The Ice Man Cometh
Polar Expedition Expert Chuck Cross

Apart from being one of the world's foremost expeditionary-travel experts on the polar regions, with over 20 trips to Antarctica to his credit, Chuck Cross, of Bend, Oregon, co-owner of Expeditions, Inc., also owns the very first pair of RailRiders Weatherpants ever made. "The first place I ever wore them," recalls Cross, "was in 1991 in the offices of Mountain Travel where I got some interesting stares. After all, the pants were gray with royal blue "butt patch" and knees. I looked like a clown! Aside from some hiking and camping in Yosemite and Northern California, and occasional sailing on San Francisco Bay the pants next went twice to Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. They then went to Russia to climb Mt. Elbus, the highest of the summits in Europe, participated in a Kenya safari, and where I broke my leg coming down the slopes of Mt. Kenya (not the pant's fault), enjoyed sea kayaking in Baja, braved face-to-face encounters with Polar bears on the Arctic Polar ice, and been to Antarctica numerous times. Then I quit smoking and the Weatherpants must have shrunk in size, so I gave them to my wife who also wore them in Antarctica and Alaska, to name a few places."

To Reach Chuck Cross at Expeditions, Inc in Bend, Oregon, call 541-330-2454, or fax 541-330-2456

Q: Would you consider yourself having a Bipolar condition?

Chuck Cross: Yes. Very definitely because I like the poles. For some reason, I like the high latitudes of the world. North and South.

Q: Which do you prefer? Antarctica or the Arctic?

CC: Both! They are so different — and they are extreme —because the high Arctic is predominantly above 80 degrees, north of Spitsbergen, Norway. It is a permanent ice cap nearly year round. Nuclear submarines have actually surfaced at the North Pole. No real life exists directly at the pole, but you are dealing with seals and polar bears on the fringes. In Antarctica, it is huge mountain ranges, glaciers, ice caps and probably one of the last best places for wildlife.The largest biomass of mammals in the world is seals in Antarctica and the most common are crabeater seals. Then you've got million of penguins and hundreds, if not thousands of albatross. The center of the whale population of the world all seem to come down here to feed in the summer. So it is one of the most prolific wildlife scenes anywhere. It makes the Serengeti look like desert.

Q: So who in the food chain are the wildebeest and antelopes?

CC: In Antarctica the penguins are the wildebeest! The top of the food chain in both the Arctic and Antarctica is of course the killer whale or Orca. Next in the Arctic is of course the Polar bear. It has to deal with killer whales, too. The Polar bear equivalent in Antarctica is the Leopard seal, which is a very large carnivore seal who can eat penguins like popcorn.

Q: Are leopard seals like walruses? How do they attack? What is the modus operandi of these predators?

CC: Leopard seals are like 600-900 pound seals with teeth and faces that look like snakes. And they are predominantly carnivores, although they can and do eat krill, which are the small shrimp-like creatures, that truly are the heart of the whole food chain. Leopard seals are not dangerous on land, like fur seals. Who can move very fast because they can turn their flippers forward and can run like a dog! Almost! Leopard seals have been known to bite the ends of the Zodiacs, which can be a little exciting. The Marine Mammal Act keeps us away, and give these animals plenty of room to be themselves, and us, plenty of viewing opportunities.

Q: Have you had a close encounter with a polar bear?

CC: Yes, we've had several close encounters with polar bears. On the ship, if we are in ice, you can usually count on them coming right up to the ship. They smell the fumes of the ship and come up to inspect. On land, we have had encounters where I've had two dozen people ashore, and had a bear mom and her cub come over the hill and look us over. It was quite exciting because she was less than a 50 yards away at times, making us all nervous. We eventually, shot a small hand flare and she went off a couple hundred yards and nursed her cub. She certainly was not afraid of us.

Q: Do you carry a armed weapon on these expeditions for safety?

CC: In the Norwegian Arctic region around Spitsbergen, you are required to carry suitable weapons for protection from Polar bears. We have never had to shoot a bear. Generally proper procedures and safety precautions don't put you in a position to shoot. Warning shots and flares generally work, if you do get surprised. We sometimes kid the passengers, that it would be easier to shoot one of them, because it would be less paperwork. That makes everyone think!

Q: Why aren't there penguins in the Arctic area?

CC: They don't live north of the equator. The northernmost penguins are in the Galapagos. They just can't seem to make the passes through the warm waters of the equatorial region. But actually the early explorers brought penguins back and released some in the Arctic and the last penguin known to man in the Northern Hemisphere was a King penguin, and it was killed by a Scottish woman with a broom. She thought it was a witch!

Q: So how many times have you been to Antarctica?

CC: Twenty times! I guess!

Q: What do you think of one of the world's most ill-fated explorers, Sir Ernest Shackleton. What accounts for the popularity of Endurance? It is on the bestseller lists And if you had been on that Antarctic trip, what would you have done differently?

