The first story on my list is that of Laurie Dexter
Laurie is an extreme adventurer whose feats include skiing for 91 days from Russia to Canada through the Geographic North Pole, skiing and sled hauling to the South Pole, traversing the ice caps of Greenland, Baffin Island, and King George Island in Antarctica, and numerous other polar region expeditions. As a runner he also goes to extremes, including having run 100 km in 8 hours, over 200 km in 24 hours, 600 km in 6 days, and 10 marathons in 10 days.
He lived on Baffin Island for 13 years where he learned the survival skills of the Inuit (Eskimos) and speaks their language. Since 1993 he has made over 90 ship based trips to Antarctica and more than 50 to the Arctic as an expedition leader and lecturer.
In recognition of his international contribution the Canadian Government has honored Laurie with the Order of Canada.
I had the honor of asking Laurie some question about his life and his role as our expedition leader –
What is your relationship with the Polar Regions?
I have lived in the Polar Regions most of my life. As a boy I grew up in the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland, so learned to love the sea, the isolation, the outdoors, wildlife and all of nature. A lot of my early reading was about explorers and after I first learned about the Inuit (Eskimos) I knew I wanted to meet them. I ended up living with the Inuit on Baffin Island for 13 years and still live in the Canadian north although now in the sub-Arctic.
What has been your inspiration? Why have you chosen this path in life?
As I mentioned my early heroes were explorers and mountaineers – Magellan, Cook, Scott, Shackleton, Peary, Nansen, Amundsen. But my inspiration was probably more taken from some of the early missionary explorers who worked for justice, such as Livingstone in Africa, and Wilfred Grenfell in Canada.
As a result I first worked with the Inuit as an Anglican minister, and continued to go on expeditions in the Arctic while living there, and later moved into full time work in the adventure industry.
What has been the most challenging expedition you have been a part of?
The hardest expedition both physically and mentally was the Polar Bridge Expedition in which we skied from central Siberia (Cape Arktichesky) to Canada (Ward Hunt Island). This took 91 days from shore to shore over a thin crust of frozen ocean that is always moving under the influence of wind and ocean currents. It is rarely flat but has large pressure ridges and also areas of open water. As we did this in winter it was also very cold, often between -40 and -50 degrees Celcius.
Could you share one of your best moments while exploring Antarctica?
One of the best trips I have done was skiing the length of King George Island pulling sleds, but to pick out best moments is difficult. Many of the highlights have been watching the response of people we have introduced to Antarctica and to see their minds open to new ideas and possibilities.
What have been some of the tougher moments in terms of navigation and zodiac operations on the IATE 2009?
We haven’t had any very difficult navigational challenges, but we did have two tough zodiac operations. When the team camped on Hovgaard Island we knew the forecast was for winds increasing overnight to around 30 knots. 30 knots is normally our cutoff point for driving zodiacs because when a driver is alone driving into the wind there is a chance that the wind can get under the zodiac and flip it. Because of the figuration of the islands the wind seemed to be funneled and when it came time to pick up the campers it was blowing over 40 knots. Fortunately it was slightly behind while driving to shore empty and coming back against the wind the zodiac was full, so there was no danger of flipping. But I was very relieved when we had everyone safely back on board and all the zodiacs safely back up the hook and lashed down on deck.
The second time was at Almirante Brown in Paradise Bay. We landed in almost flat calm conditions with a few patches of brash ice around, but after an hour or so the wind began to pick up from the north. Soon it drove the floating ice right onto our landing area. The point of land where Robert and the camera team landed became totally surrounded and they had to walk to the station where we were loading everyone as quickly as we could. The zodiacs were completely hemmed in with ice but it was not too closely packed and we were able to push our way slowly out. By then the wind was strong and we returned to the ship in choppy waves with spray occasionally breaking over the boats.