An American's Grand SlamRyan Waters & Huson Lindenberger
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.