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Best of ExplorersWeb 2010 Awards: Antarctica crossing

Posted: Dec 30, 2010 06:20 pm EST

Returning to life took more than a year for Cecilie Skog. She decided to find her closing on the very ice that had shaped her husband: Antarctica. In a world's first she would cross the continent with American climber Ryan Waters, and Rolf Bae's maps to guide them.

Lost on K2

It was a shock: Rolf Bae was very well known in the Polar community for the under-the-radar Antarctic crossing he had made in 2000 with Eirik Sønneland from Toll Base (Dronning Maud Land) to Scott Base.

A few years later, Cecilie showed up on the scene. They climbed Cho Oyu together. In 2004, Cecilie summited Everest with Himex while Rolf and a climbing partner mapped out a new route on Shisha Pangma. In 2005 Rolf, Cecilie and three others attempted K2.

The summit was a no go, but already later that year Bae returned to the ice -- this time with Cecilie and a fellow Norwegian friend. It took them only 119 days (82 days on the ice) to reach both poles without support and back to back.

The couple got married in 2007 but didn't slow down. The following spring, Rolf Bae and three climbing mates bagged the summit of Trango Tower after 27 days on the wall. A few months later, Rolf and Cecilie returned to K2.

On August 1st 2008, Cecilie summited K2 with Lars Naesse. They hurried down Rolf who had stopped to rest 300 ft below the summit. A serac broke off. Cecilie watched the light of Rolf's head torch disappear. Her husband and the fixed rope were gone.

Return to life

Returning to life took more than a year for Cecilie. She did it as an explorer. The last 15 months have been very hard," she told ExplorersWeb. "Rolf is gone, but not my dreams. She decided to find her closing on the very ice that had shaped her husband: Antarctica.

A giant expedition was set up. Cecilie would do a full crossing, together with a mountaineer.

Ryan Waters of Colorado, 36, former mountaineering instructor for Patagonia Outward Bound, had done extensive climbing and guiding work in the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet as well as the Karakoram Range in Pakistan. A veteran of 8000-meter peak expeditions, including three expeditions to Mt. Everest, reaching the summit of both the Tibet and Nepal sides of the mountain -- except for a Greenland crossing Ryan was however fairly new to the polar world.

The odds didn't seem too good. Previous crossings had used wind to ski-kite across our planets most southern continent. Using only their own human power and getting no resupplies along the way, the two intended to write a major chapter in Antarctic history.

Endless horizons

On the eve of 2009, a Twin Otter dropped the skiers at the edge of Berkner Island. Ahead stretched a distance of approximately 1800 km, behind them, two sleds weighing 135 kg (300 pounds) each.

The first goal was to cross the island. Thereafter they skied on sea ice to get onto the mainland. At the blue ice they had to switch their skis for crampons. At the very steep areas they both clipped onto one sled and pulled together for one and half hours at a time, going back for the other sled and do it all over again.

Endless horizons and the long, daily distances offered plenty of time for reflection. We think about funny things, sometimes sad things," dispatched Cecilie. "Thoughts for the future, family, friends, Christmas, and new trips to come, maybe even somewhere warm, barefoot in the sand...

Back to the sea

New Years Day they reached the South Pole in a fast 49 days. Wrote Ryan in their daily update, The first major goal of our expedition is complete and we are now turning our attention and compasses due North! We leave today to ski toward the next phase of our journey, to reach the other side of Antarctica... at the end of the Axel Heiberg Glacier to the Ross Sea.

From 80 meters (260 feet) above sea level at the start they had climbed to an altitude of up to 3,200 meters (10,500 feet), passed the South Pole near Titan Dome, and began descent. A major crevasse area was ahead.

We knew it was out there," dispatched Ryan. "We tried to avoid the area by staying west of our bearing, but sure enough today we got into the area affectionately known as The Devil's Dance Floor. A vast area of huge crevasses that has given pause to Amundsen, and worried every other explorer to get near this location.

The final

Backtracking out of the Dance Floor, the two began
covering huge distances. Their food was running out while navigation and route finding became increasingly hard. Skiing 17 to 18 hours per day, in their most exhausted state, the skiers could not afford even the slightest mistake. An injury, or failure of gear -- and it would have been over. The final run down the Axel Heiberg glacier became the most crucial.

