Norwegian abandons polar trek

Antarctic challenge: Frostbite cripples explorer two weeks after rival Briton halted solo walk
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The Independent Online
STEPHEN GOODWIN

Borge Ousland, the Norwegian attempting to walk alone across the Antarctic - the last great challenge in polar exploration - has given up his attempt because of frostbite, two weeks after his British rival also conceded defeat.

Within hours of learning that Ousland had been airlifted out, Roger Mear announced that he would return to Antarctica next autumn for another attempt at the 1,657-mile crossing.

Using skis and pulling a sledge with 450lb of supplies, the 45-year-old mountain guide from Derbyshire covered 424 miles in 42 days before deciding he was going too slowly. He blamed difficult snow conditions and tracking problems with his sledge, but remained convinced a solo, unsupported crossing was possible.

Despite the strong echoes of the Amundsen-Scott race to the South Pole, both explorers expressed sympathy at the misfortunes of their rival.

Mear said he hoped Ousland's frostbite injuries were not serious. "His failure to complete the crossing, even after being re-supplied at the South Pole, puts into perspective the magnitude of the journey and the difficulties facing anyone who attempts it."

The caveat was significant. Mear pulled all his supplies for an unsupported crossing he hoped to complete in 100 days. Ousland was focusing on the solo aspect. Relying on re- supply, he was able to start out with a load some 85lb lighter than Mear's.

The Norwegian was airlifted to safety four days after leaving the South Pole on the second leg of his crossing. Frostbite on the inside of his thighs had become so inflamed he realised it would be folly to continue.

Behind the cruel necessity to pull out was an almost amateur miscalculation by the most experienced of solo polar travellers. "In retrospect he should have used one extra pair of underpants for that particular day," said the expedition spokesman Hans Christian Erlandsen.

Ousland was resting yesterday in Punta Arenas in southern Chile. He was "disappointed" but had the consolation of becoming the first person to ski to both the North and South Poles alone and unsupported by pre-placed supplies or air drops.

The 33-year-old former deep sea diver took only 44 days to reach the South Pole from Berkner Island by the Weddell Sea. Temperatures fell to as low as -40C. He left the United States base at the South Pole on Christmas Day and covered another 40 miles before calling for help.

"Because of the walking the frostbite had no opportunity to heal. It was rubbing all the time. After the Pole, the inflammation became even worse on one side and it dug in deeper. Borge understood it had no chance of healing by itself." Mr Erlandsen said.

As to whether he will try again, Mr Erlandsen has so far been too delicate to press his friend. But the news that Mear was to try again was greeted as "very interesting". The history of polar exploration strongly suggests that in less than 12 months both men will be pitting themselves against the same unforgiving wilderness.

t David Hempleman-Adams, who is attempting to become the first Briton to walk solo to the South Pole has suffered a setback after injuring a leg, his spokesman said last night.

Hempleman-Adams, 39, from Swindon, began his trek on 9 November and is less than 100 miles from his destination. The expedition co-ordinator Jock Wishart said the accident had not dented the explorer's determination to finish: "As long as his body and his equipment holds out, he could reach the Pole in the next few days."

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