CC: I wouldn't have signed up with him because he was a lucky blumbler in my opinion. Like Scott, and all the other Brits of the time, they just didn't use common sense, and they were extremely stubborn. They seemed to thrive on bravado, and would not listen to experts. He was  however, one lucky "dude"!

Q: I thought he was a hero for his rescue efforts.

CC: Oh yeah, he is a hero because he is one of these guys who went off on these incredible adventures without proper supplies. The Endurance story is; that nobody died, and that in itself, is incredible. Shackleton died of a heart attack not too many years later. He more than likely had a heart condition most of his life. He also refused to take any physicals, and was not very healthy his adult life. All the men that followed him were the real heroes, not Shackleton.

Q: But to go 700 miles across that watery expanse in rough seas in an open   boat must have taken some sort of courage.

CC. It's was very tough, but I don't think it was exceptional skill, but rather exceptional luck.

Q: How do you dress for her extreme climes?

CC: We wear a lot of fleece now. Fleece is thought to be a modern discovery, but the Norwegian fishermen have been using products similar to this for many years. Helly Hansen, fisherman clothing has been around for a long time. In fact Helly has had fleece or pile garments ever since 1961.You don't think that The North Face, Patagonia, and Malden Mills invented this stuff, do you?

Q: I don't think they had polyester 100 years ago.

CC: No! Most of the learned world used cotton or wool, which by the way still work. However in the remote regions, poeple used animal skins, such as reindeer, and Polar bear. The Patagonians in Tierra del Fuego were wearing Guanaco (Llama) skins. You can still go to Greenland and the hunters and mushers wear Polar bear fur pants. If you go on certain trips they will issue you Polar bear pants and say "Leave your Gore-Tex behind." There is a certain amount of truth to that. I however think that you don't need to wear Polar bear pants. It some sort of native thing, that tourists like.

Q: So have you worn a pair of these pants?

CC: No! I like to look at Polar bears walking rather than wearing them. I would do just about anything to keep from having any bears killed. PolarGuard can replace Polar bears in this instance!

Q: Have you ever lived in or slept in an igloo?

CC: Oh yeah. Igloos are like snow caves in a lot of ways. They are nice because once you get them built properly and ventilated. They are like 30 degrees inside. You want to keep the temperature somewhere around freezing or slightly less, so that they don't start to drip. If it is very cold and windy outside, they can be quite comfortable compared to tents.

Q: So is it like sleeping in a Safeway meat locker?

CC: Basically, yes, humidity might be different, but it is around 30
degrees, and not much colder.

Q: Would you consider yourself an adventurer, environmentalist or an explorer?

CC: I would love to be an eco-terrorist if I had my way!

Q: How did you get involved in leading trips?

CC: I was a mountaineer in and out of college, then I went into the ski rep business and managed two outdoor stores, —years later, Mountain Travel's owner invited me to come down and visit and I became a salesman for the company. The rest is history. I met my wife there and we started doing more programs. I did a few mountain trips; Aconcagua, Elbrus and the like. Then I was asked to work on the Antarctic program, which was in shambles, because the ship they had planned to use was no longer available. I sold the new program completely out and then,..... they sent someone else on the trip! It wasn't until the second year that I got to go. 20 some trips later I left Mountain Travel and started our own company and here I am today.

Q: So, do you still work with Mountain Travel?

CC: Expeditions, Inc. has been one of Mountain Travel's largest outside suppliers of customers. We now sell all the top adventure travel companies for African safaris, Nepal, Galapagos, Europe, and the like.

Q: How many people do you estimate you have brought to either Antarctica or the Arctic?

CC:: Oh I have dealt with say 30-40 people a trip, so I'd say hundreds. It is not the total numbers that count, but the more ambassadors of Antarctica that are created every time we go. Attitudes change, and minds are opened to save this "Last Best Place!"

Q: Have you lost anyone?

CC: No, we haven't even had close calls. We have been in situations that were sometimes hairy, but normally people don't know about it, because most people, think that adventure travel is where you put someone in a bubble. People are out with us and the Polar bear comes over the hill. And they think that because you have a gun to protect them nothing is going to happen. And that is not the case. You don't want to kill the Polar bear, but the people don't listen. They reload their cameras and they are more worried about their video than they are about their safety and our safety. It's the bubble!

Q: Being attacked by polar bears sounds like a Gary Larson cartoon with horrific consequences.

CC: I once saw a cartoon about travel that showed pirates shooting cannonballs through the sails of each other's ship and there is a bunch of people on  the back of the boat going: "Boy these adventure travel trips are really exciting!" But it's is just the classic case of people thinking they are in this bubble and the ball's not going to hit 'em. But you have to be careful. You can't have rookies running the programs and even if you are an expert you are going to get caught, every now and then. You only hope that you have a good group of people, who understand.

