Exploring the North Pole | Yasunaga Ogita | TEDxSapporo


Hello! I am Ogita, I am glad to be here. I am a polar explorer. That is how I introduce what I am. Literally, I explore the North Pole. Exploring means, as you can see in this slide, to drag all your stuff, all the way, by yourself. I call this an expedition. The solo unsupported expedition to the North Pole. Since 2012, I have been challenging myself to achieve this. In other words… You know what the North Pole is, right? It pins the axis of the Earth. I choose the solo unsupported style. "Unsupported" means that, on the way to the North Pole, I do not receive any supplies from anywhere. So I am all by myself. And I do walk on my foot. >From the northernmost cape in Canada, the North Pole is 800km away. I walk this 800km over the sea.

This is the Arctic Ocean. This photo is also taken on the sea. The Arctic Ocean is actually surprisingly deep. Around the North Pole, it is about 4,000m deep. That is the depth of the Ocean. And the surface of the sea, of about 2 to 3m, is just frozen. Just like a thin film is floating. That is the ice that we see. Imagine, walking on the thin ice. The sea has currents and winds, so the ice moves around. Where the ice crashes with each other, something called "mountain rough ice" is formed. There is no paths, obviously. I have my stuff weighing about 100kg. For some 50 days, I drag this burden with food and everything. You know how it should be like. Of course, there are risks. Once I met a polar bear shaking my tent. Actually, already twice I found a polar bear shaking my tent. And also, I have mistakenly caused a fire in my tent and burnt my hands seriously before I got rescued.

I have experiences, and mistakes, Since 2000 till now, and this March to April, I have been trying to reach the North Pole. This was my second trial to the North Pole. If we include the Arctic Circle, the Canadian Arctic, and Greenland altogether, I have been there 13 times already since 2000. I am that kind of person. Many people ask, "Why are you doing this?" Well, everybody should thinks so. (Laughter) It must be dangerous, they say. Why do you do that at the risk of your life? People ask me. Well, it may be confusing to say this, but I think people like me will go for adventures because it is risky and dangerous. If it is not tough, we probably do not try. I am not just enjoying the thrills. It is something different. I am not playing with my life. I do not want to die because of this. Absolutely, I do not want to die, But without a risk, it cannot be an adventure. "Adventure" in Japanese stands for "taking a risk.

" On the premise that we have risks to overcome those dangers, we make the trials and errors. The polar expedition has been tried since ancient pre-era. With the times, there has been some peak periods for the expedition. The last peak period was probably in the 19th century, in the first half of the century, I guess. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French Empire was defeated. In 1815, I think. The Royal Navy tried to overthrow France with all their might. They reinforced troops and built many warships. They boosted the troops seriously, until they realized there was no enemy anymore. "What shall we do?" young soldiers wondered. "Without enemies to fight, we have no chance for promotion!" Then they came up with the forgotten practice of the expedition to the North Pole. The northern parts of Canada were the British territories then. That area was still blank on the map back then. There was a possibility to open a route, so-called the North West Passage, from the U.K.

to the Pacific Ocean. So, many warships were sent to this area. But, you know what kind of place it is. Many people died. Many ships sunk one after another. Then they came to realize that this route might be just impossible. And I give you a fun story of that time. There was a guy who said something that can help you understand why we do such things. His name is John Ross, an Arctic explorer. He was convened to the U.K. Parliament of that time. The law makers asked him. "To find a new route, the North West Passage, the government spent a lot of money and sent many people to make these expeditions. And what public benefit can it bring? What do we gain from the North West Passage?" Then, John Ross said, "I believe it brings no public benefit." In short, there is no meaning. The John Ross himself had been to the expedition as a captain, many times. Someone seriously searching for the North West Passage said it was meaningless. Why did he go there? You might wonder.

