Extended comfort zone

– Polar explorer Cecilie Skok loves being at the extremes og the Planet


Text Kristin Folsland Olsen
Photo Kristin Folsland Olsen


Since Nansen’s attempt to reach the North Pole in 1895 and Amundsen’s successful expedition to Antarctica in 1911 many people have dreamed of following in their ski trails. One, who has climbed out of the dream and taken the step all the way across the planet’s extremes, is the mountaineer and explorer Cecilie Skog. Eqology spoke with Cecilie about the differences between travelling to the North Pole and the South Pole.

North Pole versus South Pole


– The main difference is that there is so much more going on at the North Pole compared to the South Pole, says Cecilie.
– At the North Pole everything is constantly moving. There are ice leads opening and closing, you see polar bear tracks and seals lying on the ice. Generally you get much more external stimuli when skiing on the Arctic Ocean. On the way to the South Pole, on the other hand, there is just endless whiteness, and absolutely nothing is going on. Whatever happens is inside your own head.Pole, says Cecilie.
– Do you ever get bored?
– Yes, I do, occasionally. Even though it’s not what sticks out in my memory afterwards, I do remember looking at my watch, realizing that I’d been skiing for only 12 minutes. I felt I had an infinitely long way to go. If you start thinking like that, you just have to cut that thought and start thinking positively. Otherwise it becomes unbearable. And it’s supposed to be great.

1800 kilometers


Yes, exactly, skiing is supposed to be great! Whether the trip is short or long. Cecilie’s trips are somewhat longer than those of the common man. On her trip to the North Pole in 2006, Cecilie and her team used 49 days. When she in 2009 was on a trip to Antarctica, she didn’t settle for “just” going to the South Pole. Together with her partner Ryan Waters, she just as well crossed the Antarctic continent. The two used 71 days on the 1800 kilometer long trip. Moreover, Cecilie says she has been at the South Pole once before, in 2005. In the summer of 2011 Cecilie tried to paddle to the North Pole with Rune Gjeldnes. However, the duo had to cancel the trip after 13 days due to the difficult conditions. There was too much ice for paddling, and the ice was too weak for skiing on it.

Time to think


– What goes through your mind while pulling a 130 kg heavy sled, hour after hour?
– A lot! I get to sort out my thoughts in my head. Thinking them through, thoroughly. For example, for many days I thought of my confirmation, the guests, and so on. You get plenty of time to think about stuff that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Furthermore, Cecilie says that she thinks of experiences she has had in the past, and that she dreams of what will happen in the future.
– But sometimes I decide to seize the moment and just take in the beauty surrounding me. However, after a while your mind starts wandering off again, and all of a sudden it’s gone with the wind – literally. Sometimes it’s incredibly annoying not to be able to hold on to a thought.

Cecilie’s favorite Pole


Since Cecilie is so familiar with both of the Poles – the North and South, we wonder if she has a favorite.
– Yes, the North Pole, says Cecilie resolutely, before elaborating:
– The North Pole is special and has given me the most tremendous experiences. I was living very intensely up there. The environment requires that you must be very present, mentally, at all times. At Antarctica, on the other hand, it’s more about dreaming – back or forward in time. You feel like a walking zombie.

At the North Pole it was the moment when I truly realized that we actually were on the sea.

– What is more challenging, going to the North Pole or the South Pole?
– Definitely the North Pole. We had to work hard every hour of the way to get there. And it is much more uncertain whether you will make it all the way or not. It is both physically and mentally demanding.
– Are the procedures the same or somewhat different?
– There are big differences. In Antarctica, we followed an almost military regime. We kept going for 45 minutes and had a five minute break. Then we went on for another 45 minutes and had a ten min break. Over and over again. At the North Pole we didn’t go by the clock in the same way. We met so many natural obstacles, such as large ice leads and pack ice. We took a break whenever there was a natural stop.

Everyday life


To better understand what it’s actually like to be on the world’s extremes, we ask Cecilie to share a special experience from each of the poles.
– On the trip across Antarctica the strongest memory was definitely the Axel Heiberg Glacier. It was so huge, massive, and broad. I felt so tiny. It was incredibly beautiful, with lots of mountains that popped up everywhere, and glaciers coming down.
– And the North Pole?
– At the North Pole it was the moment when I truly realized that we actually were on the sea. That was when we met the first ice lead. We could feel the lead long before we saw it. All of a sudden we were covered with frost and ice, because of the humidity. There was a layer of frost everywhere. There is another type of coldness at the North Pole, the kind of cold that creeps all the way into your bones. I stood there, knowing that we are going to cross this water.
– Was it scary?
– Yes, it was. But after a while it became everyday life, says Cecilie with a smile.

Facts


  • The South Pole is located in Antarctica, which is land covered by ice.
  • At the North Pole there is no solid ground, just ice floating on the sea.
  • Arctic consists, however, of more than just ice. Around the North Pole there’s land masses belonging to Canada, USA, Russia, Greenland and Norway. Indigenous populations live in several of these areas.
  • Antarctica, on the other hand, is international territory. In Antarctica there are no indigenous, but researchers are staying here for short periods of time.