Q: What is the ratio between guides and experts and clientele?

CC: One guide for every 10 passengers, is normal. Could be more or could be less, depending on the trip.

Q: How big is the ship? And how big are these groups?

CC: We use a 235 ft. Finnish-built, ice class vessel, that Jacque Cousteau would have died to have. With only 50 passengers, it's a dream come true for most people.

Q: What is the most frightened you have ever been on an expedition?

CC: Probably facing polar bears on land with people in small groups. Next would be Zodiac landings, under conditions where the weather may change momentarily, for the worst.

Q: Would Polar bears just attack one person or would they attack everybody?

CC: Oh, they could probably, attack a group and damage a whole bunch a people, but as a group we form such a large mass of waving arms, that it is unlikely. Individuals, well, that's another matter!

Q: How big do they get? Eleven feet when they stand up? Or higher?

CC: Oh a female would be 600-700 pounds. They are far more dangerous than grizzly bears. They are in my opinion the most dangerous creatures in the world. Males can be 1000 pounds or more, but that would be a very large bear.

Q: Why is a Polar bear more dangerous than a grizzly? I am deathly afraid of   grizzly bears.

CC: Grizzlies eat berries, salmon, roots, and therefore, not so much a carnivore. However, the polar bears eat mostly meat, mainly seals. They only eat the fat, and leave the rest to the foxes and gulls. We found seals that are literally laying there with their eyeballs, totally skinned. There is no blubber left. The inches of blubber on their bodies is totally gone. A Polar bear might come up to a person and kill them out of sport, but likely not. Polar bears are really quick, and they are very curious. They are very scary on land. I have seem video of Churchill bears playing with sled dogs. They didn't eat them, and they sure could, instead they played and socialized.

Q: So if you had to be eaten by either polar bear or Great White Shark, which   would it be?

CC: Silly question! Mauled by a bear verses chomped by a 20' shark....!

Q. Well you were talking about dangerous expeditions. Even in your backyard there's Mt. Rainier which claims several lives each year.

CC: It's odd that my college philosophy instructor, Dr. Willie Unsoeld, who was one of the first Americans to climb Everest by the West Ridge and was one of the greatest climbers in his time, died in a little freak avalanche accident on Mt. Rainier. So it can get anybody. It is not a small-time mountain. It is a big-time thing. Large glaciers. It can be very dangerous.

Q: What about Mt. McKinley. Have you been there?

CC: I was there in the 60's. Many people think that if they can climb Mt. McKinley, you can climb Mt. Everest, but that is not necessarily true. They are two different mountains. McKinley is a very cold Polar mountain, and therefore has it's own particular set of dangers. Mt. Everest, is not generally as cold, but is 9,000 ft. higher, and this is it's real danger in my opinion.

Q: Have you ever been to the summit of Everest?

CC: No, but I do have a little piece of rock from the summit, here in my store. It was given to me by one of my friends who has summitted twice.

Q: That's okay. I read somewhere that the Appalachians were almost as high as Everest about 300 million years ago. What are some places you would like to go on this planet that you haven't already been to?

CC:. The top of Russia.. Northeast Passage, New Siberian Islands....then..I'd like to go to the South Sandwich Islands, below South Georgia, where there are the largest penguins colonies in the world.

Q: You said you were the expedition leader of polar expeditions for Mountain Travel? But now you have your own independent company.

CC: We have our own company now. And we now we sell all the top companies programs. It is quite nice, since we can place customers with the right trip...with the right company. With Mountain Travel I was like a salesman at a Chevy dealership. I only had one brand of car to sell. Now I feel like we are this neat little company selling all the models and brands we want. When it comes to adventure travel trips, we sell Porsche, BMW, Ford, Chevrolet, Cadillac, VW. Whatever we want, and the customer is the winner.

Q: What is your company called now?

CC: It is called Expeditions Inc.. We do specialize in the polar regions of the   world, but we are also very good at African safaris, South America, Alaska, Europe, Nepal, and a whole lot more.

Q: How did this specialty evolve?

CC: We know it. We know the people who go there. We know the ships. We know the outfitters. We know the provisioning agents. We may have our own ship soon. We are pretty good in Africa. We have probably sent more custom safaris to Africa than just about anybody.

Q: What parts of Africa?

CC: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia. Botswana. Zambia.

Q: Have you had any problem with people bringing their own plasma or blood because of the AIDS crisis?

CC: Your kidding me, aren't you! I never had anybody do that. I'd discourage them from doing it.

Q: Why?

CC: It is unnecessary.

Q: What if you get in a car wreck and you have to be treated . What happens?

CC: If it was in Kenya for example, you'd better get to the Nairobi hospital and be treated properly! But you certainly don't go around the world carrying blood plasma.

