email a friend iconprinter friendly iconLifetime Achievement: Sir Richard Branson + Will Steger
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Will Steger became an adventure superstar in 1986, after making the first unsupported dogsled trip to the North Pole. He is in many ways a throwback to the golden age of the gentleman explorer, one of the last of that peripatetic breed. I've known him for most of his career and am continually amazed by how a guy who presents such an absentminded-professor aspect most of the time can turn on the wit and charisma when he needs to. He's met with world leaders, testified before Congress, and charmed millions of dollars from corporate sponsors over the years—as well as thousands of hours from volunteers who empathize with his overriding cause: educating people about the Earth's fragile frozen lands.

Adventuring has always been at the core of Steger's life. At 13 he volunteered to help chart the northern lights as part of the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year project. (His job was to write a report every third night on what he saw in the skies over his home in Minnesota and send it on to IGY headquarters in New York.) When he was 15, he and his brother, Tom, took a small motorboat down the Mississippi. In 1964, at age 19, he kayaked 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) from southern Alberta to northern Alaska; the next year he made three first ascents by new routes of peaks over 18,900 feet (5,761 meters) in the Peruvian Andes. In 1969 he led a 4,000-mile (6,437-kilometer) kayak expedition on the MacKenzie, Athabasca, and Slave Rivers, taking time off from his job teaching elementary school science in St. Paul. Once a teacher, always a teacher; to this day, Steger is a hero among students and educators due to his classroom curricula and the sophisticated expedition websites he pioneered, which today reach millions of children.

Like a lot of men his age, Steger has been thinking lately about his legacy. In 1964 he started buying land on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness outside Ely, Minnesota. In 1970 he moved there and began organizing winter skills trips for juvenile delinquents out of the Twin Cities. He initially built a small cabin by hand, miles from the nearest road. Over the years what is known as the Homestead has sprawled to 240-plus acres (97-plus hectares) and more than a dozen structures, including a five-story "castle" that he imagined while traversing Antarctica. (It was built mostly with licensing fees from Target, which sold Will Steger–branded clothing, lunch boxes, and fire logs.) One day he'd like the Homestead to serve as an enviro-educational think tank. These days, while he's getting the Steger Foundation up and running, he splits his time between the Homestead and a houseboat on the Mississippi River in St. Paul.

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