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Skiing to The South Pole

Following in Roald Amundsen’s footsteps skiing up the remote, challenging and highly crevassed Axel Heiberg glacier to the South Pole

"Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised."

Polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Skiing up the Axel Heiberg Glacier

In November 2021, as training for an upcoming never before accomplished feat of endurance and for the experience itself, I embarked upon an epic journey in Antarctica. The plan was to follow in Roald Amundsen’s footsteps skiing from the base of the Ross Ice Shelf up the Axel Heiberg Glacier to the South Pole.

We flew from Punta Arenas, Chile, one of the southernmost cities in the world to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica. As soon as I landed in Antarctica, my first words were…

“I’m in Antarctica (with great excitement)… I’m home (with a deep sense of calm and knowing)

The 2nd part just came out without thinking. Which is strange and beautiful, considering I’m going to be spending a fair bit of time there in the next few years.

It was a privilege to have set foot on that land.

Upon arriving at Union Glacier, we began packing our food bags, getting our sleds ready and organizing everything we needed for up to 38 days in the field.

Despite finishing all our preparations in 4 days, we had to wait 9 days for a clear weather window to fly out to our starting point on the Ross Ice Shelf.

On December 1st, after tasting the fear before battle, we began our expedition. 

But the journey did not go as planned…

On day 17, I got frostbite on 3 of my fingers.

We wrapped them and waited till the next morning to see if they’d get any better. They did not. The frostbite spread. My fingers became even more swollen, blistered and blue. The call was then made for me to be evacuated. The doctor said if I exposed those fingers to the cold any more, I’d lose them.

I’ve analyzed it a lot and I don’t know what caused it to happen. I didn’t do anything stupid. I didn’t do anything differently than the rest of the team or how I’ve usually done it, and I’ve been on cold weather expeditions plenty of times before. Christian also said I wasn’t reckless and it was just bad luck. It really seemed to have come out of nowhere, especially on those particular fingers.

Objectively, I can say with confidence I didn’t make any mistakes to have caused the frostbite. But at the same time, I know I wasn’t perfect out here. That’s on me. I will be next time.

It was an unfortunate end to the trip, but Antarctica is hostile and unforgiving. Playing in that arena is a dangerous game, and there are consequences.

Nonetheless, it was a privilege to experience the beauty and raw power of Antarctica. I absolutely loved it. Before the frostbite, I thrived out there in every way, mentally, physically, spiritually and as a strong, contributing member of the team, as my teammates themselves told me.

Antarctica gifted me some of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life…

I rocked out to 80’s power ballads in Antarctica, which is just objectively cool 🙂

I went on my first ever run on the frozen continent and felt a deep connection to that land that will live with me forever.

I experienced one of the finest physical battles of my life by tapping into a new place within my soul I called “The Cage.”

I got to see Amundsen’s Cairn and bear witness to a legendary part of polar history. Less than 10-15 human beings have ever visited that site since Amundsen marked the spot 110 years ago.

I heard the serene sounds of silence and emptiness.

I began the descent into madness that one day I will complete 🙂

I was blessed to be a part of a team of warriors and beautiful souls who looked out for me and had my back in every way when I got frostbite.

I lived through the magnificent ebbs and flows, highs and lows of expedition life. One of the many reasons why I went to Antarctica and why I go on such adventures is because they are microcosms for the whole human experience. In one compressed moment of time, I get to feel the entirety of a human life.

I came face to face with the unrelenting brutality of a polar storm. It is by far one of the most savage and ferocious environments a human being can endure.

I experienced one of my greatest moments in nature.

I felt a profound sense of peace and oneness with all that is.

And…

My team and I became one of only 26 human beings to ski up the remote, challenging and highly crevassed Axel Heiberg glacier.

We completed the climb and made it to the polar plateau on the exact day 110 years later from when Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole.

I am damn proud what my team and I achieved out there.

Despite how the expedition ended, I was and am in great spirits. 

I am already planning my return to the ice to accomplish a feat that a man often called “the world’s greatest living explorer” deemed “probably impossible.” 

Even the prospect of this endeavor terrifies. But it has become me. Antartica lives within my soul.

There is something truly magical about that land. It is hostile, unforgiving, inhospitable and deadly. Yet it calls to a handful of brave explorers who dare venture into the kingdom of ice…

About his journey to Antarctica, legendary polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton once said…

“We had seen God in His splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”

I got a small taste of that on this expedition, but it wasn’t enough. Antarctica and I are not done.

I will return to the ice once again…

Expedition Journey

This was the live tracker of our journey up the Axel Heiberg up to the point where I was evacuated due to frostbite.

Axel Heiberg Journal

21 – We are all superheroes

The reason I am posting daily updates of the journey, even on some days, like yesterday, when I was pretty tired, is because I hope something I share makes a difference in your day. Antarctica is teaching me a lot and those lessons are not just mine to learn.

20 – The most legendary of battles

The last time I got in “the cage” was a warmup compared to this. This time I wasn’t talking in my head, I was talking out loud on every switchback as I fought that heavy sled up each turn. It didn’t matter who was around me, I was in my world. I was unstoppable on that hill. My teammates must have thought I was insane 🙂

19 – More bad weather

I was so excited. I got on my gear, started to get in my mental “cage,” told myself let’s go and was smiling, all charged up to take on that next hill. We got out and the clouds came in again and the move up the glacier was called off. I thought of that scene from Braveheart and told myself in a Scottish accent, “well, I guess you got all dressed up for nothing” 🙂

18 – The anticipation is worse than the attack

I became like an animal in a cage. The few feet in front of me was my cage. And inside that cage, I was in my own world. Nothing existed outside of it. Inside that cage, I was a beast on fire consumed by the immediate fight in front of me.

17 – This moment is yours for all eternity

Let it all go. All thought. All constructs. And just feel Antarctica. Feel this untouched land. Know it. Hear it. What is it saying to you? Don’t listen with your ears. Listen with your soul…”

16 – The animal awakened…

Every day exposes me to another strong why for being out here. Yesterday it was the scenery. Not that today’s isn’t equally epic, but today it was for that second climb. It was a legendary and beautiful inner battle that will stay with me forever. I will remember this moment the next time I find myself in the pain cave, which will no doubt happen again soon enough 🙂

15 – One of my greatest moments in nature

Being on the glacier now is indescribable. It is very different looking at it while standing on top of it versus looking at it from the air. You start to see how small we are compared to the towering might of everything around us. Even as I type this, I can hear avalanches in the distance. It is epic.

14 – The ebbs and flows…

All in all, a solid and smooth day. We are now right under the Axel Heiberg and tomorrow we begin the climb. It looks intense, awesome, spectacular and terrifying all at the same time. You can see crevasses and seracs surrounding our route up the glacier. We have a safe path up, but it’s still pretty wild to see all of this up close.

13 – Nothing in life is given to you…

It’s one of the reasons I love it, even when it’s tough. You get to taste the entire spectrum of the human experience – good, bad, high, low. And when you’re not having the best day, you get to practice smiling anyway. That’s beautiful training.

12 – The descent into madness

After leading 3 more shifts breaking trail, when we got to the last one and a big hill came up in front of me, I just said let’s go, bring it and kept cruising on up with a smile on my face till we got to camp. It was pretty wild the wide variety of thoughts that went through my head today…

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