Polar Explorer on Life Alone at the Edge

John Roach
for National Geographic News
February 13, 2004

Following in the footsteps of his renowned countrymen Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, Norwegian polar explorer Børge Ousland is fueled by a desire to leave his mark on history. At the age of 41, Ousland appears on course to achieve his goal.

Ousland has already achieved many firsts, including the first unsupported, solo ski crossings of the North and South Poles and the entire continent of Antarctica. Ousland also became the first person to ski and swim alone across the Arctic Ocean. And last year, Ousland and partner Thomas Ulrich were the first to trek unassisted across the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.

National Geographic News recently spoke with Ousland about his career as an explorer.

What inspired you to become a polar explorer?

Being a Norwegian has lot do with it. We have a history all the back way to the Vikings of being explorers, of pushing ourselves beyond our normal limits to see [what's] possible … [and] to see what is beyond the horizon. [My] big expeditions in the North and South Poles also have elements of wanting to do something great. To put my mark in history. To do something that has never been done before.

What do you find so attractive about frozen landscapes?

These areas are so naked and true that there is no way to cheat them. You are just there in a landscape that hasn't changed for thousands of years. Being out in that landscape allows you to get down to the core of it. Through that, you also get down to the core of yourself. And it's beautiful. You feel as if it is the last place on Earth. It's just you and the ice.

What have been the keys to your success as an explorer?

The first thing is preparation. You need to have a good plan. You have to be motivated. And you have to have the right training and experience.

I prepare every little detail—the clothing to keep me warm, the equipment to make me fast over the ice, the food so I don't get hungry. I've even invented equipment, such as the dry suit I used to swim across patches of water in the Arctic. You have to prepare for success.

You also need to be balanced, especially on the solo trips. You need the balance between pushing on hard—putting your forehead first and just going on and wanting to achieve your goals—and at the same time you need to know when to hold back.

You need balance between being tough and hard and being humble. That has been a key part of success for my expeditions.

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