Exclusive Everest interview with a polar champ
16:23 p.m. EDT May 15, 2003
Polar farers and mountain climbers are contrasting breeds. Polar veterans often labor in the mountains whilst mountaineers struggle in the polar regions. Messner lasted only ten days on his North Pole attempt, and only a few polar veterans have actually been successful at altitude. The two challenges are so contradictory that it takes a truly versatile approach to arrive at both.
In modern polar exploring one name seems to pop up more than most; Borge Ousland. He is one of the world's most experienced Polar explorers and has been just about everywhere in the Polar regions. Borge is also the inventor of the submerging suit that polar farers now use to swim (!) to the North Pole. Today, Ousland plays the waiting game in Everest base camp along with the other teams. If he is lucky, Borge will in just a week or so enter the small society of "the three poles" - adventurers that have made it to the South Pole, North Pole and Everestís summit.
Explorersweb caught up with Borge in Mount Everest BC for some Q and A:
Getting ready to climb Mount Everest what would you say separates a climbing expedition from a polar one?
I think it is two things. You do not have so much control of the danger here, and this is something I don't like. Everyone is just waiting for an accident in the ice fall, and you have absolute no control of it when you go through, you can just hope it will not be you. In the Arctic, if there is a polar bear about, or the ice breaks underneath you tent, it is largely up to your skills, preparations and reaction to decide if it goes well or not.
The waiting game is also different. Here you work hard for a few days and it is back to waiting, which can be quite frustrating I think. In the polar regions you are on the move all the time, seeing new things and getting to a new campsite every day. That's a big difference.
Having spent considerable time exploring the Polar regions what would you say attracted you to them in the first place?
It must be the hard, strong nature, and the back to basic feeling I get when I am out there. When you do unsupported expeditions to the poles, there is no way to cheat, it is your own ability, strength and preparations that will decide if you make it or not.
Which one of your expeditions has proven the most challenging - mentally as well as physically?
I think mentally it was my first solo trip, unsupported to the North Pole from Siberia in 1994. This because it was the first time I was going solo, and I had to break a lot of mental borders before I even could make the decisions to start. No one had even tried it before, and not many believed I would make it, therefore it was also one of my greatest victories. Physically the hardest was my solo crossing of the Arctic ocean in 2001.
Which one has been the most rewarding?
Both my 1994 and my 2001 expedition
Do you have any explorers as role models?
I think Reinhold Messner and me have a lot in common when it comes to the philosophy of breaking borders and the drive to do things that hasn't been done before.
How did this Everest expedition come about?
I met Hillary in Antarctica in 1997 after my solo crossing of Antarctica, we got along well and he agreed to write the foreword to my book from that trip. After that I have always wanted to see and explore what he and Tenzing did as the first. So for me Everest is not to be first or best, it is simply a great adventure.
How did you hook up with the Everest 2003 - Golden Jubilee Expedition?
This was through my friend Jon Gangdal, who is here now, and who has been on expedition with Jagged Globe owner Steve Bell before. Jon is one of Norway's most experienced climbers.
How do you manage to combine your family life with the extensive travels involved in Polar exploring?
I have a patient wife, who understands that this is something I must do. Besides it has been like this all the time, before I used to work as a deep sea diver in the oil platforms in the North Sea, and at that time I was actually much more away than now.
Is writing, talking and sharing your experiences with others an important factor for you?
Of course. I have made a living of being an explorer since 1993, so in this respect writing, films and lectures are an important part. But I also think it is important because I feel it has a mission, to show that it is possible to follow your dreams, use the nature, get back to the nature and through this take care of nature...
To fellow explorers dreaming of adventures, what are the most important things to consider?
Start at a level you feel comfortable with. Do something you like to do and something you can be good at. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you follow your dreams and do it.
After completing this climb what comes next? Have you got any more dreams to fulfill?
Yes I am going to ski across the southern Patagonian ice cap in Chile together with Swiss climber Thomas Ulrich, (who is now climbing Everest from the North side).
Borge was born in Norway and after working in the Naval special forces and as a deep sea diver he started exploring the polar regions. His first major expedition was in 1994 when he trekked solo and unsupported to the North Pole. A few years later in 1996 he made the first solo crossing of Antarctica; from Berkner Island in the Weddel sea, via the South Pole, to Mc Murdo in the Ross sea.
In 2001 he made a complete North Pole crossing, skiing from Cape Arctichesky in Siberia to Ward Hunt Island in Canada. This made him the first man to cross both poles. In addition to Polar exploring Borge has undertaken climbing expeditions over the years. 1999 he climbed Cho Oyo (8201m) the world's sixth highest peak. This year his sights are not set upon the Polar regions but on the Himalayas and Mount Everest. Borge left for Nepal on March 23 to attempt to climb Everest together with Jon Gangal. A push for the summit is on any day now, as soon as the weather permits.
Image courtesy of Borge Ousland