The Way of the Wolf: Solo to the South Pole

Frank Wolf interviews Sebastien Lapierre about his amazing solo ski to the South Pole.

The tribe of long-distance adventurers is relatively small, and we’ll often meet one another in the most obscure places imaginable. These restless souls are easy to spot—often gaunt, bearded (women excepted) and windburned, they stick out in wild landscapes and small northern hamlets like Donald Trump at a peace rally. You connect with each other easily, bonded by a common love for spending long periods of time moving through wilderness.

Quebec’s Sebastien Lapierre is one of these wandering souls. I first met him in 2013, bumping into him not in a bar in Montreal, but in the Northwest Passage. He and a friend were trying to paddle through the Passage in a double-kayak while I was attempting to row the same route in a custom-made rowboat with three others.

We met in the town of Paulatuk, where we’d come to replace our lost anchor, and where Sebastien had come to resupply. The six of us gathered in the home of Inuvialuit locals Hank and Marlene Wolki, where we convened over an Arctic feast of baked char and muktuk. A happy, easy-going fellow, Sebastian was instantly likable and we’ve stayed in contact about our various projects since then.

Sebastien recently dropped me a line about his latest accomplishment—a record ski to the South Pole. On January 9, he became the first Canadian to solo the 1,200-kilometre distance from Hercules Inlet to the Pole, braving whiteouts and -50 degrees Celsius temperatures on the way to completing the feat in just over 42 days.

What made him do it? How did he do it? Who is he, really? Here is my interview with him about his incredible experience:

Tell us about yourself—where do you live and what do you do in your everyday life?

I live in Québec City with my girlfriend and our two kids (three years old and eight months old) where I work as a firefighter. 

What is your expedition background?

I’ve always been an outdoor enthusiast so I skied, biked and paddled a lot. But my most challenging expeditions were in Greenland in 2010 where I skied 27 days in autonomy with my expedition partner, Olivier Giasson. Another great expedition was paddling the Northwest Passage from Tuktoyaktuk to Gjoa Haven in 2013… but you know about that one. [When we met.]

Why did you want to ski to the South Pole?

I’ve had this idea in my mind for a while. In fact, when I went to Greenland in 2010, I was already thinking about the South Pole. Greenland was some kind of a test before going to Antarctica, but at that time I didn’t know I would go solo. So it was just a matter of time before I went.

Why solo?

For the extra challenge. I always thought that one day I would go solo and I was waiting for the right moment. I just felt I had the experience and the knowledge to go solo. 

What did you eat and what was your favourite meal out there?

In the morning I had cereals, cookies and peanut butter. During the day, I ate cheese, chocolate, nuts, a soup (with oil added in it) and SoLo energy bars. At night I ate a freeze-dried meal to which I added some fat and oil—my favourite one was spaghetti with meat sauce. I was eating about 7,000 calories per day so I carried a lot of food.

What was the worst meal?

I was so sick and tired of the nuts! I won’t eat any for the rest of the year! 

What did you think about during the day?

Just about anything! But most of the time I was thinking about my kids. I would also spend a lot of time calculating my mileage and different arrival scenarios.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of the journey?

I really enjoyed my journey. So much that the [Union Glacier Camp] staff gave me the reputation of being ‘the happiest man in Antarctica.’ I think I just enjoyed the landscape so much and being on my own in such a remote and extreme environment.

Describe a typical day on the expedition:

Wake up at 6:30 a.m., breakfast, then I was on my skis at around 7:45 a.m.. I skied for eight to 10 hours with an eight-minute break every hour to eat and drink, then I would stop around 6:00 p.m. I would set up the tent, melt some snow for my dinner and for the next day and set up the solar panel to recharge my electronic devices. At 8:20 p.m., I had to call the [Union Glacier Camp] staff to report my progression, then I would text my girlfriend at home using my InReach and write my journal. By 10:30 p.m., I would be in my bed.

Did you miss anything during the journey?

My kids of course! It was my first big expedition since I became a father. Real, good food (fresh fruits and meat) and a shower were also very welcomed when I finished.

What was most difficult about the expedition?

The whiteout days. I had more than I was expecting. During these days, it becomes very difficult to progress so it was hard to stay motivated.

What was your favourite piece of gear or clothing on the trip and why?

I had clothing designed by Kanuk specifically for this expedition and they worked very well. Especially my “Thindown” Jacket, made with a new down fabric that is very efficient. I couldn’t go without my InReach. This device just made the communications so easy.

Did any gear break down?

No—this time I spent a lot of time getting ready for the expedition and a lot of this time was spent finding the right gear. Apparently I made the right choices. 

What kind of body soreness or injury did you deal with?

I just had little blisters at the beginning on my heels, but nothing serious. Actually even the doctors at Union Glacier Base Camp were happily surprised about my physical condition. I took great care of my body all along the journey and it paid off.

Did you ever have any worries or doubts about making it?

No. I had some moments of discouragement, of course, but not to the point that I doubted making it. From the beginning, I was ahead of my schedule. I knew that if I could get to halfway in under 25 days there would be nothing to stop me… And I reached halfway in 23-and-a-half days!

How did you feel when you finished?

That was a very emotional moment. All the emotions of the expedition came back to me at once. It was very special. I wanted to make a video, but the emotions were so strong I just couldn’t talk… I even cried when I finally touch the South Pole marker.

Who did you talk to first at the finish?

I called home to announce I was at the South Pole to my girlfriend, but my mom picked up the phone instead, as she was at my home with many others. By following my progression, they knew I was about to arrive so they organized a party to celebrate.

How did you celebrate?

I had a bottle of whiskey brought to the Pole by plane. So I drank some with those who were at the Pole at the time.

What is the significance of your accomplishment?

I am very proud of this accomplishment. Being the first Canadian is something. But what I am most proud of is the way I succeeded. I was very well prepared… I spent a lot of time getting ready and it paid off. I didn’t suffer from the cold or from any injury and I kept good morale all along the journey. I think this is the proof that if you prepare adequately, you can do it and actually enjoy it instead of suffering the whole way.

What’s next?

Right now, I want to share my experiences with others by doing some conferences, and I want to spend some time with my family. But I have many other adventures I’d like to do. You’ll be able to find out more about these on my website:

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Frank Wolf: The Way of the Wolf