email a friend iconprinter friendly iconLifetime Achievement: Sir Richard Branson + Will Steger
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Mealtime is announced, and attendees of all ages attack the raw buffet. Right in among them is Steger, happily scooping up chunks of just thawed caribou. Off to the side, the man who once unleashed the Sex Pistols on the world looks as if he's wondering what he's gotten himself into.

The next morning the sun is shining brightly for the first time in two weeks, and the whole town has turned out at ice's edge for the send-off. Branson, decked out in his bright new red suit, wades through the circuslike atmosphere. He approaches the sleds seeming, uncharacteristically, a bit lost. As Steger and the dog teams race away from Clyde River, excited to be back on the trail, Branson is left standing alone, silhouetted momentarily against the Arctic horizon like a gigantic, solitary Elmo. Running to catch up, he jumps on with Ikummaq and Qamanirq.

The day is spectacular, and the dogs run fast over the flat ice, past 500-foot (152-meter) rock and ice cliffs. Ten miles (16 kilometers) out of Clyde River we stop to untangle animals and slurp warm soup. Despite his bad arm, Branson wants to get off the sled and ski alongside. I ask him where's the coldest place he's ever been. "Right here, maybe. But after crossing the Pacific, we crashed the balloon 400 miles (644 kilometers) north of Yellowknife. We called on the radio and told the guy who responded that we were on a frozen lake surrounded by fir trees. He paused a minute before saying, 'Well, this is Canada . . . You could be in any of 10,000 places.'"

A few weeks later Branson calls from his hammock on Necker Island for a recap of the journey. The evidence he saw of global warming's impact was conclusive. "Theo showed us how the warmer winds and temperatures are changing the ice formations that Inuit hunters have used as landmarks for hundreds of years," he says. "The Barnes Ice Cap—60 miles (97 kilometers) long, 100 feet (30 meters) deep—is shrinking. Theo said they used to be able to see it from the village at Foxe Basin. Now they cannot."

In the end he survived the cold, despite temperatures so low that "inside the tent my face and beard froze. Even the two pairs of pants I was using as a pillow were frozen in the morning." He and Steger shared a tent for a few nights; Sam bunked with Viesturs. "I think Ed was encouraging him to climb Everest," Branson says, approvingly. Now that he's experienced the Arctic, would he be tempted by the climb himself, if he could drum up more publicity for global warming and the sherpas wore red? The man who's spent much of his time on Earth risking his life, and who's now wagering his company's future to save the planet, pauses on the other end of the line as if the flight for Kathmandu were now boarding.

"I'm afraid the days of big mountain climbing have passed for me," he finally says. I almost believe him.

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