Odyssey across Antarctica

January 08, 1995

As a child, the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was fascinated by the blank white spaces on maps of his time that represented the still uncharted regions of the globe. Little Roald put pins in the white spaces, telling his parents, "When I grow up, I want to go there."

A similar wanderlust probably underlay the efforts of four Norwegian skiers who recently paid homage to the great pioneer by making the arduous 750-mile trek from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole, which Amundsen first reached in 1912. The three men, Cato Zahl Pedersen, Odd Harald Hauge and Lars Ebbesen, traveled together from Berkner Island on Antarctica's western edge.

The fourth skier, Liv Arnesen, a former Oslo schoolteacher, traveled alone from Hercules Inlet. She became the first woman ever to ski unaccompanied from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole, arriving there on Christmas eve.

Though there are no longer any uncharted regions of the earth, the rigors of travel by land through the Antarctic have not changed since Amundsen's time. Ms. Arnesen's 50-day trip carried her across a barren landscape of unearthly but treacherous beauty marked by crevassed glaciers and slippery smooth ice frozen by temperatures as low as 40 degrees below '' zero. She dragged a sledge loaded with 200 pounds of food, fuel and equipment the entire way, and during the last 10 days of her journey succumbed to a severe case of frostbite.

Among the men making the trip, the 30-year-old Mr. Zahl, an insurance analyst, was at a particular disadvantage. He lost both arms in a childhood accident. Yet he too dragged his 200-pound sledge the whole way, using the prosthetic hook on his right hand to hold a single ski pole.

Such exploits are rare in an age of comfortable complacency. But having completed their journey, the skiers were at pains to declare their odyssey no mere stunt. "Our purpose was to show that impossibilities don't exist," said Mr. Pedersen. "Many things could have stopped us. Our food got contaminated with fuel, and fuel was low. We were very tired. But we made it, and I will try to show others that even difficult things can be overcome." In doing so, they are extending the quest that led Roald Amundsen to explore unknown lands to the yet uncharted regions of the human heart.

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