Filipina joins expedition to the North Pole

Miles Viernes
'To reach the North Pole is considered the pinnacle of polar exploration,' says Sam Pimentel who joined a team of 6 who reached the North Pole by skiing

EXPEDITION. Sam Pimentel is the only Filipina to join a recent land trip to the North Pole. All photos courtesy of Sam Pimentel

MANILA, Philippines – “When I was young, I was fascinated by the North Star because it was the brightest star in the sky,” Samantha Bernardo Pimentel, an adventurer and entrepreneur from the Philippines, said.

“When I woke up in the morning, I tried to see the North Star. Then when I was a little bigger, I learned about the North Pole. Because I couldn’t go to the North Star, somehow I got the idea of going to the North Pole.”

Years later, this fascination led her to embark on a 10-day journey to reach the geographic North Pole.

To reach the North Pole, Sam says, is considered “the pinnacle of polar exploration.”

Sam Pimentel, from Makati City, Philippines, is the only Filipina in a team of 6 who reached the North Pole by skiing last April 2015. She joined the trip with Norway-based Borge Ousland polar explorations. The others who joined the trip were from Norway, Switzerland and France. 

While most people from the Philippines are not used to the freezing temperatures, it didn’t deter them from traveling to the coldest regions on Earth. In 1996, investment banker and diplomat Ramon Ilusorio became the first Filipino to reach the North Pole, while Filipino scientist Blaise Kuo Ting lived in Antarctica for a year to conduct research. 

Sam had to begin training for the trip by learning how to ski in 3 days while in Oslo. And she had to do this even with a sprained ankle.

EXPEDITION TEAM. Sam and teammembers have some fun on their way to the North Pole

She sprained her ankle during training at the Philippine Marines headquarters in Fort Bonifacio and 3 years before that in Australia. But an injury would not stop Sam from making the long and cold trek to the top of the world.

“I believe one can’t make excuses,” Sam said. 

Meeting this lady for the first time at an upscale restaurant at Bonifacio Global City, I found it hard to believe that she could put herself through a grueling expedition pulling sleds loaded with 40 kilos of provisions and supplies. Every day, the expeditionists would walk 9 to 10 hours non-stop on thin ice with about 5- to 10-minute breaks, while surviving only on chocolates and water.

Sam stressed the importance of being mentally prepared for challenges like this. “It needs perhaps the frame of mind to be ready for that kind of journey,” Sam said.

She had to sign a waiver that the organizers were not responsible for any injuries that might happen during the trip. That, to her, was the most challenging part. 

Physical, mental training

She did a 6-month reading marathon, reading a lot at least once in the morning and again in the evening.

She started training by running and joining a mountain trail run in Manning Park, Canada. In the Philippines, she put herself through a 3-month physical endurance training program with the Philippine Marines in Fort Bonifacio.

In order to prepare for the cold weather, she had to wear several layers of clothing, including at least two layers of thermal clothes and masks.  

Several times while walking, Sam said she would feel as if her heart was going to skip a beat, but she had to discipline her mind to not think about it. “It’s my mind playing a trick on me,” she would tell herself.

The group was supposed to finish the route in 10 days, but instead finished in less than half the time, completing the journey in 4 days. While many experienced trekkers have made the North Pole their last destination, Sam made the North Pole her first.

What was most difficult, Sam said, was that most of the time you couldn’t tell if the surface is flat or going down. And while it is important to work with your group, she clarified, “you don’t expect your teammates to help, you have to help yourself first.”

Despite the harsh environment and physical demands of the trek, she enjoyed the trip. “Of course you have to, otherwise it would be torture. I had to go past the struggle mode. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had to look around, enjoy every minute of it,” she said.

“I think the powers that be were with us that day. Faith, when explained to people who are not into it, would find it off,” Sam said. “So I try to say it in a more general way. It’s more of a connection with the universe. For us Christians, we call it faith in God; for the Hindus, a universal force.”

The trip was also in honor of the memory of her mother, who was born on April 19 who passed away 8 years ago.

Sam comes back to her home country renewed, inspired to do more for her community and the nation. “With imagination, determination, focus and skill we can put our country in the same level as the ‘first world’ countries,” she said. 

Sam concluded, “We can be a great nation, with hardworking and compassionate people. It is about time that we work together to raise our standards.”  Rappler.com