top of page
  • Writer's pictureSiv Harstad

The Journey to the Journey

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

Before I’d finished climbing the final peak of the 7 summits, I’d already decided I wanted to do the Explorers Grand Slam (climbing 7 summits and reaching both poles). Link

So far, 70 people have done it, and only 15 women.

South Pole expedition and team

As a Norwegian, I am a good skier, however, I tend to find cross-country skiing a bit boring. I guess I fell in love with downhill when I was 12 years old and later with ski touring. So, looking at skiing to the South Pole I was initially looking at doing filled me with dread, not because I don’t think I can do it, but because I was thinking it would be very boring… I’m not all that fond of the cold either! Believe it or not, I love being in warm environments. It’s just that I love the challenge of high-altitude climbing.

Online, they promote that you should do the last degree, which is the last 111K to the pole. That would be a breeze. A few years back I did a similar length in northern Norway in 3,5 days and here they take 10 days. Even people who are not good at skiing can do that. It’s when you start to do double that length or more that you see who the real explorers are.

When I shared the thought of doing the last degree, a couple of people said, “You can’t do that, you’re better than that”. It annoyed me, but I knew they were right. To do the easiest available solution just to be able to say I’d done it is not me. I do the real thing.

The problem was still that I did not want to cross-country ski 1100K (one of the most used routes) so I started looking for alternatives.

Then the idea came up. Start with climbing an unclimbed peak, ski the last 500K to the South Pole and then ski-kite 1100K back to the coast. That is a real expedition! I loved it and the people I shared it with loved it too.

Solo or team?

I had thought about whether I wanted to do a solo expedition or build a team. I know I can do a solo expedition, however, I love to build and work in teams because it’s social and we can use different people’s strengths for the highest good of the team. It’s always a win-win. Hence, I started looking for people to be part of the team.

By the end of February 2020, I had a team – 4 of us in total. In the summer of 2020, we met in Norway and had a get-to-know-one-another weekend with glacier training. That weekend, only 3 of the 4 came and soon after we were only 2 persons left. The other 2 had for various reasons decided they didn’t want to participate.

I and Håkon Skog Erlandsen, the other remaining person, discussed what to do. Look for new people?

We decided that just the two of us would do it. We created the “Dare to Dream Big” project and agreed to go to both the North and the South Poles together and do an expedition to Greenland, to prepare for the ski kiting in Antarctica. We have since prepared and trained for the expeditions. We all know how 2020 was – no travelling!

Travel restrictions

Despite lockdowns, we managed to do an amazing 1440K longitudinal ski kiting expedition in Greenland in the spring of 2021 because we wanted to be in a position to go to Antarctica and do our South Pole expedition at the end of 2021. At that time, there were only 3 expeditions on Greenland and we were the only ones who managed to avoid the massive hurricane that came in on us.

You can read the story of our Greenland expedition here:

After coming home from Greenland in June 2021, we continued working on our Antarctica expedition preparation. Chile, where we’d fly out from, was still closed for entry and we didn’t know when it would open up again. I kept in touch with one of my Chilean friends because all communication about it was in Spanish and my Spanish isn’t good. The other thing that was challenging at the time was sponsors – it was much more difficult than before.

At the end of the day, we ended up getting lost with almost all our focus being on if, when and how we’d be able to enter Chile. The travel restriction rules changed approximately every 14 days and there was a rigid system for getting approvals to enter. Not only that, but it also seemed like the entry applications were processed randomly. Very stressful.

For a while, we thought we could make it, but at the end of the day, we had to throw in the towel. We had to wait another year… I was soo disappointed. I was willing to change the expedition to make it happen, but in the end, I just had to bite the bullet and accept it. When you work so hard for something you really want and it does not come through it is very disappointing.

We took a break from it all over Christmas.

The North Pole and war

In January, we focused on going to the North Pole instead. Mentally that was refreshing. In February 2022, things started to open up again in Norway and as flying out to the Polar ocean is from Svalbard, we were in good spirits. It looked good as Svalbard had opened up for tourists again. We’d fly up to Svalbard at the end of March; our accommodation and tickets were booked. We knew our logistic partner who’d fly us up was in close contact with the Norwegian government and it all looked good.

That was until the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out. In the end, the Norwegian government didn’t approve our logistics partner to fly us up. Again our project was cancelled just weeks before the start! What annoyed me most about it was that they used COVID as an excuse for not letting us fly up to the Polar ocean. As if there was a COVID risk there with only polar bears in the area! I would have appreciated honesty instead of this rejection.