An unassisted, unsupported crossing like this had only been done once before - across the Arctic Ocean by legends Rune Gjeldnes and Torry Larsen - but never on Antarctica. This was the expedition that Cecilies late husband, Rolf, had wanted to do.

She walked it for him and told ExplorersWeb, There were many days that we were thinking about him. He has been part of the trip the whole way. He skied the glacier in 2001 and we used his information and maps. Some days it was hard.

Only seventy days after they started out; the Norwegian widow and the American mountaineer made it. Fighting their way through the big drop, the quiet valley, the triangle, ice falls, crevasses, and down the ski jump -- from there at last, they could literally see the finish below them on the frozen Ross sea ice.

Ryan Waters impressed even the hardcore polar Norwegians: "Hats off," they said, "he really deserved the mountainous overdose the Axel Heiberg area is."

But Cecilie wasn't done yet: eight months after her steps on the Devil's Dance Floor, and two years after she lost him on K2, in a final tribute to Rolf -- this fall she danced for her husband in Norways Dancing with the Stars.

Previous Awards in 2010

2. Antarctica crossing, Cecilie Skog and Ryan Waters
3. Himalaya helicopter rescues, Sabin Basnyat, Fishtail Air and Air Zermatt.
4. Mars Ocean Odyssey, Reid Stowe
5. Teen solo world circumnavigation, Jessica Watson
6. Indian Ocean row, Erden Eruc
7. Himalayan Knights, Joao GarcĂ­a and Piotr Pustelnik
8. North Pole circumnavigation, Peter 1st and Northern Passage

Special mentions:
Dan Darley and Amelia Russell; North Pole unsupported
Ed Stafford (and Cho); Amazon from source to sea
Valery Rozov; Antarctica BASE jump
Jean-Louis Etienne; North Pole crossing in a rozière balloon.
Special climbs: Denis Urubko's Lhotse, Basque traverse on Broad Peak, Ukraine nMakalu, Ralf and Gerlinde's Everest, Eric Larsen's Everest, Chad Kellogg on Aconcagua.

We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2010. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.

And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.

By their performance, these expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:

- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty

#Polar #topstory

The mental part was the most difficult," said Ryan in a phone call to ExplorersWeb after arriving at the Ross Ice Shelf on 21 January 2010.
courtesy Ryan Waters (sent over Contact), SOURCE
Cecilie and Ryan celebrating the first unassisted, unsupported crossing of Antarctica at Patriot Hills. A "raw" crossing like this had only been done once before, across the Arctic Ocean, but never on Antarctica. Currently, Ryan is on Lhotse, climbing with Lakpa Dorjee.
The start at Berkner Island with 135 kg sleds.
courtesy Ryan Waters (over Contact), SOURCE
Ryan and Cecilie happy to be off the sea ice and about to step onto the mainland where blue ice and steep hills awaited.
Image by Cecilie Skog, SOURCE
Also on the current push: File image of star mountaineer and polar skier Cecilie Skog in a stunt at Norwegian "Dancing with the stars."
Image by Thomas ReisĂŚther, SOURCE
The sastrugi in 86 degrees has been constant chaos. Impossible to ski around them, just ski on our compass bearing and take what comes our way.
Image by Cecilie Skog, SOURCE
Ryan: For me, Cecilie is the good partner that can tell if it is a hard day and say, 'only two days till Christmas, lets have a great day'."
courtesy Ryan Waters (over Contact), SOURCE
At the South Pole after 49 days, turning north.
courtesy Ryan Waters (over Contact), SOURCE
Backtracking out of the Devils Dance Floor. Being cautious and end running the whole section. Too close now for careless mistakes, wrote Ryan.
courtesy Ryan Waters (over Contact), SOURCE
The last days down the Axel Heiberg Glacier were challenging navigation and route finding, a mini expedition on its own, Ryan said.
courtesy Ryan Waters (over Contact), SOURCE
Cecilie and Ryans route the black line - and no cutting corners: Upon arrival at the Ross Sea they camped 20 km away from land to make sure they had crossed the continent.
courtesy Ryan Waters (over Contact), SOURCE