HUMANS OF THE U: ANDREW LEARY

“I recently returned from leading a team of seven individuals to the North Pole. The most challenging part of of the trip was day six, the day we thought we were going to reach the pole. The team was excited about the possibility of being so close to the pole that we decided to push for 16 miles that day. We encountered many pressure ridges (where ice comes together to form large frozen walls) and combined with the low light, it made travel and navigation tough. When we were two miles from the pole, we were stopped in our tracks by an open lead (open water) that was about 25 feet across. When we scouted it in both directions, there was no end in sight to the water. Time was also beginning to run against us. Throughout the entire trip, the ice that we were skiing on was slowly drifting around the arctic circle. If we couldn’t find a way across the open water, we would’ve drifted past 90 degrees north. Skiing against the drift once you’ve passed the pole is near impossible. We made camp for the night and continued to plan our travel for the next day. We knew we had to cross the open water somewhere.

The next morning, we set out to find a narrow point in the lead where the ice was frozen enough for us to cross. After a few hours of skiing, we found a suitable crossing. With the help of some climbing ropes and ice screws that we were carrying, we were able to pull floating ice blocks together to form a bridge that allowed us to cross. We were then within three miles of the pole.

Without a doubt, reaching the 90 degrees 00’00.00 north mark on our GPS indicating that we reached the pole, was the best part of the trip. There is no mark at the pole to tell you that you’ve arrived, but when we hit 90 degrees north, the team was ecstatic. We all celebrated, hugged one another and offered congratulations. It felt especially great to reach the pole after the hardships that we encountered the previous day where we thought all hopes of reaching 90 degrees north were lost.”

— Andrew Leary, Class of 2015, master’s degree, Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.