Back to the South Pole – a new approach

Over Easter, I was in my mountain apartment. I needed a mental break and to focus on something else. I was dreading having to start focusing on Chilean entry rules again…that was so, not fun. Then I had an idea. Wouldn’t it be possible to fly out from South Africa? The idea has been there before. However, because I am also going to climb the highest volcano in Antarctica, which is with the company who fly out from Chile, the idea had been to go from there and then climb the volcano after I’d finished my South Pole expedition.

I called a friend who had flown out of South Africa to Antarctica. They’d done an expedition in Dronning Maud land, so it wasn’t the same as we were planning, but it was still good to hear about his experiences. He was very encouraging and gave me new inspiration. I called Håkon, to try to convince him to fly out from there instead of Chile because they’d already opened their borders and we could leave that concern behind us.

Starting from South Africa would mean a “slightly” longer expedition, but it also allowed doing a unique expedition if we decided to go via the Pole of Inaccessibility on our way to the South Pole. I presented the idea to him including the Pole of Inaccessibility – the point in Antarctica that is furthest away from the Southern Ocean in all directions. It’s much harder to access than the South Pole, so after the Russians had it as a base in 1952 and 1967 only 12 people have been there. Then I said, “It’ll be about double the length of what we did in Greenland to kite via there to the South Pole. What do you think?”

He immediately agreed. Yay! That’s why we are a great team.

Then he suggested, “Why don’t we also continue to Hercules Inlet as we’d planned?”

I was like, “That’s going to be a very long expedition…” He agreed but said that it would be a cool thing to do. I hesitated a little before agreeing. That would mean we’d be kiting about 4.100K. That is a serious expedition, and it would be the longest expedition a woman had ever done in Antarctica.

Logistics operators make life difficult

Antarctica is far from the easiest place on the planet to plan an expedition to. Firstly, it’s remote and far away. However, the most challenging thing is that the logistics operators there have a monopoly. From South Africa, there are two alternatives, and out of Chile, there is only one.

I get that there are rules and that they have to make sure that the people who go on expeditions there are capable of doing so. However, there’s also a reason there are many rules about monopolies in general – because they’re not good for consumers.

We started by getting a good overview of the part of the expedition from the coast of South Africa to the South Pole, as this was the part that was new to us. For the part from the South Pole to Hercules Inlet, we already had a good plan and prices from the previous year. Last year we’d also planned that I’d climb Sidley, the highest volcano, after the expedition so we aimed to do that this time too.

They could not give us prices for the expedition because of the fluctuating fuel prices(!) We had to wait from the beginning of May until mid-August before we knew how much it would cost us to do the expedition. It’s not easy to go out and talk to sponsors when you have no clue how much it will cost. We did it anyway because you do what you have to if you have a dream you want to achieve.

We planned everything else as far as possible. In Mid-August, we finally got prices from the South African companies and decided on which one we wanted to go with.

Refusing to support us and trying to

We were also in contact with the company operating out of Chile and were very surprised by the way they responded. They’d given us prices a year ago and an agreement on the expedition. They even told us to come back the following year because of the situation with the travel restriction.

I contacted them in May and informed them that I intended to climb the volcano. I didn’t get a response so assumed everything was okay as I’d already paid the deposit in 2019.

To our surprise, my expedition partner and I had a very interesting response when we contacted ALE. First, it took a month before they’d give us a Zoom meeting with them and when it finally happened, the meeting lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes. During that time, the two of us were allowed to talk for a total of 5 minutes. One of the company’s partners who was responsible for operations told us, among other things, that

a) I was not allowed to climb the volcano, although I’d paid the deposit, because I hadn’t come the year before. I was now behind the people who hadn’t been able to come the year before (!) – read that one more time…

b) He didn’t believe we’d make our goal of doing the expedition, so he refused me to have a plan of doing the volcano after the expedition. (Even if I was willing to take that risk, pay in full, and risk losing the money by not being there in time.)

c) He didn’t want to support our expedition from the South Pole to Hercules Inlet unless we changed our logistic partner in South Africa to the company that he was on the board of directors of. In my country, that kind of demand is called corruption.

After the meeting, the two of us were totally baffled. He wanted to pressure us to do as he wanted and move our business to the company he was involved with. He refused to let me, the customer, join the expedition they had sold to me and taken my deposit money for 3 years prior.

