MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
They made it, after 61 days, walking through darkness, across snow and ice, swimming across arctic water, battling frostbite and illness, Mike Horn and Borge Ousland arrived at the North Pole yesterday, 90 degrees north. Both men have explored the arctic on their own before. This time together they completed the first ever unsupported trek to the Pole during the dark winter months. They dragged all of their own supplies behind them.
Now daylight has reached the North Pole and the men are waiting in their tent waiting for a Russian helicopter to bring them back to civilization. Horn is from South Africa, Ousland from Norway, we reached them by satellite phone today and I asked Mike Horn to describe a typical day's trek.
MIKE HORN: A normal day would start basically with, when we wake up we would pee in the tent because of the frost build up inside the tent. We would start melting snow because there's no water, or the water that we have is basically salty water because we are on the ocean. And then that would give us basically water to feed ourselves. We would eat oatmeal with oil and fat in the mornings and that would be the last warm meal for about 12 hours.
At that stage we would get into our clothing, we would get out, we would fold up the tents, we would pack our sleds. And then we would start trekking for more or less 11 hours, maximum that we did was 12 hours. So a day really goes through quite quickly. Once we end the day, we set up the tent, we get into the tent, we cook our meals, we fall asleep and then we're ready for the next day.
BLOCK: I wanted to ask you about one part of your trip, which is, I gather that you fell through the ice a couple of times, what happened?
HORN: It was when, in very strong winds and blowing snow, I crossed the ice, basically started moving and I felt, I was in a position that I was, I was split basically into two. One leg on the one side of the ice it was moving north and one leg on the other side of the ice that was moving south. And basically the ice moves at such a speed that, you know, I could not get to the other side and basically went in about knee deep.
BLOCK: Those had to have been some scary moments, when you realized you were going into that water?
HORN: Yes, that's, you know that's usually when, when you really go into the drink, right up to your head, that's the end of your life. And when you see the ice move and basically, you know, that there's no way out of this one, you know, some body has pulled the trigger, is the bullet going to hit or not? Basically, it's quite impressive.
BLOCK: I bet after being in the dark for that long, just to see that first glimpse of light must be a remarkable thing.
HORN: It was quite amazing to see the sun rise above the horizon. And to have such an important source of heat taken away from you for more than three months was quite an amazing experience. The sun is life and without heat and without life, basically you don't feel like living.
And living through the conditions that we were living in, this has been on one of the real great stories ever accomplished in the Arctic. To ever think of making a winter crossing to the North Pole from Russia was really ambitious.
BRAND: Mr. Horn, is your traveling companion there in the tent with you right now?
HORN: My traveling companion is next to me. I don't know if he's asleep at this state, but I'll just tickle him. Are you awake?
BORGE OUSLAND: Hello?
BRAND: Hello, Mr. Ousland. How are you?
OUSLAND: I'm fine, thank you.
OUSLAND: I've been sleeping a little bit. Who is this?
BRAND: This is Melissa Block from National Public Radio in Washington. I'm sorry to wake you up.
OUSLAND: Oh, that's fine. You know, I just dozed off a little bit.
BRAND: I was curious about something with this trek. You've very used to doing this sort of thing on your own, whether in the Arctic or in Antarctica. How different was it to be traveling with someone?
OUSLAND: Well, first of all, I think this expedition is not something I would do alone. I don't think it's possible, actually, and when I asked Mike to join me on this expedition, I asked another solo guy because I knew that he's been out there by himself and he's been through the same hardship as I, and the way be made it was to do it as a team, and I think that's the only way you can do such treks like this, which is so extreme.
BRAND: Did you see any other people during these 61 days?
OUSLAND: Oh, no, there is no one here. There's absolutely no one here. We always have polar bears. I think we met six polar bears on this trip, and they came to our tent at night, and they're beautiful animals, but it's not comfortable to have them that close, especially not when you're sleeping.
BRAND: Well, what do you do about that?
OUSLAND: We have like a flare gun, which we could scare them away with, so they don't like the flames and the sound and all this big bang, so we must have scared them away.
BRAND: So they're not injured, they're just frightened?
OUSLAND: Oh no, they're not injured at all, just frightened.
BRAND: Mr. Ousland, what was it like when you made it to 90 degrees north, what feeling was that?
OUSLAND: Well, I just feel so joyful inside that I took the decision to start this, to dare this, because it's so easy just to stay home and do nothing and maybe say, no, that's too dangerous, it's too far, it's going to be too cold, but that we took the chance, and the hardship we've been through and the difficulty we've been through just makes it even greater and greater.
BRAND: Well, Mr. Ousland, congratulations.
OUSLAND: Oh, thank you very much.
BRAND: That's Borge Ousland. He and Mike Horn just completed the first unsupported trek to the North Pole during the winter months. For more on their trek through the dark, hike over to NPR.org.
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