A Dark Journey to the North Pole This Sunday, two of the world's top solo explorers will attempt to do what no one has ever done: travel 620 miles on an unsupported mission to the North Pole in the total darkness of Arctic winter.
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A Dark Journey to the North Pole

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A Dark Journey to the North Pole

A Dark Journey to the North Pole

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This Sunday, two of the world's top explorers will set out for the North Pole, dragging 300 pounds of gear through total darkness. Borge Ousland of Norway and Mike Horn of South Africa have both been there before, but no one has made the trek during the long winter night with no airdrops of food, no pre-arranged substations with supplies. We talked to the two men today. They're in Norilsk, Siberia, and Mike Horn told us this 620-mile trek will take just over two months.

Mr. MIKE HORN (Explorer): We plan for about 64 to 67 days. We'll be taking about 70 days of food in case of bad weather, but normal daily intake would be about 7,000 calories for each of us.

NORRIS: What do you eat to get to 7,000 calories? How do you keep up your stamina and your strength, Borge?

Mr. BORGE OUSLAND (Explorer): It's not like NASA food or some special pill we take. It's just lots and lots of food, lots of fats, lots of carbohydrates and, of course, lots of protein to build up muscles again and lots of chocolate. That's our favorite.

NORRIS: Chocolate?

Mr. BORGE: Chocolate, yes.

NORRIS: What about preparing yourself psychologically for this? How do you get your head right for a trip like this?

Mr. HORN: For us, we go up in the darkness, so the mental preparation is about 80 percent of the success of an expedition like this. And you feel like sleeping, first of all, the whole day because the sun never comes above the horizon. But we're not there to sleep. We're there to do a job. And it's like I always explain to the people. It's not the risks that we like. It's not the danger that we like. It's simply the challenge to overcome these risks and to overcome these dangers. And, today, it's like progression. If we can progress in computers and building cars, we can progress by exploring the human mind and body and soul.

NORRIS: Tell me about the logistics. You take off Sunday and you'll be traveling primarily across land or ice?

Mr. OUSLAND: Oh, it's all going to be drifting ice. Underneath us on the North Pole, it's 4,000-meter deep water. Sometimes there is no ice at all. And then we just have to swim across to get across to the other side.

NORRIS: I just want to make sure I'm understanding you. So you basically swim across open Arctic water to get to the other side...

Mr. OUSLAND: Yeah, it...

NORRIS: ...carrying all of that equipment?

Mr. OUSLAND: Yeah.

NORRIS: What does that do to your body temperature?

Mr. OUSLAND: The thing which you don't really think about is that when you go in the water, the water is zero degrees. On the outside, it's minus 30 to 40. So if you can keep dry, it's actually 30 to 40 degrees warmer in the water than on the land.

NORRIS: Mike, I want to ask you in particular about how you prepare for the cold, because you've already, as I understand, lost the tips of some of your fingers to frostbite.

Mr. HORN: Yeah, we're always covered. I've got a system as soon as I get out of the tent, I take the snot that runs out of your nose, and I just rub it all over my face and it forms a layer of ice on my face. So basically that just takes the bite out of the wind.

NORRIS: When you travel in this area, you're not going to be the only inhabitants. So what happens when you come upon polar bears, which I understand has happened to you before.

Mr. OUSLAND: Yeah, I met polar bears a few times. Personally, I was attacked one time and I'd just shoot the polar bear. I never had to do that again. Normally, you're able to scare away polar bears.

Mr. HORN: And if the worst happens, we also have a gun which we can use.

NORRIS: Now you're both married. You're both fathers of young children. What do your families think about this? Mike?

(Soundbite of children playing)

Mr. HORN: I'm very, very, very much supported by my wife, Cathy, and my two daughters, Annika and Jessica. And the moment you say goodbye to your family, because they give you the freedom to do what you do, in return they want you to come back alive. So I think the role of a father today is not to buy his kids a bicycle or buy them an iPod or whatever. I think the role of a father today is to give something unique that they can only find with their father. And the moment I leave my home, I have given something unique to my kids that no other father in the world can give to them. And that's to me a certain responsibility. So the first steps that I take I have to know that I've got a good chance of coming back.

NORRIS: Borge Ousland, Mike Horn, thanks so much for talking to us. All the best to you. Please get back safely.

Mr. HORN: Thank you very much.

Mr. OUSLAND: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: There are photos, a map and a link to a National Geographic Adventure magazine article about the two explorers; all that at our Web site, npr.org.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): And you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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