for National Geographic News
The top of the world can be a pretty desolate place, but the North Pole was a sweet sight for Thomas and Tina Sjogren as they skied and swam their way to 90ºN latitude without any external support.
The triumph makes the Sjogrens only the fourth and fifth people to reach Earth's three poles (Mount Everest, which they summited in 1999, is sometimes known as Earth's third pole). Tina is the first woman to achieve the feat.
"It's really incredible and we can hardly believe that we're here," said Tina via satellite phone from the couple's North Pole camp. "We have been sleeping here for about 17 hours straight. In the last week we were pushing hard, going about 17 hours at a time, so now that we are at the final camp, we have been exhausted."
The Sjogrens have been picked up and are now being airlifted back to Eureka, a weather station on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada.
Tom, 42, was born in Sweden and Tina, 43, is from Czechoslovakia but went to Sweden at age 9 as a political refugee. The couple now lives in New York.
Food and Fuel Ran Low
The last days of the journey became a sprint for the pole as both food and fuel began to run low. The weary explorers pushed themselves hard, racing onward for 34 hours of the last 50. On these final days the pair encountered tough weather and lots of open water; in some stretches leads (water openings in the Arctic ice) appeared every ten minutes. These stretches of ocean water often necessitated swim/paddles, a method the couple devised by donning a lightweight drysuit and plunging into the water, or lying on the sled and paddling it like a surfboard.
The pair was also beset with injuries, both routine and scary, that tested their resolve and resourcefulness. In one bad fall Tom badly bruised his neck. To continue he had to fashion a head stabilizer from a mattress and duct tape. Numerous unexpected dunkings and leaks often left the couple soggy and converted their tent into a "dark, clammy grotto."
But at 3:17 p.m. on May 29, as the couple watched with bated breath, the numbers on their GPS unit revealed that their goal had at last been attained.
Without the aid of dogs, sails, or supply drops, it was only their strength and willpower that allowed them to ski, paddle, and swim their way to both the North and South Poleswhich they visited back-to-back.
On February 2, 2002, they reached the South Pole after 63 exhausting days of skiing. The journey covered 1,250 miles. After allowing just 35 days for recovery and preparation, they set out again, this time on their quest to reach the North Pole, although at times it seemed an impossible task.
"You are so wasted, so skinny and tired after an unsupported expedition to the South Pole," Tina remembered, "you don't know if you could do another one right away." A lot of people thought the back-to-back feat was not possible, and as the couple acknowledged, "deep inside we too knew our lousy odds all too well." Their philosophy, however, means pushing the limits of what can be achieved. "We had to try at least," they said, "and what do you know..."
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