There are so many stories like that. I assume that he purely wanted to go there. John Ross, as well as other explorers, wanted to see there. There is a blank space on the map. Nobody knows what it looks like. I want to uncover the mystery for myself. I want to be the first one to see it. Such pure feeling fired them, I guess. There must be a legitimate, political reason for the expedition, and there must be individual persons to realize it. Individuals come together and form a party. Without such passionate explorers, or without such passionate individuals, expedition party can never be organized. Now, it has been 100 or 200 years since then. Today in the year of 2014, I am walking to the North Pole alone. What does this expedition mean? Well, it probably has no more meaning than in the 19th century. My expedition does not make the world more peaceful, nor heal the children with incurable deseases.

Then, why do I go there? The fundamental reason is Just as John Ross said, simply put, just "because I want to go." I want to see the new world, too. And I want to challenge myself. Needless to say, the world is harsh. It gives me many lessons that I can never learn elsewhere. In our daily life, we, including me, would never think of dying tomorrow. But you know you will die someday. How can I say, death seems something theoretical or conceptual. In this urban society, however, I may die tomorrow in a traffic accident. It is very possible, but I do not expect it. But in the North Pole or that kind of places, I feel that "death" is something real. It is not a concept, but it exists right "here." There is no guarantee that I am alive tomorrow. A trivial mistake can kill me.

Sometimes I go too close to death, and I feel really scared. Well, so I want to say, "Life and death, to live and to die" is just like "light and shadow." To make one clear, we need the other. When death is right in front of me, and when I am aware of it, then I recognize that I am alive. Of course, we are alive now in our cities. Alive, but I feel something is missing. I want to feel it, to see it. I want to see how far I can go, to assure myself. That thought may be one of the driving forces that brings me to the North Pole. I mean, that was one of the triggers. The very first trigger was, about 14 years ago, I tried the North Pole in 2000 for the first time. In the year before, in March 1999, I left my university. I dropped out of the university in my third year. Till then, there was nothing I had done.

Although I am an explorer now, till then, I had never tried outdoor activities, and never traveled abroad. I was just a young university student like the university volunteer staff here. I was just like you. For 20 or 21 years, I guess, I led a life as an ordinary person. But somehow, I was half-hearted. My life was not very interesting. I always felt that I could do something, or I should be able to. In early days, everybody goes through this. You are full of baseless confidence. And you are energetic. But, I did not know where to spend this energy or more like an anger. And I ended up dropping out of university in March. And in that year, on July 21st in 1999, I was accidentally watching a TV show, to find an explorer Mr. Mitsuro Ohba, who tries to achieve the North Pole and South Pole expeditions.

He appeared on TV. The talk show was based on his stories about the North and South poles. Thanks to this program, I got to know him. He had lost all 10 toes due to frostbite. He was almost killed in a polar bear attack. Those stories went on. "What on earth is he doing?" I thought. "He is crazy," that is how I watched him on TV. I couldn't describe him but "crazy." He captured my heart. He was talking so earnestly. And then he said, "Next year, I want to bring young ones like university students, about 10 of them, to walk to the North Pole with me." I heard this. He is going to walk 700 km on the Arctic with uni students. "I want to join this too." I was only watching the TV, and thought, "I want to go." Then I wrote to Mr. Ohba. "I happened to watch your TV show. I have never tried anything so far. I have no outdoor or overseas experience. Do you think I can still go?" I asked. Later, I got his response. That made me join this expedition.

That was when I was 22, from April to May in 2000. We walked 700 km on the ocean in Arctic Canada in a group. My first travel to the North Pole was my first travel to the overseas. (Laughter) Before that, I made my passport. "Where are you going?" "To the North Pole." (Laughter) It was in Canada actually, but Arctic Canada. That was my first outdoor activity to walk over 700 km in Arctic Canada. >From the next year, 2001, when I was 23 years old, I started thinking of going to the North Pole alone. Since then, I started to visit a local village by myself. And almost every year I walk alone for a long distance. Having done this for over 10 years, now what I am trying out is so-called solo unsupported North Pole expedition. It is quite difficult to achieve.

