At the age of 73, the man known for Antarctic traverses and dog sledding from Russia to Canada has just embarked on a 1,600 km solo-trek from Black Lake in Saskatchewan to Baker Lake, Nunavut.
Will Steger left his home in Ely, Minnesota on March 20 and will ski, walk and canoe across the Barren Grounds through to June.
At age 73, Steger is showing no signs of stopping his solo expeditions, said Patti Steger who dropped off Will in Black Lake.
Patti Steger is the owner of Steger Mukluks, Will’s best friend and former wife.
“He has some kind of quality, some kind of drive that seems to diminish in us as we get old. But it has never diminished in him,” said Patti Steger.
Will Steger will cross into the migratory paths of caribou and hopes to see muskox and wolves, his website states.
He is being resupplied twice before he arrives in Baker Lake and is travelling with a satellite phone and wet suit to protect himself in the event of cold-water submersion. He’s also equipped with a canoe with runners, to navigate rivers that could be in spring break-up.
His resume of expeditions is extensive. Steger led the first confirmed dogsled journey to the North Pole without any resupply in 1986. Two years later, he traversed Greenland from south to north in the longest unsupported dogsled expedition. One year later, he led the first dogsled traverse of Antarctica which lasted seven months.
“When Will was younger we never worried about him because he seemed like he was bulletproof,” said Patti Steger.
“As we get old, we test our mettle a bit, but he seems to test his mettle more than the rest of us. At 73, is there a chink in the armour? All of us that are very close to him do worry,” she said.
“It would be a joy to see him finish, because you want to see someone that age accomplish that and be an example to the rest of us.”
The first 80 kilometres will be tough as he travels through deep snow on Black Lake, said Patti Steger.
“He has this old pair of mukluks that I pulled out of a pack in Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan. He wore them on Arctic Project 20 years ago and he’s wearing those old mukluks,” she said.
Any challenges would likely be around an early thaw, she said.
“That would probably be the most difficult thing for him. He’s depending on the fact that it will stay cold enough that he can pull and walk over the top. But the distance through the tree line is going to be tough for him.”
This will be the longest solo of Will Steger’s career, said Linda Nervick, Steger’s assistant.
“He wanted to do the Canadian Barrens and he wanted to do something with a challenge. He likes to go where other people don’t like to go and he likes to make his own path. Will is no stranger to subzero,” she said.
Nervick said she spoke to Will on March 29 and he said he chose the Black Lake to Baker Lake route to challenge himself and as an opportunity to catch up with some old friends.
“I’ve been training for the spring ice break up for the past few years and wanted a challenge. I especially like the forest route to the Barren Lands,” said Will. “The expedition route from Black Lake to Baker Lake gave me a chance to visit with my old friends. I enjoyed launching at Black Lake and I look forward to seeing friends upon my arrival to Baker Lake in June.”
The 1,600 kilometre trip is a sort of “vacation” for Will, said Patti Steger, who had joined him in earlier years on dogsledding expeditions in the subarctic.
“He hasn’t seemed to become more frail or fragile and just hasn’t aged similarly to most people. He’s been doing trips every year. He elected to do something much more dramatic this time,” she said.
Safety and communication are a serious upgrade from the early-days of expeditions, she said.
“In the old days we didn’t have sat phones. We had a crash locator we travelled with,” she said.
“He’s reporting his day’s events and we’re sitting there drinking wine waiting for him to call in. If something goes wrong, they’ll go out and get him. With old expeditions we could have been out there for months and nobody would know,” she said.
“I’ve watched him for years and it doesn’t surprise me that when he says he’s going to do something, that hes going to do it,” she said. “His dad used to say ‘people practice getting old.’ Will always believed that he would never practice getting old and he’s pretty well stronger than any 25-year-old I know.”