On May 6, 2014 Ryan Waters accomplished something that has not been replicated since. He and fellow explorer Eric Larsen stood atop the geographic North Pole, after 53 grueling days battling their way over an ever-melting sheet of ice that fought against them the entire way. By reaching the pole the two adventurers became the last persons to date to complete an unsupported trip to the North Pole from land. The ice sheet that used to link the Pole to land in Canada, once so thick and sturdy, has so degraded over the last few decades that explorers have had to abandon any attempts to cross it.
While reaching the North Pole was monumental for Waters it also was the final piece needed to complete a project that he had been persistently working on for over a decade, the True Adventurers Grand Slam—standing atop the Seven Summits and skiing full length, unsupported and unassisted, expeditions to both the North and South Poles. His accomplishment that day made him just the 9th person and first American to gain entry into this exclusive club.
Never one to embrace the easy path, Waters seemed to thrive in battling through whatever the fates threw at him, sometimes even deliberately seeking out struggles. Despite having little experience cross-country skiing, he decided to go to the South Pole. Eschewing the more typical route, he and partner Cecilie Skog completed the first traverse of Antarctica without the use of resupplies or kites. Skiing from Berkner Island in the Weddell Sea, via the South Pole, to the Ross Ice Shelf, the pair skied for 70 days and covered 1200 miles, 9 years prior to the much publicized 2019 “race” across Antarctica. To this day the two hold the record for the longest unsupported crossing of the continent without the use of kites.
How Waters ended up standing atop the North Pole on that fateful day is a story of hope, perseverance, faith, and a fair share of dumb luck. From his youth traipsing around the Georgia hills to his time leading expeditions around the Himalayas, including five summits of Everest, Waters has always seemed to stumble into the next fortuitous step of his journey, often ending up in the most unlikely places. This is tempered by the fact that early in Waters’ outdoor career, he learned to live by a simple credo: “you have to make things happen for yourself.” At the beginning of his climbing career, he was consumed by passion for the mountains, every decision was leading to the next mountaineering challenge. Eventually giving up a stable career as a geologist, he had a self-described “mid 20’s crisis,” left his 401K and comfortable salary for living out of his truck and 40 dollars a day as a part-time climbing instructor. Following his dream of a life of adventure in exchange for a life of obeying societal norms, he set out to build a mountain resume that would enable him to circle the Earth and work as a mountain guide in the Himalayas and beyond.
After almost two decades of hard expeditions around the planet, his experiences include being on a hijacked airplane in Russia, rescue of injured climbers in the Karakoram Himalaya of Pakistan, the Everest Base Camp earthquake disaster, narrowly missing out on the K2 2008 tragedy, near misses with avalanches, the deaths of close climbing partners, close encounters with Polar Bears on the Arctic Ocean, relationships with fellow adventurers, and much more.
RYAN WATERS is a professional mountaineer, mountain guide and polar adventurer. He has worked in the professional guiding and outdoor education field for 18 years. His expeditions have taken him to Nepal, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Tibet, Pakistan, Mexico, Russia, Tanzania, Greenland, Indonesia, Antarctica, the Arctic Ocean and beyond. His guiding resume includes over fifty ascents of the various Seven Summits, well over 35 expeditions in the Andes Range and 24 expeditions to the Himalayas including five summits of Everest, 13 times standing on the summit of various 8,000m mountains. A team unsupported west-to-east ski traverse of Greenland expanded his interests into the polar regions, where he cut his teeth on difficult polar ski expeditions in addition to climbing. In 2010, Ryan and Cecilie Skog completed a 1,120 mile/1,800 kilometer Antarctic ski expedition over 70 days from Berkner Island in the Ronne/Filchner Sea to the South Pole, continuing to the Ross Sea to complete the first ski traverse of Antarctica without resupplies or the use of kites. In 2014, Ryan and Eric Larsen skied for 53 days to complete the last unsupported full ski expedition to the North Pole. The expedition was made into a two-hour Discovery Networks documentary. He has contributed as a writer to several media outlets, several books and documentaries and the book Antarctica, published in Norway by Gyldendal. His photographs have been published in several magazines, books, gear catalogues, web outlets and two book covers. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in geology and is a certified Master Polar Guide with the International Polar Guides Association.
HUDSON LINDENBERGER is a full-time, award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared in Men’s Journal, Backpacker, 5280, and many other regional and national publications. He was the co-author of On Thin Ice: An Epic Final Quest into the Melting Arctic that told the story of Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters’ trip to the North Pole, a Gold Medalist at the 21st Annual Independent Publisher Book Awards. When Lindenberger is not writing he spends his time in the mountains of Colorado hiking, biking, and climbing.
Prologue: Crying in My Goggles
Chapter One: What, Me Grow Up?
Chapter Two: Margaritaville This Ain’t
Chapter Three: Time to Touch the Sky
Chapter Four: The Luckiest Unlucky Guy in the World
Chapter Five: Seventy Days of Light
Chapter Six: Sail Away and Show Business
Chapter Seven: Heartbreak Part 2
Chapter Eight: The Absurdity of It All
Epilogue: Seven Years Onward
About the Authors