Everest, North Pole, South Pole - ExWeb's interview with Three Poles pioneer: Erling Kagge

Everest, North Pole, South Pole - ExWeb's interview with Three Poles pioneer: Erling Kagge

Posted: Aug 16, 2008 01:14 am EDT

People often ask what we read in our spare time, expecting to pick our brains for cool adventure books. Truth is, our private library sports titles such as Silent Gesture, Death of a Dissident, Razor's edge, 109 East Palace, Free Lunch, and even both versions of the Art of War.

There are books on history, computing, space, journalism and politics - while most adventure books stay in the office. Partly because to us, many such books read the same and should be titled "me, myself and Everest." And partly because nobody should take work to bed. <cutoff>

Occasionally though, a different adventure story arrives. One such is Erling Kagge's "Philosophy for Polar Explorers."

One of the least known Norwegian explorers at ExWeb, AventureStats caught up with Kagge in relation to the recent change, placing him as the first in the world to do the "three poles." Following our email exchanges Erling shot over his latest book. We were hooked right from the start.

Illustrated with images of Barbie dolls, the subtitle reads "what they don't teach you in school." It's the book Erling always wanted to write, and now it's done - dedicated to his daughters.

<b>True stories</b>

There's the story of elephants that remain tied to small poles all their lives accepting the imaginary confinement out of sheer childhood habit.

Kagge teaches his girls the way out of procrastination by example from another polar legend: "The day is made all the better once the unpleasant things have been got out of the way. Roald Amundsen wrote in his account that it was on the very days when the grounds for staying in the sleeping bag were most persuasive, that things went best - once they got going."

We learn that Thor Heyerdahl suffered a fear of water, and Kagge offers graphs comparing things such as "the need to regret what I haven't done" vs. "the need to regret what I have done."

There are quotes from Peary - and even Tony Soprano. Fun and interesting pictures of explorers, athletes and personalities abound - side by side with a few of Kagge's own shots from his journeys to the farthest corners of Earth.

We won't give away more. There are plenty of motivational books out there, some have been lifetime favorites of ours, yet this little red one holds its own - perhaps because it's based on intelligent stories with an adventure edge; tinted by the author's own, genuine, and unique experiences. It's a special adventure book - because it's about <i>you.</i>

Still, this is ExplorersWeb so here goes an ExWeb interview with Erling Kagge, from a "three poles" perspective.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> We previously wrote that first out to have walked to the world's southernmost, northernmost and highest points was South Korean Young-Ho Heo, in 1994. Turned out he was actually airlifted, so you were first in fact, and rightfully received a Rolex award for the feat. Our question: do you still have the watch :)</i>

<b>Erling:</b> Yes, I wear my Rolex every day.

Rolex is a deeply loyal company responsible for making something trustworthy; and I greatly appreciate these qualities. Rolex have been with me since 1989 when they gave me the watch and I have had it on since then, but I have never applied for a Rolex award, nor, coming to think of it, have I received it. I have, however, been very pleased to serve on the board that appoints the award.

Talking about Heo. He is an impressive man and a good sport. He congratulated me in 1995 on my being the first to the three poles, so I believe neither of us have ever been in any doubt about who had that great privilege.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> You did the South Pole solo - what was that like so many years ago before logistics and gear became better?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> It is just as hard to get up in the early morning today, as it was back in the nineties.
I do not think the differences are as big as many seem to claim. I wore a cotton anorak and woolen underwear on my way to the Poles. Those materials worked perfectly. Todays equipment and logistics are, of course, making life on expeditions somewhat better, but the challenge still very much comes down to what the woman or the man are made of, so I believe it is easy to exaggerate the importance of what technology has contributed these last 15 years.

I recall that I ate the same food every day, and it began to taste better and better. And though I think it is a good idea to use sails, as some do, I am happy that I did not. It was something very special and meditative for me to progress towards my goal at the same rhythmic pace.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> The three Poles quest involves three very different expeditions, each demanding specific skills and assets - which of your poles was the most difficult for you and why? How was your gear, logistics and challenges back then compared to today?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> Børge Ousland, Geir Randby, Sjur Mørdre and myself did some major work on the gear, the food, exercise and the like, in the late eighties. When we studied the gear used by polar explorers at the time, we were quite surprised.

In our assessment, the boots, the anoraks, the food, the underwear, the sledges, they were simply not best made for the occasion. For instance, we tested all kinds of anoraks, but not a single one had a hood that was big enough to cover your head with a hat and air for insulation inside.

We had to design and make it all for ourselves, assisted by some very good people within the different fields. In the following years, I very much benefited from our initial research.

I didnt use a proper radio, neither to the North Pole nor down south. I am very happy for that. A radio is a good help, of course, but for me it is also frustrating to have to relate on a daily basis to life back home while being out there alone on the ice. Sailing from the Caribbean to Oslo in 1984, my mates and I didnt have an engine, a fridge, an oven, or a toilet...not one that was working anyway. And you know what, I really liked that simplicity. I guess Im just not Dr Gadget.

The challenges we undertook going to the poles was somehow considered to be some of the most difficult at the time. But, wonderfully, the world keeps moving, and today to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole is within reach for several folks. Fortunately for me, it can be done for the first time only once.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> Bagging even one of the three is plenty for most people. Reaching the top of Everest, skiing to the Scott-Amundsen SP base, or watching a GPS mark 90 degrees North is often not about records, but to make a life-long dream come true. How did you come up with the idea?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> I have always been a dreamer.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> What was the most memorable moment on each of the expeditions? The scariest?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> The scariest moments of my life have not been in the wilderness, but in the cities.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> Any regrets, or anything you would have done differently today?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> I feel very fortunate to have experienced so much close companionship. For instance, I feel grateful towards my three friends that went with me the first time I sailed across the Atlantic in a tiny boat in 1983, when I was just 20; and Im grateful to the crew and the owner of the yacht War Baby that I joined three years later so as to sail all the way to Antarctica from Bermuda. Likewise, I cherish my memories of my friend Børge Ousland who was my traveling companion on our way to the North Pole, and then there were my climbing-buddies on the summit of Everest.

