By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
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Other skilled mountaineers, like the currently renowned Reinhold Messner, have been forced to give up Arctic efforts. Last year, a Japanese adventurer froze to death after falling into a watery crevasse and failing to get out. Skis help distribute weight on this treacherous ice, and ski poles are used to check for weakness in the ice. Still, while training in Sweden, Tom and Tina practiced swimming in cold waters using dry suits, pulling the buoyant sleds behind them and riding them like boats for longer distances. They also learned the skill of efficiently taking their skis off to lift the sleds over rough terrain. But some things can't be controlledlike the moving ice, a real morale-killer. Often the flow of the ice works against them, forcing them to cover the same distance two or three times, like walking the wrong way on a moving sidewalk. Progress is slow, and their dispatches aren't all cheery and stiff-upper-lip.
"T&T are often slow starters, but the expeditions are always rigorously planned, and together they make a great team," Andreas Anderson, a member of Team Sjogren for seven years, says in an interview from Stockholm. "Once they get their mind set on something, sooner or later it's going to happen."
Tina Sjogren was born in the former Czechoslovakia, but she moved to Sweden at age nine, and both are Swedish citizens. Three years ago, they moved to New York, but that's just their home base; the current expedition is their ninth in the past five years. They've backpacked together for two decades, traveling to China in the late 1970s, stalking through jungles in Borneo, and being among the first foreigners in decades to travel in Tibet.
Until their big Everest expedition in 1999, they paid for all their own climbs, using money from a still functioning toilet-paper and powder delivery company they established in Sweden. The Everest trip, and now the journeys to the two poles, are financed by Ericsson, which uses material from the expeditions in road shows, public relations, advertising, and unofficial product testing. (Remember the Simpsons episode in which Homer climbed a mountain at the behest of those fruit bar guys? It's like that.)
The Sjogrens not only have a flair for the dramatic (such as their use of Columbus's maps for an Atlantic Ocean crossing), but they're also plugged into the high-tech age. When they scaled Everest in 1999, they reported via webcams.
Late last fall, they began their polar trips in Antarctica. In February of this year they arrived at the South Pole, the driest place on Earth but considered the easier of the two poles. After 35 days of recovery, they left the northern tip of Canada, near the top of Greenland, on March 17 for the North Pole, the most humid place on Earth. They hope to arrive in mid May.
The Sjogrens' most recent dispatches reflect realistic worries, such as whether their shotgun has frozenit's their best protection against the threat of marauding bears. They worry about the ice, which is subject to the tidal whims of a full moon. Maybe it'll crack open, and the black water will gulp them down. Whines and whimpers sometimes appear"Why am I here? Am I poor? Have I committed some serious crime?"but that's to be expected from professional dreamers and expert lunatics perched atop the world in isolated agony.
"What they do is extremethey take it to the next level," marvels Pratts. "Hopefully they'll be back. I just hope they don't get eaten by a polar bear." Happiness for the Sjogrens would be a warm gun.