A conversation with Børge Ousland

Published 03.01 in category South Pole 2008

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Børge, please tell us about your present expedition?

Well, as you know, I call this The Final Two Degrees. Our chosen challenge is to ski from 88˚S to the South Pole. This is a distance of approximately 220 kilometres, across the heart of the Antarctic Plateau, which lies 3000 metres above sea level.

We expect the expedition to take twelve days – but on Antarctica, you have to prepare for the unexpected. That is why we have packed food for more than twice that length of time. An expedition is always at the mercy of the elements, and every once in a while there are conditions so extreme that you simply have to wait.

How have you passed the time today in Punta Arenas?

Abraham, our last expedition member, arrived yesterday. Right now he’s out buying a down jacket.

Today we have distributed, packed and weighed all the equipment – and loaded it on board the aeroplane. Finally, we have space to move about our hotel rooms, which seem much larger now that the pulks and equipment are gone.

It’s windy here in Punta Arenas – far too windy for our aeroplane to lift off. I would say we have a 50 percent chance of departing tomorrow.

What kind of person joins this kind of expedition?

First, let me say that it’s exciting to be here with a new group. Almost everyone here has partaken in an expedition before; about half of them have been to the North Pole. The days before Christmas were a busy time for all of us, so there hasn’t been an opportunity of a training expedition before we came here.

We’re using these days to get to know each other – and to prepare ourselves mentally. I have had individual conversations with everyone to discuss expectation, attitudes and preparedness. I am confident in the team, which consists of ten men and two women. The age span is 22 to 70 years, although the majority is in their 40s and 50s.

The common denominator is that everyone here wants to fulfil a dream. To really do it! I think that is the shared motivation. Ten years ago Antarctica may have seemed like an impossible destination; that has changed. Logistically it is now easier to get there, but also mentally it seems more within reach. So my eleven expedition members are ready to rise to challenge.

This is my fourth trip to Antarctica, and the second time I lead a group expedition.

How would you describe the difference between expeditions to the South and North Poles? You have undertaken both, many times …

I would say that a journey to the North Pole is, in a certain sense, more extreme and intense. Any expedition there takes you through an ever-changing, and in fact unstable, landscape of ice floes, pack ice and leads of open sea.

Antarctica is more poetic, it can be just as cold and can at times be windier. The wind can make skiing even a short distance a miserable affair. On the other hand, it’s summer there in January, with a midnight sun. That means we’ll be warm and cosy inside our tents when we camp.

The air on the way to the North Pole can be quite moist and raw. On the other hand, crossing the Antarctic Plateau takes place at an elevation of 3000 metres, which is quite taxing on your body, and the cold accentuates that.

What is your itinerary for the next few days?

From Punta Arenas we fly a Russian aircraft across the Drake Passage and Cape Horn, and head south. We land on a blue ice runway at Patriot Hills, a private base in the Ellsworth Mountains, at 80 degrees latitude south, run by a company called Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions.

At Patriot Hills we change planes, although we may stay there a night or two before continuing in a Twin Otter. That smaller plane is equipped with skis, and can thus land on the snow where we choose, somewhere around 88˚S.

I wish you Godspeed!



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