Flashback Friday: Steger and His Team Completed Antarctic Journey 28 Years Ago

March 02, 2018 10:36 AM

It was 28 years ago that Ely's Will Steger and the five other men on his team completed the International Trans-Antarctica Expedition.

Steger said the bonds formed on that journey - a 3,741-mile trip by dogsled across the frozen continent - remain strong today.


"The internet has been great for us," Steger said of the group, made up of six men from six different nations - the United States, France, the then-Soviet Union, China, Japan and Great Britain.

"I still keep in touch with the team members all the time," Steger said. "And everybody is still productive. That's what's so great to see."

The trip - which finally concluded when the team reached the Soviet Union's Mirny Research Station on the Davis Sea on March 3, 1990 - was the first traverse of Antarctica by dogsled, a feat that will not be duplicated as dogs have since been banned from the continent in an effort to protect native species.

It was also a journey with a purpose.

Steger and his team not only sought to raise awareness of the continent, but also to hold off calls to open it up to potential mining.

He and his team worked to build support for the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty which, among other things, prohibited any activity there related to mineral resources, other than scientific research.

To achieve international cooperation on that scale, the team members realized they first needed to demonstrate it themselves.

"We discussed that a lot," Steger recalls. "We told ourselves that if we were going to talk about international cooperation, we'd better all be best friends."

"That's easier said than done," Steger added. "But under those conditions, everything sort of plays out. And you have to be able to work together."

Those conditions meant enduring temperatures as low as -54 degrees and winds as high as 100 miles per hour.

There were other challenges, including a sled crash that occurred early in the journey.

However, the scariest moment of all may have come just days from the finish when Keizo Funatsu, a Japanese member of the team, was lost in a blizzard for over 12 hours.

"We were 17 miles from the end," Steger said. "We could see the ocean. And a huge storm came up. It was really the most powerful storm I'd ever seen, just because of the amount of snow in the air.

DIGITAL EXTRA: Video from the International Trans-Antarctica Expedition of 1989-90

"He went out to feed the dogs, and a couple of hours later, we noticed he was missing," Steger said. "We couldn't search for him in the conditions at the time. Fortunately, it wasn't a super-cold blizzard and he was able to roll into the snow to stay warm. Otherwise, he might have frozen to death. We were worried the end of the trip might have been anticlimactic. But that certainly wasn't the case."

The expedition drew widespread international attention, and allowed the team audiences with world leaders to lobby for the protocol's approval. It was eventually signed in Madrid in October 1991.

However, Steger and company did not know the impact their journey was making until it was over.

"That was the amazing part," he said. "We were able to tour countries and meet not just with world leaders, but with ordinary citizens who had followed us. Children who had followed us. It was an incredible feeling to be part of that."

Steger remains active today. The 73-year-old is in the final stages of preparation for a 1,000-mile solo journey in the Arctic, scheduled to begin on March 20 and last 70 days.

There will be no dogsleds this time. Just himself and a canoe with runners he will pull across ice and paddle across water.

"I love physical activity," he said. "I love the physical and mental challenge of exploration. I love the beauty of the land and I like being in remote places. t's my way of taking a break. It's wonderful being out there like that."


Frank Rajkowski

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