From working as a diver in the North Sea in the 80s, to writing 11 books, working on numerous documentaries and, most significantly, completing solo crossings of both the Arctic and Antarctic from coast to coast, Børge Ousland is one of the most accomplished and famous polar explorers of our time.
You’ve come a long way since your days as a saturation diver in the North Sea. What pushed you to take your first step into arctic exploration and ski across Greenland?
It was a combination of genuine lust for adventure and curiosity that first made me set out. The opportunities were there when I met Agnar [Berg] and Jan Morten [Ertsaa], two colleges from my diving days, and we simply decided to follow in the footsteps of our great hero Fridtjof Nansen and ski across Greenland.
After skiing across Greenland, you undertook a number of expeditions, including the first unsupported ski trek to the North Pole in 1990, a solo trek to the North Pole in 1994, and crossing the Antarctic in 1995. What is it about this landscape that has driven you to push your boundaries and keep returning?
It’s an unforgiving landscape: hard, with not much life; at least not when you get away from the coast. But at the same time it is beautiful in its own way, as if you are on a different planet, as I imagine it. There are no ways to cheat; it’s up to you, your skills, ability to plan ahead and of course, not giving up. That fascinates me.
Unchartered and unpredictable, these desolate locations must be challenging, both mentally and physically. How do you combat these difficulties?
The other element – often forgotten – is experience. I have practiced outdoor life since childhood and know more or less what works and what doesn’t. The mental part however, needs special attention. When you are out there feeling homesick and sorry for yourself, at that stage I try to think of it as a job I have to do, focusing on the landscape and route ahead, forgetting my inner struggles and myself. And I am quite stubborn, that helps.
Having tackled one of the world’s most demanding terrains, what would you consider your most important survival item and what do you never leave home without?
I would say a pocket knife with some essential tools can be handy in many situations. Swiss Army or Leatherman, they both work well. Imagine how valuable such items would be in the hands of a Stone Age man! I have done many essential repairs with such small tools. A roll of sports tape also works well for makeshift repairs, I use it on everything from ski poles to blisters.
Now the owner of the Manshausen, a unique destination in the middle of the Grøtøya strait in Norway, Børge is constantly taking on new challenges. Blending a seamlessly modern yet simple design, the Manshausen Sea Cabins are an exclusive getaway on an isolated and beautiful Norweigan island; they offer guests the opportunity to get back to nature, take on a number of challenging outdoor activities and – if they are lucky – view the elusive Northern lights from the comfort of their own bed. Featuring in Total Management’s luxury property portfolio The AWAY Collection, we ask Børge more about his venture into hospitality and this magical destination.
What was the original concept behind Manshausen?
The concept is first of all the surrounding nature, that’s the most important thing. I wanted people to experience it from a comfortable position, where they can sit in warmth, be snug and enjoy it, just a few inches away.
Architectural design evidently plays a key role in the construction of the sea cabins. What did you originally hope to achieve in your design, what inspired you?
The inspiration comes from two very different methods of transport: a spaceship and a boat. The sea cabins give the impression of a cross between a spaceship with a glass frame between you and the universe, and a boat where everything has a purpose. All details in the huts on Manshausen are there for a reason, there is a compact design but you have everything you need, even a guest room and spacious bathroom.
What is your favourite activity in the local area?
I do a bit of free diving, and I love to take my kayak out in between the islands, watching the birdlife early in the morning. If staying on a secluded and dramatic Norwegian island isn’t enough, he is also organising guided expeditions to the North and South poles, Patagonia, Greenland and other destinations worldwide.
Why do you want to share your adventures with a new group of travellers and what wisdom would you share with them before starting a polar trek?
It makes me happy to see people grow, and they really do that on the treks we guide. It’s out of everyone’s comfort zone: big time. We know what we are doing and we take people to the next level. We also hope and think that by experiencing the fragile beauty and complexity of wild nature it will inspire people to take better care of it; after all we only have one planet.
How will participants be challenged on these treks? What do you think is the biggest difficulty they will face?
They will be challenged both physically and mentally, some more than others, and we do our best to prepare them for the challenges ahead. We run training weekends and also advise them on all aspects of the trek.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own adventure?
Find a discipline or destination you really want to explore; you can only be good at something you like doing. Start at a level you feel comfortable with and take it from there. If it doesn’t work, step back, rethink and try again.
Photography by Steve King