Best Job Ever: Conquering the World’s Largest Glaciers

Stikine avalanche

“For me, it’s definitely worthwhile to live shorter, but intense,” says Vincent Colliard, a young explorer joining renowned polar explorer Børge Ousland in an endeavor to cross the world’s 20 largest glaciers. The ambitious 10-year journey is part of an effort to document climate change, an important mission for sure but one that regularly places the explorers in the path of danger.

The explorers spend an average of 12 hours a day traversing glaciers, and the harsh and vast landscapes are a constant reminder of the explorers’ vulnerability. “We were like, ‘We’re little humans.’ We felt very small,” says Colliard, recalling how he and Ousland felt in May of 2015 when they crossed the world’s 17th largest glacier, Stikine Icefield in Alaska. “While it’s at the bottom of the list in size, it’s probably one of the toughest glaciers to cross,” Colliard says.

The duo trekked Stikine unsupported, meaning no one was waiting for them at checkpoints to resupply them with food, water, or equipment. Colliard and Ousland each carried more than 130 pounds of gear on their sleds while not only skiing but also climbing up and down mountains and around 160-foot-deep crevices. On multiple occasions the threatening terrain forced the team to abandon their planned route and take longer detours, while their supplies dwindled.

“One time there was a steep mountain with a rocky face on one side of us, and on the other side were ice formations as big as cathedrals,” Colliard recalls. He and Ousland decided that the next morning they’d go right through the middle—only to wake to an avalanche. “We knew that another avalanche was very likely. We could hear the water running in between the layer of snow and the rock face, and when the water got too warm it would take out another patch of —> Read More