Speaking with Sebastian Copeland is truly inspiring. He’s a man who doesn’t settle for complacency or normalcy, and his accomplishments are long and illustrious because of it. With an explorers resume that includes crossing Antarctica multiple times, photographing for National Geographic, and filming award winning documentaries, peeking into his life inspires you to learn, visit and “do” more to protect mother nature. His story will leave you compelled because his mission is simple and noble, to preserve the wild places of this earth. A man after Squatch’s own heart…
As one of the world’s most experienced polar explorers he’s in a very influential position to both capture what we have left in these regions at its current state so we can measure change, and leverage his explorations so people will start to speak out against, and act upon, the negative influences humans are imparting upon our environment. His geographic region of passion also happen to be the most foreboding, undiscovered, dangerous, and downright cold places in the world, and thus the most under-represented, which seems to only fuel his drive to explore them further.
Luckily he also has a sense of humor and loves to tickle Sasquatches. So sit down by the fire and brew a hot cup of tea, because his stories are sure to leave you ‘frozen’ with your jaw dropped.
You’re a man of many hats: photographer, author, extreme athlete, environmental activist, speaker. Which of these titles do you strive for most at this point in your journey and why?
Sebastian: I am very lucky in that my work today allows me to combine my greater skills and passions. Luck and design have conspired to solve for that age-old quest for purpose for me. Like a rubix cube coming together! I have been an athlete my entire life, and an adrenaline seeker. So, sports have always been a necessary part of my day. The Romans coined the expression “Mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind on a healthy body), and I have subscribed to that philosophy from youth. Curiosity has been my best ally. The places I choose to travel are so exotic that to learn about them is a no-brainer. Given its direct impact on the ice, climate change is a constant traveling companion. I am fond to say that he who travels the land will soon become an advocate in its defense. As a career athlete and perfectionist, I seek to excel at all I do. In the end, I may not be the best in those various disciplines, but I am unique in my field for doing them all at a high level.
We heard about this crazy sport you’ve mastered called Kite Skiing; what’s that about?
Kite skiing has been around for some time; it is taking to land what was developed for the water; and applying it to skis. In the polar regions, kites can provide an ideal mode of transportation, provided the dominant winds lend themselves to the direction of travel. The most obvious advantage is that they obliterate the distances covered on skis alone. They literally add a decimal point to daily travel. In fact, I hold the world record for the longest distance travelled by kite in one 24 hours (595 kilometers) set on Greenland in 2010 with partner Eric McNair-Landry during our South-North crossing of the ice sheet.
Have you ever taken any nasty spills kite surfing?
I have been lucky not to hurt myself too badly from a fall, although I did break two ribs while crossing Antarctica. Ironically, I was actually going rather slow, but I was pulling a really heavy load at the onset of a 90 day crossing, and going uphill to reach the plateau from the coast. My sledges locked in an ice outcrop (called sastrugi) and I was thrown to the side onto another sastrugi head—right on the ribs! The next couple of weeks were no picnic! The danger, when speeds can top at 60 kilometers per hour, is to take a spill and plow into a ridge or get run over by the heavy sledge in tow! Those can be lethal.
You’ve spent more time in Antarctica then anyone I know. What’s the best and worst thing about that place for you?
No place makes you feel more alone and vulnerable than being a speck of nothing on an endless canvas of frigid white! That is both the simple beauty and oppressive daily reality of a long trip. Days are usually defined by cold or colder. And occasionally there is colder with no visibility and high wind! Those are the worst. Ultimately, the privilege of being in a place that more often than not has never seen a human footprint is worth the price of admission. It’s a place of deep introspection.
Can you tell us about a time on an adventure when you felt the most scared?
I was once trapped on a pan of ice, moving out to sea, and the battery in my radio was dead. This was a pure photographic outing. I had been dropped off for a few days on this large deserted island called Devon in the northern territories of Canada. I had spent a couple of days on the pack ice of a large bay, tracking bears. Upon returning to camp one day, I noticed that the winds had shifted offshore and were gaining strength. As a result, the entire frozen bay began moving out to sea. This happened almost imperceptibly, except for a widening channel of water opening between the edge of the pack ice and the shore. It took me five hours to figure the maze of ice pans that slowly and temporarily collided, allowing me to hop-scotch my way closer to shore. There were some hairy moments, and wet feet! When I made it back to shore, I dropped to my knee and kissed the ground. It never felt so good to be on solid ground! I have fallen through the ice in -35C degree weather, and have been tracked or charged by polar bears. But that experience on Devon still gives me chills.
What message are trying to spread with your endeavors?
Mostly, I want people to discover their world. My motto is “Get out—it’s out there”. But I realize that for many, that simple notion can be difficult, and using my visual or writing skills, I aim to take them there. Being confronted with the beauty that surrounds outside the confined convenience of urban living, is also the best way to empathize with what is going on remotely from human activities. My goal is to help people fall in love with their world in order to protect it. I use all the tricks in the book. Writing blogs keeps people connected directly to an expedition in real time. And then film and photographs are a great way to generate interest and emotions. I have done a couple of films, one called Into The Cold (2011) which follows my North Pole expedition; and another I did for Red Bull called Across The Ice (2015) which chronicles my Greenland crossing.
What’s in the pipeline for you?
In 2016, I will be training and preparing a North Pole trip. The expedition is a land departure from Canada without assistance or support on skis and is slated for 2017. I will train in the Arctic with my partner in 2016, and then we will endeavor to cross the Simpson Desert in Australia, on foot and without support. It is a 475 kilometers stretch of sand dunes, and we will be pulling our supplies—especially water, of course—with the goal of completing in 17 days. The North Pole will be next. That trip is the most difficult expedition in the world that no one knows about. It has been completed by less than 25 teams through history.
What’s your relationship with your body odor?
We’re not on speaking terms! Luckily, bacteria do not like very cold temps. So smell is mitigated on long trips. That’s a very good thing for me, and even better for my partner! On long trips, where cargo weight is a critical factor, I generally travel with a single underwear! The irony is that my olfactory sense (smell) is my most developed! I cannot stand BO. I use anti-bacterial lotion, and I have a “bath” every five days with one anti bacterial mini towel. Seriously, the shower upon return competes with any high note on the expedition. And I am deadly serious!
If you could spend your dream day with a Sasquatch what would you guys do?
Isn’t a Sasquatch a Bigfoot?! I would take him to a spa for a scrub down (with Dr. Squatch soap of course!) and find out if he is ticklish. I would then introduce him to a good PR agent: when you’re that cool, you need people to know you exist!
How can people follow you and support your cause?
The best is to follow me on my website at www.sebastiancopeland.com or on my facebook page at Sebastian Copeland Adventures. Both will keep you updated on my trips and endeavors. I have done a couple of coffee table books, both on Antarctica and just recently on the Arctic. The latter comes out this fall and I am especially proud of it. It represents ten years of Arctic travel from Alaska to Norway, through Greenland and Canada, and of course, the pack ice on the way to the North Pole, with close encounters with Polar Bears and other wildlife. It is called Arctica: The Vanishing North (TeNeues 2015). You can find the book here or on Amazon.