I have been in corporate for years and have been in many interesting meetings, but this wins the prize of the rudest and most disrespectful person I have ever been in contact with.

I was so angry afterwards. Imagine yourself in that situation. I have later talked to others who have been in contact with him and what I hear is that he is well known for being difficult, especially towards women. There is a long way to go when it comes to diversity and equity for the company of ALE.

Not keeping promises or answering customer mails

During the meeting, he promised us he’d send us some information and also came up with some claims, that I don’t believe are true. After the meeting, I asked him by mail to send me links so I could read them for myself. He has still never sent us anything or responded to several follow-ups. What can I say? This behavior speaks louder than words about what kind of man he is.

It made me raise the bar

If there is one certain thing, I have no respect for people like that and will not let them pressure me. Hell, NO. I decided to do the expedition without their support. We’ll just turn around at the South Pole and kite back to where we started.

It meant that our expedition distance just gone up from 4.100K to 5.200K. I’ll do it with pleasure. Håkon agreed easily. He was also pissed off by their behavior. Just a solid example of why monopoly is not a good thing.

Gear and missing sled

This happened in early September, so we updated our plans. After that, things seemed to be rolling in the right direction. Everything had been ordered well in advance so we’d have it in time. In the current environment, everything takes longer, so we accounted for that.

It’s exciting when you start to get your new gear. One of my new kites had been custom made so I was very excited to get it. It got delayed by 2 weeks, but it still got there in time. My living room started to get filled up with expedition gear, food etc. The date for sending our cargo approached fast. I had been in touch with the shop that I’d ordered our sleds from and they’d confirmed that the sleds were in the final making. The guy who made them had said that one was ready and the other one was being made and would be ready in time for us to send the cargo on the planned date.

In the middle of all of this, I sold my apartment, where I have lived for the past 20 years. It took a lot of effort to prepare it for the sale, declutter, paint, and move out.

The sleds were not delivered in time and suddenly I could not get hold of the guy to find out the status. It got closer and closer to the day we were to send our cargo, but no news about the sleds. Finally, I got hold of someone who knew. The sleds had not been sent and the guy who makes them had boarded a plane to the US and no-one was able to get hold of him. What a nightmare.

The phone call

10 days before departure, my phone rang. I had just been to the gym and was on my way to do a little outdoor meditation before I headed home to start packing up my place for the move. I’d set aside the whole weekend for that. The handover to the new owner was planned to be done 2 days before we were to leave.

It was our main sponsor calling. He said, “Siv, can we postpone the expedition to next year?”

I was like, “You are kidding me! We are leaving in 10 days. You cannot come with that now.” We’d talked about it last week and everybody had been all-in.

They were supposed to join us down at our start and he explained why this couldn’t happen. They wouldn’t be able to make some of the important preparations in time. From a business perspective, the best thing would be to wait until next year.

My emotions were bubbling up inside; I didn’t know how to answer. Everything inside was screaming “NOOOO! I don’t want to wait until next year.” I’d been working so hard to do this; I had set aside 3 months of my life to do the expedition. I’d sold my home, got rid of my car, and rented out my mountain apartment. Everything was ready for me to be away and offline for 3 months.

Honestly, all the practicalities did not matter; what mattered was that this expedition was so important to me as a part of the larger project I have of becoming the first human being that… (Link) From that perspective, postponing was not an option. By doing so, I’d risk not being the first human to reach that feat and I want to give the gift to humanity that it is possible and that a woman can do it.

I was devastated, sad, and disappointed. The past two years have been difficult – you know how we’ve been treated by ALE and now this – 10 days before departure! Can you believe it? Plane tickets had been purchased and accommodation in Cape Town had been booked. We were so excited – and then this massive virtual slap in the face.

We agreed to talk after I’d take some time to think a bit. I got out of the car and the tears streamed down my face. I had to go for a walk. I was totally numb. I sat down on an old tree root and couldn’t do anything except sit there. I think I cried for 2 hours. Then I drove home, unable to do anything. I felt empty and sad.

The next day, I called Håkon. He’d received the same call the day before. By now, we’d managed to wrap our heads around it and could talk about it. We spoke with our sponsor again and just had to accept that the expedition was postponed for a year. During the weekend, I decided that I wanted to go this year, even if it had been postponed until next year. A lot can happen in a year and who knew if it will be possible to do it next year.