I dont spend too much energy looking back in life, but when I do think upon my different expeditions, I have sometimes asked myself whether I did not gamble enough. It is easy to underestimate the fact that failures and successes are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

One is reliant upon the other, and both are a natural result of risking a little bit more. I am both very happy and somewhat unsatisfied about the fact that I have never failed to reach my goal on an expedition. One reason may be that I did not gamble sufficiently in the beginning.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> How did you feel when you "bagged the last one" - what were your thoughts about "what's next"?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> How in the world will I get down from here? was my second thought after summiting Everest, I mean after the sheer sense of relief to be actually standing on the top with my friends.

After the three poles, some well-intentioned people advised me to dive the Marianas and such like, but I felt that such deep-sea adventures mostly came down to cash and logistics, rather than human spirit, so the idea didnt grab me.

We are all, however, born explorers. My dear friend, the philosopher Arne Næss was once asked why he started climbing. Arnes reply was: "Why did you stop?" But there is, I think, a season for everything.

After Everest, I somehow felt in my guts that I needed a break from raising sponsorship for another expedition, from the lecture circuit, from people asking me whether it was chilly at the North Pole; so I decided to change the backdrop of my life by taking myself to the cobbled 15th century courtyards of Cambridge University to read philosophy for three terms. For me, exploration is about boldly investigating your lifes possibilities, both physically and mentally and in partnership with others.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> Do you feel that the "three poles" in themselves changed you, and/or your life in any way? How?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> We are a part of all that we have met, so I feel that my life on the ice, the oceans, and the mountains, has carved me.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> How do you feel about exploration today, on each of the three "poles"?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> I am simply very impressed with what the greatest explorers do today.

When I was younger I sometimes dreamed that I had been born 100 years earlier, so I could have been a part of that heroic age with Amundsen, Shackleton, Astrup, Scott and Nansen. Today, I just feel glad that I wasnt born 10 years later; otherwise Id have to do everything the complicated and more difficult way. Remember, Im not much of a Dr Gadget.

On the other hand I am not a part of the choir that is singing the blues because of the number of people traveling to the poles today, organized trips and all of that. I am happy for every human being that heaves themselves off the sofa and does something extraordinary in their life.

The folks who try to reach for something which is beyond themselves. Throughout history, from Socrates to Hillary, the older generations have spent too much time bitching about how the new generations do things differently. Im no fan of tradition for its own sake.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> What are you up to these days? Any dream expedition?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> I felt that I reached the Fourth Pole some years ago. At least that is how it felt to become a father. Funnily enough, it was the easiest Pole to achieve, but by far the most demanding afterwards. To be able to spend more time in Oslo with my newly made family, I founded a book publishing company from scratch.

Twelve years on, we now publish about 60 new titles a year. Im also a keen collector of international contemporary art, having been interested in such things since I was a schoolboy. But you know what, more than ever I love my skiing. So I ski a lot, and have been off on adventures here in Norway, in Greenland, and in Spitzbergen. And in a few days I hope to go off hiking with Børge.

Allow me please to say again: I never started being an explorer, and I never quit. Im a dreamer, remember, so yes, I do have a dream expedition. But I also love a good secret.

<b>ExWeb:</b><i> Finally, one single advice to the next generation of adventurers?</i>

<b>Erling:</b> Its me who needs the advice, but if I was forced to give some, maybe Id say Please keep in mind that most things remain unachieved. What are we gonna do about it?

<a class="linkstylenews" href="http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Polar-Explorers-Teach-School/dp/1901285693/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1218857506&sr=1-2" target="_new"> Philosophy for Polar Explorers on Amazon.com</a>

(Ed note: find AdventureStats Polar statistics in the links section below images).

<i>Born in Oslo in1963, Erling Kagge is a Publisher. He has three daughters; Nor, Solveig and Ingrid. Kagge reads a lot, mostly on philosophy and art, in addition to contemporary fiction and old classics. "Philosophy for Polar Explorers," is his latest book. Kagge finally recommends ATLAS OF EXPLORATION (Oxford University Press): "It gives at least me many new ideas on what can be done by people like us, based on and beyond what people have already achieved." </i>

#Polar #Stats #interview

Illustrated with images of Barbie dolls, the book subtitle reads "what they don't teach you in school." It's a book Erling always wanted to write, and now it's done - dedicated to his daughters.
There are fun and interesting graphs, stories and pictures of of explorers, athletes and personalities, along with a few of Kagge's journeys to the farthest areas this earth has to offer.
Children of Kagge...Norwegian ancestors of Nansen, and Amundsen.
"This very generalised graphic illustration is intended to show how in the course of our lives we humans change from regretting what we've done, to starting to spend time feeling bitter about what we haven't done." (Click to enlarge)
Many climbing/adventure books should be titled "me, myself and Everest." Occasionally though, a different story arrives. One such is Erling Kagge's "Philosophy for Polar Explorers."
The official world's first explorer to the summit of Everest, the South Pole and the North Pole; and the unofficial world's Best Dad according to Ingrid, Solveig and Nor. Image of Norwegian Erling Kagge, pub.tv2.no.