So far, in the world, with the restriction "solo unsupported," "restriction" literally, who reached the Norh Pole during human history is only one person. Well, more people have reached the moon. (Laughter) Come to think of that, more people have already been to the moon. It is easy to reach the North Pole if you have a chartered flight. But what matters is how you get there. It is difficult, actually. Since I went to the Arctic for the first time with Mr. Ohba, until I started my challange to reach the Noth Pole in 2012, until then, I was basically by myself to travel to the Arctic. While in Japan, I work part-time for half a year to earn one to two million yen, or sometimes three million yen, working without sleep for half a year. Then I bring it to the Arctic, to I spend all the money and come back with an empty purse. Again I work, make money, go to the North Pole and use it all.

I have this style for 10 years. Now, let's reach the North Pole. I have enough experiences already. I have gained enough skills. Well, going to the North Pole costs a lot. There are so many procedures to go through. I realized I cannot do that by myself. It costs about 20 million yen. I need to charter flights several times. And these flights cost a lot. Facing this reality, at present, I have so many fellows. More people came to me. Such as the staff at my office in Japan, or those who communicate with overseas, and those who work on the web. Those people gathered around me. If I think back, I never said "Please help me with my expedition to the North Pole!" But when I realized, many people helped me by my side. For the first 10 years, when I was by myself, I actually wanted to do all by myself as I wanted to see how good I could do. I wanted to know, or to try, what I could do for myself. When I went that far, "As for the North Pole, I am second to none. But how can I make this money?" I had no idea.

Then it was the time when the fellows came to cover my shortage. Once I had a baseless confidence. But with practice, it gradually turned to a certain confidence. "I can do this." "Only I can do this." I can say now. I may be exaggerating, but probably I know best in Japan about North Pole expedition. I doubt if anyone needs that knowledge, though. Anyway, this is what I do. And except my own challenge to the North Pole, two years ago, I started something else in Japan. Well, now, in several places, I bring primary school kids for a long-distance walk in their summer vacation. Two years ago in Hokkaido, from Abashiri to Kushiro, which is about 160km away, I walked that distance with three primary school kids, camping for some 13 days. For the second time, in the summer vacation last year, We started from Tokyo Station to walk 160km to the peak of Mt. Fuji. 100 miles, or 160km is the distance we set.

This one took 11 days. The third one is coming in this summer vacation. We start from the Osaka Bay, from the port, walk through the center of Osaka, thought the center of Kyoto, pass Lake Biwa and go over the mountain, and reach Japan Sea in Fukui, to walk 160km. The children will walk for 10 days. So far, I have five applicants. I can bring up to six, so you can still apply. (Laughter) The children are in the sixth grade. Now, this is what I am doing. And in the future, like myself walking with Mr. Ohba for the first time in the Arctic, I feel like bringing young people to walk to the North Pole. This is actually not for anybody, nor for the world, but just because I want to have fun. I believe, there must be some young ones feeling they are living in vain, feeling frustrated and confused, just like myself in the past.

I know how they feel, so I want to bring them out to the North Pole. In an adventure, the most important thing is "independence," I think. To depend on yourself. You depend on your own decision to start an action. Believe yourself, have curiosity, keep trying and making errors. That is an "adventure." So an adventure is not necessarily going to the North Pole, nor to the Amazon River, nor other far places, but our daily life is all an adventure. The single step you make, is it from your own decision or someone else's? I always want to make a step with my own decision. In the case of the Arctic, I have learned that I must make my own decision. If you follow someone else, you will die. Whether it is too dangerous or not, whether you can go or not. You are the only one out there, nobody else is around.

You must always be the one to make your own decision. Whether you are in the Arctic or in the city, I think the principle is the same. "To live actively and independently" is what I think is an adventure. I would like to keep my style and enjoy my own adventure, while searching for the way to give my experience back to the society as my lifework. I'd like to go on an adventurous life. Thank you for your kind attention. (Applause).