I talked to Håkon about it and he was, unfortunately, unable to go without our main sponsor. I get that and it’s okay; he gets that I don’t want to wait a year. He is okay with me doing a solo expedition this year. I’ll still join him next year for our project.

Going solo

Instead of the expedition we’d planned, I decided to start inland, something that would be a safer solution for a solo expedition, and then ski-kite directly to the South Pole. The “Next Level Inland Solo Unsupported South Pole Snow Kite Expedition” is a 2.100K expedition. By doing it, I’ll be able to get a step closer to my goal and gain valuable experience for the bigger expedition next year.

I called our logistics partner in South Africa and told them what had happened and that I instead wanted to do a solo expedition. Parallel with that, I started working on finding a sled I could use. I contacted everyone I thought might have a sled I could use – it had to be one durable enough for kiting.

A few days and many phone calls later, I had access to 4 different sleds. The explorer community is amazing in its support of one another. I love that. One out of the 4 was exactly the same sled I’d previously ordered. It was situated in Australia and needed new runners but I could buy those and fix it. Geoff Wilson, who has the record for the longest journey in Antarctica at 5.100K, to lend me his sled if I paid for the shipping. I am so grateful for this man’s kindness and him shipping it straight to Cape Town so I’d have it in time.

It's a “No”

The next day, I got a call from our logistics partner telling me that they could not do the expedition with me. It was too dangerous for me. “What do you mean it’s too dangerous? How come it is now so dangerous? It’s not more dangerous now than it was when I was to do it together with Håkon.”

They said that it would use too many resources for them to follow me up and that a potential rescue flight would be too expensive. I said that I could not understand this – they could check my Garmin map and know exactly where I was at any given moment. Plus, the flight, the flight would not be more expensive than if Håkon and I were doing it together!

Suddenly when I, a woman, wanted to do a solo expedition it was not possible. Every time I talked to them there was a new reason why I couldn’t do it. To me, there was no logic to any of it. A few weeks ago, a ski-kiting expedition had been totally fine and now there were all kinds of problems and risks.

Cape Town

Because I had nothing on my agenda and a plane ticket to South Africa, I thought that I might as well use it. So I packed my gear – a big job in itself. I thought it might be easier to talk to them than to email them. Worst case scenario I could spend some time in Cape Town.

I managed to have a short talk with them when I got there and they promised to have another look at it. However, the next day, it was another no.

How could it be that a 5.100K expedition was totally fine, while a 2.100K expedition that avoided the risky area was too dangerous and too big a risk for them? Oh, yes… the difference is that the shorter, easier one was to be done by a solo woman. They didn’t believe I could do it, despite my demonstrated experiences and skills. I think that’s called prejudice.

I asked for another meeting so we could talk about it. Again, the response was “No”. They simply did not want to talk to me and they did not want to support me.

The irony of it all is that the CEO had much less experience when he’d done his Antarctica crossing and here he was judging that I would not make it.

Energy work and trusting your guidance

I did some serious energy work on myself during these weeks. After I got the 6th “No” from them, I was close to giving up. I was so sad and it felt like I had tried my very best to trust and follow my strong guidance that said I would be successful at the South Pole. At the same time, what I experienced in 3D was not even close to that.

For 2-3 days I did not know what to do. Thinking about it, all I wanted to do was cry. I said to the universe, “If I am to do this, show me the way. If not, let me know.” For everyone who thinks it’s easy to follow your soul’s guidance, it is not. If it was, everyone would do it. However, the reward of doing so is much bigger than most people understand.

I started to think about staying in South Africa for a month because I had nothing I had to go home for in Norway. My calendar was open for the next 2 months.

Flight in 10 days!

Then suddenly I got an idea and decided to give it one more try before I gave up. I followed the idea and suddenly it seemed possible. I was told they had to check a few things, but it could be done. There was a flight 10 days later that they could get me on if I found a way to get back from the South Pole. In the following few days, I did some practicalities and waited for the contacts to be ready so I could apply for my final permit to do the expedition.

Since everything suddenly is short notice, I’ve not had any time to get sponsors. It’s 4 days before departure and I have not even received the final price yet. I also need a permit and an insurance before I can board the flight. But I’m doing my preparations so I can be on that plane on Friday.

The irony of it all is that despite initially planning to do my South Pole expedition with a team out of Chile, I’ll be doing it solo out of South Africa. On all levels a bigger journey.

It’s happening fast and I honestly need your help, so check out my Go Fund Me..

176 views0 comments


bottom of page