• Alex 50km Lahti Champion
    • Richard Weber receives Order of Canada

      January 2, 2016

      Andrew Duffy, Ottawa Citizen

       During his record seven treks to the North Pole on skis and snowshoes, Richard Weber regularly endured temperatures of -40 C; he was stalked by polar bears and escaped a sinking ice floe. He snacked on pure butter sticks to fuel his journeys. Once, he fell into the Arctic Ocean, took off his clothes, dried himself with snow, redressed, and kept skiing.

      “And it worked,” he says, “except the water went down into my boots and my feet got colder and colder, and eventually we had to stop.”

      Weber, who lives just north of Wakefield, is recognized as one of this country’s greatest Arctic adventurers: He’s one of only two men on Earth who can say they skied from a point of land to the North Pole and back again without assistance of any kind. 

      He is among nine National Capital Region residents newly appointed to the Order of Canada by Governor General David Johnston.

      Rideau Hall released on Wednesday a list of 69 appointments to the order, one of the country’s highest civilian honours.

      Five Canadians were elevated to its highest level: Ottawa-born concert pianist Angela Hewitt, former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, filmmaker Atom Egoyan, historian Margaret MacMillan and Nobel Prize winning physicist Arthur McDonald were all named as companions of the Order of Canada.

      Weber, 56, appointed as a member of the order, was recognized “for his pioneering acts of polar exploration and for his efforts to increase awareness of environmental threats to the North.”

      Those environmental threats, principally climate change, mean that his polar feats will likely never be equalled.

      “With climate change, and other economic changes, you essentially can’t go the North Pole anymore,” Weber says. “It’s finished, which is kind of sad.”

      Climate change has brought with it thinner ice that breaks up more quickly, meaning the window for a polar trek has become dangerously small. What’s more, the only airline that operated in the High Arctic has stopped supporting the expeditions.

      In November 2014, Kenn Borek Airlines announced it would no longer service private expeditions by making pickup, resupply or rescue flights available for those trying to reach the northernmost point on Earth.

      “It’s too risky, too dangerous, the insurance is too much,” explains Weber. “They don’t make money at it.”

      The last successful expedition to the North Pole took place in early 2014 when U.S. explorer Eric Larsen and partner Ryan Waters made their one-way trek on skis. They called their journey the Last North Expedition. “North Pole expeditions are going the way of the passenger pigeon,” Larsen told the National Geographic earlier this year.

      To reach the Pole unassisted, adventurers must ski, snowshoe and climb across 750 kilometres of ice — in some ice fields, pressure ridges can be as big as houses — while towing a heavy sled of supplies.

      In 1995, Weber and Russian surgeon Mikhail Malakhov became the first and only team to go from Ward Hunt Island to the North Pole and back again without any outside help. They returned from that four-month journey with no food and only 300 millilitres of fuel for their camp stove.

      Although he doesn’t expect to journey to the North Pole again, Weber continues to spend much of his time in the Arctic as a polar guide. His family owns and operates Arctic Watch Wilderness Lodge on Somerset Island, where he has founded a charity dedicated to preserving beluga whales.

      Weber says the Arctic has changed drastically since he went on his first polar expedition in 1986 while an engineering student at the University of Vermont.

      “There’s still ice, of course, but it’s not the same kind of ice,” he says. “In the ’80s, when we skied from Russia to Canada, it was essentially all very old, multi-year ice. And the last time we were there in 2010, there were hours and hours when we’d ski on what was new ice: the oldest, thickest ice is just disappearing.”

      At his Somerset Island lodge, he now sees mosquitoes for two weeks each summer. “It’s just so much warmer,” he says.

      Still, Webber says, the Arctic remains a wild and compelling place: “It’s complete wilderness. You can do a ski trip on Ellesmere Island and not see anyone for two weeks.”

      Richard Weber
      Born in Cantley, Quebec, Richard Weber comes from a family of cross-country skiers. It was therefore no surprise when he became a member of the National Ski Team. He competed for Canada at the 1977, 1979, 1982 and 1985 World Championships.

      He then dedicated his skills and talents to polar exploration, reaching the North Pole on skis in 1986. In 1988, he was the leader of the Canadian team that was part of the joint “Polar Bridge” expedition comprised of Russians and Canadians who skied from Siberia to Canada via the North Pole.

      In 1995, Richard and Mikhail Malakhov became the only explorers in history to ski from Canada to the North Pole and back entirely unsupported.

      Original Article