For more than an hour, a screening of "Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul" showed Keith Heger, of Morton Grove, and Sebastian Copeland making their way through heartbreakingly beautiful North Polar landscapes, and struggling with 45-below-zero (F) temperatures, rough terrain, exhaustion and even an emergency, when thin ice broke and dumped Copeland into the subzero Arctic Ocean.
The film showed the 2009 trek when the two re-staged a two-month, 400-mile centennial expedition on foot commemorating Admiral Peary's 1909 journey to the Pole--and, with Copeland's film background, made it into an award-winning feature documentary. It has earned praise at the Tribeca Film Festival and from publisher Arianna Huffington and film director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien).
It shows the incredible landscapes, ice formations and scenery at the top of the world, with Copeland's philosophical reflections on the sense of peace he experienced.
After the film ended with the two men's triumphant arrival at the geographic North Pole and some reflections on the changing nature of the Arctic, Heger, who describes himself as "just a regular guy" who works out at the Niles Family Fitness Center (and just happens to lead North and South pole expeditions for a living), stood up to chat with the audience at the Morton Grove Library Wednesday evening.
Audience members had all kinds of questions, which elicited a fuller picture of the expedition.
"We came in (by plane) from the Canadian side," Heger said, explaining they chose to exit from a Russian base called Barneo, which is set up for only four weeks out of the year in the Arctic, because having a Canadian plane come in from the Canadian side would have cost $250,000.
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Considering the whole expedition cost $300,000, that's steep.
Heger described one of the toughest challenges they faced, called "negative drift." Because the Arctic ice cap is not land, but simply ice sitting atop the Arctic Ocean, it moves and shifts. That means explorers can walk for miles and then "negative drift" to their original geographic position while they sleep.
"For every 10 steps you take, the drift is taking you two steps back," he explained.
And they took a lot of steps. They would wake up in the morning, eat, break camp and then ski about 12 hours a day--through -46 degree weather, windstorms, frostbite, rough terrain and unrelenting cold.
Heger lost about 35 pounds on the trek, and said Copeland lost about 25. "We tried to consume about 7,000 calories a day, but we were burning 12,000 to 15,000," he said.
Heger told the audience he first made it to the North Pole in 2005, and the expedition with Copeland was his fifth visit there. Some of the more recent expeditions he has led to the North and South poles and Greenland can be seen here.
In the century since Peary made his expedition, temperatures at the pole have grown warmer and the ice has grown thinner. The film shows open waterways amidst the Arctic ice, and Heger described how they often trekked across new ice, rather than the multi--year ice he has encountered on previous expeditions.
"The multi-year ice is almost gone. There’s a lot more open water we have to deal with. And the season is shorter."
A true adventurer, Heger is looking forward to leading more expeditions for Polar Explorers, an adventure travel company.
"Maybe the South Pole in January and then in April, back to the North Pole where I annually guide," he said.