He’s recognized by Guinness World Records as the youngest person ever to ski from land to the North Pole. Wakefield’s Tessum Weber on surviving in the Arctic — and the beauty of an unconventional upbringing in a family of explorers and adventurers By Laura Zahody
Tessum weber can light a stove at -60 degrees in the middle of the frozen Arctic Ocean. The key, as with everything done in those extreme conditions, is to take it step by step.
When it’s that cold, camp fuel barely lights. There are no vapours. The rubber seal bottling the fuel in its canister also shrinks, threatening to crack and cause a leak. And though the canister needs to be pumped to force gas out so that the single-burner stove can be lit, the pumping makes the rubber seal shrink even more. “So you have to light a candle with a match — not a lighter, because lighters have a hard time lighting at minus 50 — then carefully warm the pump for the canister over the candle so the rubber O-ring expands,” explains Tessum. “There’s a real process to surviving — a meticulous routine.”
Tessum, now 23, lived this step-by-step routine every second of every day when he skied from the northernmost tip of Canada — Cape Discovery on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut — to the North Pole. The journey, which started in March 2010, lasted 41 days, 18 hours, and 52 minutes. Tessum Weber was just 20 when he made the trek and has since been recognized by Guinness World Records as the youngest person ever to ski from land to the pole. His team was given the distinction of the fastest expedition ever to make this journey. To put the accomplishment into perspective, expeditions of this kind usually estimate about 50 to 55 days to reach the pole. “We only slept for about 15 hours the last week,” Tessum recalls.
The expedition was led by his father, Arctic expeditionist Richard Weber, and attended by two paying clients, David Pierce-Jones and Howard Fairbank. Richard has been to the North Pole seven times, including a trip in which he started in Russia, crossed the pole, and ended in Canada and another trip in which he skied from Canada to the pole and back. He has spent more time than anyone in the world travelling on the Arctic Ocean and briefly held the world record time for skiing to the South Pole (from Hercules Inlet, Antarctica). But the team had no record ambitions when they set out at polar dawn in March 2010. “My dad said, ‘We’re going to the North Pole. Want to come?’ ” Tessum remembers. “There wasn’t a plan to be the youngest. There wasn’t a plan to be the fastest. We just wanted to go to the North Pole.” It was only partway into the trip that the group realized they were on pace to reach the pole faster than any previous skiers. “That’s when we decided, Aw heck, we’ll haul ass and see what happens. And that was it.”
And although he admits it’s definitely a thrill to be able to travel to the North Pole with your son, Richard makes it clear that he didn’t extend the invitation lightly. “I definitely thought about it a lot before I asked Tessum — about whether he was ready and whether he would be interested. Luckily, it turned out that he could get out of school for a short time.” Tessum, who grew up in Wakefield, Quebec, was studying at the time for his bachelor of commerce at the University of Ottawa but was quick to say yes. His family, especially on his dad’s side, has a real spirit of adventure, he explains. His late grandfather, Hans Weber, was a mountaineer and Arctic geophysicist who spent most of his career in the field, investigating underwater mountain chains and the seismology of the Canadian Arctic islands.