Published: December 2007/January 2008Lifetime Achievement: Sir Richard Branson + Will Steger
Branson Steger

In Virgin Territory

Polar novice Sir Richard Branson is the swami of publicity. Iceman Will Steger is the don of the Arctic. But can the dynamic duo join forces, traverse Baffin Island by dogsled, and help divert an impending climate catastrophe? Jon Bowermaster reports from rapidly thinning ice.

Text by Jon Bowermaster
Photograph Courtesy of Elizabeth Andre/Will Steger Foundation

Earth Day in Clyde River, Nunavut (pop. 820), one of the northernmost towns in North America, passes like most days in this remote Canadian province due west of Greenland. Even though it's technically mid-spring, everything is still in deep freeze and won't thaw out until sometime in late June. Heating exhaust pours out of the trailer homes and one-story government buildings scattered on the low, snowy hill overlooking frozen Baffin Bay. At around 10 p.m., polar explorer Will Steger and his newest crew member, 21-year-old Sam Branson, walk slowly through town in the perpetual dusky sundown of the northern latitudes, heading toward the community center.

Steger and his team have spent the past two months dogsledding nearly a thousand miles (1,609 kilometers) across Baffin Island. But instead of plunging through the cold behind their dogs in pursuit of another spot in the history books, the group is conducting a stop-and-go listening tour. They're pausing at five villages, including Clyde River, to hear how the locals feel about rising temperatures. "We wanted a firsthand look at how the ice is changing," Steger tells me as he trudges down the main street, "but also how the Inuit, who have lived in this region for 5,000 years, are adapting to these changes."

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