Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

The North Pole has long fascinated adventurers, each one eager to set new records. But being first is no longer the holy grail of Arctic exploration. Polar explorer Eric Larsen shares what expeditions are like now—when the finish line is melting.

“It’s not about being first,” polar explorer Eric Larsen tells me, before we embark on a overnight winter camping trip with a group of other cold-weather loving adventurers. “It’s about being last, and seeing these places before they’re forever changed.”

We weren’t heading to the North Pole (even if it sure felt like it) and a place Larsen knows well; instead, we pitched our tents in the backcountry of Irwin, Colorado, outside Crested Butte. And Larsen wasn’t challenging anyone to a race up the mountains either. He was referring to the race to the North Pole—a race that has changed significantly since the heyday of Arctic exploration, thanks (or rather, no thanks) to the modern-day threat of global warming.