Q: I am not making this up, but I have read in some travel articles on Africa that recommend people bring their own plasma.

CC: That is patently totally ridiculous! We recently had a heart surgeon from Nairobi, who told me blood supplies there are checked and OK! The only thing we would worry about is having a proper malaria prophylactic, and treat the water. But if you are going to worry about blood or plasma, you should probably stay home. That is totally ridiculous! I would say that what is happening in the world is just that we have our sense of  adventure gets tempered so much by our fear of the unknown. There are people who live in cities that have never even sat out on the roof of their apartment building and watched the sunset let alone watched the sunrise. Until you do that, you probably shouldn't travel anywhere anyway.

Q: That is a good point. What about the case of this recent killing of Ned   Gillette in Kashmir? Did you know him?

CC: Yeah I knew Ned. He sent me a book just a year ago, that he found on one of his trips and thought that I would like. We skied together at Copper Mountain and I guess I knew Ned well enough to say hi. We weren't personal friends because he was on opposite sides of the country. But my feeling is that he was being a little too independent, by camping out there like a couple of backpackers in Yosemite. If he and his wife would have had porters with them he'd still probably be alive. But he always pushed the envelope... he just wanted the freedom. The country is dirt poor, and in that area they make machine guns, and all sorts of other guns. It sounds like the people that shot him were just simple peasant robbers, with an old shotgun. Bad luck!

Q: A porter would have acted as a bodyguard?

CC: Local robbers wouldn't have attacked a group of people, normally. Americans and Europeans in general who go on independent backpacking trips around the world are sometimes quite naive. I would say that Ned was not a naive person, but he made a judgment that put him in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Q: How much do porters cost?

CC: Dollars a day: It would cost you dollars a day to hire a porter. Fifty cents. Two dollars. To haul your gear. We have people going to Nepal right now, on organized trips. Twenty day trips into Nepal costs $2,000, $1,800 dollars. Thirty day trips cost $2,800. That is $100 a day, or less. That is for your tents, your food, A good four-star hotel at each end. Professional guides. Everything. I  mean, $100 a day!

Q: That's pretty cheap.

CC: And people want to backpack. And carry your own gear and sweat up 20,000 foot passes? These independent backpackers, also camp in sensitive areas, use improper toilet techniques, and the list goes on.

Q: The thrill of going to a wilderness area, whether it's Yosemite or Nepal, is so you can have the freedom to backpack. They don't want to be encumbered with porters or other creature comforts. But in Asia, do you feel anything of that Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden" attitude by bringing in all this money and civilized westerners to these poor countries on these trips?

CC: That is an interesting concept. I think the best example of that is that years ago a group from National Geographic was in some remote part of Nepal filming what they thought were the very first photographs of this remote village and how people were happy and grinning. They had their yak butter tea and after the film crew left, these villagers put on their Patagonia fleece jackets which they had received from mountaineers who had been there years earlier.

What do you do? Do you make these people live in poverty? So that some yuppie tourist can come down and look at em, like a Disney attraction? Or do you give them your Gucci sunglasses, Hard Rock Café T-shirts and Los Angeles Dodger baseball caps!
That's what you see in the Amazon. You see a natives poling down rivers and some of these people cannot speak a word of any language but their native tongue, which isn't even written, and they are wearing all this "yuppie" stuff.

Q: It is probably Dennis Rodman?

CC:. A Dennis Rodman who has put a bamboo spike through his nose, instead of a nose ring, I guess! But what do you do? Do you go over there and develop their hydroelectric power. Give them electricity so that they can get a satellite dish, and watch sit-coms!

Q: Is that what happens?

CC: Yes.

Q: Why is that?

CC: It's a entire subject in itself to discuss, but I do know that just
a few years ago, Coca Cola, was the most recognized symbol, and Rambo, was the most recognized person.

Q: I'm waiting for the new theme hotel in Las Vegas called the Arctic.

CC: It is like how we used to put Indians in circuses.. Americans made them dance around like in the Wild Bill Cody show. If we did that now, we'd be thrown in jail.

Q: If you were leading the first expedition to explore the polar ice caps of Mars, say in the year 2015, when Bill Gates was either President or Supreme Court Justice, how would you prepare for it?

CC: It'll never happen. Star Trek is only a impossible vision. That type of thing is never gonna happen because the consuming of energy in order to create the adventure is too high. We'll never do it. It's a dream. We won't have the technology to ever do it.

Q: Isn't that a little short sighted. Researchers are looking at ways to obtain fuel from carbon dioxide or pulling the oxygen from the ice caps

CC. It will never happen. We'll never be able to do it.

Q: Let me rephrase the question. One hundred years ago, if some Arctic explorer was told you can get on the Concorde and fly around the world in a day and a half, he would haven't believed that either.

CC: I still say no. Besides, I read it in Discover magazine!