's cool to be green," Steger said.