Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Norwegian explorer sees beauty in Arctic

Cecilie Skog

Whatever you did this summer, Cecilie Skog has you beat.

"I was in the Arctic Ocean trying to canoe to the North Pole," said Skog, a Norwegian explorer and adventurer. "It was great, but we had to turn around because of the ice conditions. "It was just the latest feat for the 37-year-old, dubbed the "Polar Princess" by the climbing press. Skog was the first woman to stand at both poles and atop the tallest peaks of every continent. Last year she and a friend completed an unprecedented 70-day journey across Antarctica unassisted on cross-country skis. In 2008 she survived a tragic avalanche after summitting K2, the second-highest mountain on Earth. Though Everest is higher, K2 is considered more treacherous. The avalanche killed 11 climbers, including her husband, Rolf Bae.

But Skog, a former nurse, continues to embrace any challenge life throws at her. Last fall she made it to the eighth round in Norway's version of "Dancing With the Stars" but withdrew after breaking two ribs during rehearsal.

Q: What was scarier, crossing Antarctica or being in "Dancing With the Stars?"

A: "Dancing With the Stars." It was a lot of fun training and learning a new thing because I didn't know how to dance at all. But when it was live on TV, it was so scary. I couldn't breathe.

Q: What are some of the most beautiful places you have visited?

A: If I had to say one place, the place that has the greatest memories, has been the Arctic Ocean. It's like you're skiing 4,000 meters above the ocean (she skied with Bae across the Arctic Ocean in 2006 to get to the North Pole, where he proposed). It's so quiet. It's amazing.

Q: Do you partake in leisure travel?

A: I like to go places where you can do both. I go to the Mediterranean to rock climb, then go to the beach later, around noon. But I like to work out when I'm on vacation. When I go to Paris, there is a big forest called Fontainebleau, and I like to climb the boulders.

Q: What are some great adventures for more modest explorers?

A: Explore the nature around where you live, and don't be in a rush. I started by exploring the mountains around where I lived, and then traveled around in Norway. The mountains slowly got higher. In the Himalayas there are so many tea houses (lodgings along the trails), so you can do many treks there as you try out the altitude. I wouldn't recommend going to Everest base camp, because there are so many people there.

Q: What are some essential survival tools for the extreme adventurer?

A: Prepare mentally. Picture how it's going to be and what you need to bring to be safe. If you have an emergency, visualize and think what can happen. It's so important to be calm.

Q: Any equipment you consider a must?

A: Always have a knife.

Q: What are the favorite cities you've visited?

A: I love to visit New York and go bouldering in Central Park and running. I love the energy there. It lifts me up. I feel like I'm not touching the ground when I'm there. There are so many different kinds of people, and they seem like they're all on their way to something. Also, Long Island. That's a very different atmosphere. I'm not used to beaches and things like that. We don't have that where I grew up. Others: Paris; my hometown, Alesund; Katmandu. I feel like I'm coming home, but it feels so busy. Also Sydney.

Q: Favorite hotels?

A: They have to have a gym. I also like hotels with a personal atmosphere. I don't like the very clean hotels; I love hotels with soul and personality.

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