The North Pole Trek of a Wilmette Father-Son Expedition Team

They scale the world’s tallest mountains. They navigate shifting sheets of ice on the Arctic Ocean. They trek the treacherous North Pole.

 

And they do it all together.

They are the father-son expedition team of Rick and Taylor Sweitzer.

As we sat on the porch of their home in Wilmette, Rick, 56, and Taylor, 15, talked about their greatest quests, why they do what they do, and what adventures are around the next corner.

Rick, owner of the Wilmette expedition company The Northwest Passage, took his first climbing course in 1974. Since then, he’s been addicted to adventure. He opened up his business in 1984, and led the world’s first commercial expedition to the North Pole in 1993.

His son Taylor, a student at New Trier Township High School, seems to be following in his father’s footsteps. At 15, he’s already canoed the Boundary Waters (the body of water between the U.S. and Canadian borders near Minnesota), and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and the Grand Teton with his father.

“As Taylor has grown up, he’s seems to be sharing my love for the wilderness,” Rick says.

And this year Taylor had his biggest adventure yet. During a two-week stretch in April, he became the youngest person in the world to ski the North Pole. Enduring below-zero temperatures, he and his father skied 60 nautical miles, while negotiating constantly changing weather and navigating shifting patches of ice. “It’s on the ocean, so it isn’t firm land,” Taylor says. “It’s moving all the time.”

The region’s icy temperatures made it tough for the two to stop, eat and drink. “You don’t want to do anything, you just want to keep going,” Taylor says.

Despite his feat, Taylor’s not gloating. “Obviously it’s a cool thing, but that’s neither why I went or what I wanted to get out of it,” he says. “In fact, when I went, I didn’t even know I was going to be the youngest. … You have to make it about the journey, not about the destination.”

Rick, who has visited the North Pole roughly 20 times, says this trip was the best, because he shared a tent with his son.

The father-son duo’s next journey will lead them to Alaska, where they will climb Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest mountain. It’s known as the second hardest climb in the world, after Mount Everest. “People die there every year,” Rick says. They’ll leave on June 8 and return on June 21, the day after Father’s Day.

And for Rick, that’s a great present.

“Many people like to have their life planned out—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—where they’re going to be, and if something unknown comes up it makes many of us nervous,” Rick says. “I love being on a mountain in a situation where there’s a blind corner, and I don’t know what’s around the corner.”

Photo courtesy of Tomy Ulrich.