"We crossed water 20 times a day, jumping from one ice floe to the next, sometimes swimming, or paddling kayaks in long leads of open water," says Norwegian Børge Ousland, 45, one of the world's greatest living polar explorers. For over a decade Ousland (pictured) has been bagging one milestone after another. But this spring, along with Swiss partner Thomas Ulrich, 40, he upped the ante to capture one of the Arctic's last trophies: a re-creation of countryman Fridtjof Nansen's epic journey from 1895 to 1896.
As the Ousland of his own era, Nansen spent two years on a grueling quest for the North Pole. In the end, he and a partner reached 86º 14' N, the northernmost point attained at the time, but then bad weather set in and they were forced to overwinter on a deserted island in a hut they built themselves. Not until the following summer, when the pair was on death's doorstep, did they happen across an English expedition at Cape Flora, in northern Franz Josef Land, that sailed them back to safety.
Ousland and Ulrich's odyssey began with a flight to the North Pole this past May and involved an 870-mile (1,400-kilometer) triathlon of skiing, kayaking, and swimming in their dry suits. Heavy waves and howling winds pinned them in their tents for days; at one point they had to share a small cape with two hungry polar bears. The crux of the trip was crossing Franz Joseph Land, an Arctic archipelago that has been effectively sealed off by the Russian military since the 1930s. Gaining permission only days before reaching the border, Ousland and Ulrich made their way to the exact spot where Nansen was saved by the English. Like Nansen, they were picked up by a sailboat. But unlike Nansen, who was content to see his journey end, Ousland added his own modern twist: In Bodø, Norway, he hopped on his bike and rode 930 miles (1,497 kilometers) back home to Oslo.
- Nat Geo Expeditions