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Planning, patience and pads of butter

Arctic explorers explain their success during Aquarium lecture.

Polar explorers John Huston and Toby Thorliefsson were at The Maritime Aquarium Thursday night, regaling the audience with tales of their past exploits and also explaining their plans for an upcoming expedition to a remote island in Canada.

They showed cool slides. They showed cool videos. Much information was shared.

But we keep coming back to one thing: they eat sticks of butter.

Yep, sticks of butter.

And fudge.

And deep-fried bacon.

Just like high-altitude climbers, polar explorers expend a lot of energy. So they need to eat a lot to maintain their endurance – some 7,000 calories a day. But because they also have to carry everything with them, the weight of each item they pack is a huge issue.

For food, Huston said, “You want as much calories with as little weight as possible.”

Hello, sticks of butter.

(Before they leave, they cut up the butter into little slices. “You can’t be gnawing on a big frozen stick of butter,” Huston explained.)

Huston and Thorliefsson look and seem normal until they start talking about what they do and how they get ready to do what they do. Like, to prepare for dragging 600 pounds of supplies behind them on ice sleds for two months, they run through city parks dragging five truck tires tied together on a rope. They willingly go to places where their thermometer bottoms out at -50. They bunk in thin tents where polar bears roam.

“It’s a strange feeling to go to bed and not be at the top of the food chain,” Huston admitted.

But they’ve been to the poles and back, without losing any limbs to hungry bears and without dropping any fingers or noses to frostbite. Huston said it’s because they go with caution, patience and realistic expectations, just like successful polar explorers before them. They’re very fond of guys you’ve probably never heard of – like Otto Sverdrup, who led an Arctic mapping exploration from 1898-1902.

“They were lesser-known because they were successful,” Huston said. “The humble explorers are the ones who live.”

Thorliefsson previewed their March 2013 expedition to Ellesmere Island, the northernmost landmass of North America. He, Huston and two companions will spend 70 days walking and skiing across 630 miles of one of the last untouched wildernesses on Earth, as they retrace some of Sverdrup’s historic expedition routes.

Unfortunately, Thorliefsson noted, there’s not as much ice up there as there used to be. Where there once was ice that reflected away the sun’s warming rays, the newly exposed Arctic water absorbs sunlight. That warms the water, which only accelerates the melting of the ice.

“It changes the whole energy balance of the hemisphere,” Thorliefsson said.

It also creates big habitat issues for animals like polar bears. (You also can see this explained in the Aquarium’s daily IMAX movie “To the Arctic.”)

Learn more about Huston’s and Thorliefsson’s upcoming expedition – and follow their progress during the trip – at www.forwardendeavors.com.

And get tickets for the Aquarium’s next lecture – by renowned marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle on Thurs., Jan. 24 – at www.maritimeaquarium.org.

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