Need a break? Go ski in the North Pole!

Yoly Villanueva-Ong
Need a break? Go ski in the North Pole!
Once the explorer bug bites, there’s no telling where it will take you next. Just ask Sam Pimentel.

These past few weeks, the bad news was non-stop: the aggressive Chinese reclamation on disputed areas; the 3-day round-the-clock filibustering on the Bangsamoro basic law; MERS; the looming big earthquake; and the tiresome political burble.

It’s enough to make anyone want to stop the world and get out. Or to scream at the bad news harbingers to go jump in the lake! 

Amid the overabundance of negativity, one piece of good news just slipped by, buried in the back pages of dailies that thrive on jab and jibe headlines.

A girl named Sam

As a child, Samelene “Sam” Bernardo Pimentel had always been inexplicably drawn to the North Star. When she got older, she knew that she couldn’t reach that star. So she settled for the True North instead – literally the Top of the World, the North Pole.

On April 21, 2015, she became the only Filipina in a team of 5, who reached the 90° North. 

Led by Børge Ousland Polar Expedition, labeled the “leading polar explorer of our time,” the last degree ski expedition required traversing the vast Arctic Sea on the Arctic Ocean that was 4000 meters deep, over constantly drifting ice. Add weight up to 40 kilos for equipment and provisions, in freezing minus 40° temperature and howling winds, for a distance of 111 kilometers. Someone must have wondered, “Are we having fun yet?” 

The takeoff point was at Longyearbyen, Svalbard. From there, the team flew to Ice Base Barneo, a floating base camp where a helicopter took them to the drop-off point at 89° Parallel. They were supposed to ski for 11 days, to reach the 90° Latitude North. They got there in 5. 

The Philippine Marines prepared Sam for the expedition through 90-days of grueling endurance training. She also spent several days in Norway training for winter survival and learning to ski.

‘Because it’s there’

This was the response of British mountain climber George Leigh Mallory in 1923 when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest again. It would be his third attempt after failing in 1921 and 1922. 

Mallory wasn’t being dismissive. He explained: “Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, I suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.”

In the case of Sam, her motivation was closer to home. Her mother, Elena Flores Bernardo was a track and field athlete and the captain of the Region 4 softball team in the ‘60s. Growing up, she often heard her mother wonder what would have happened if she continued with her sports career instead of getting married when she was 20 years old. 

Sam resolved that she would follow her dream. And the first step was to participate in Tony Robbins’ “Unleash the Power Within” held in New York in 2013.

Tony Robbins, the CEO whisperer

That’s how Fortune magazine described the life coach to the C-suite, guru to captains of industry and finance. A giant at 6 foot 7 inches with a face that looks chiseled from a slab of marble, Robbins was the guy who coaxed Oprah to walk over burning coals. 

“In life you need either inspiration or desperation.” This Robbin-ism must have guided Bill Clinton through his impeachment trial at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. Robbins also helped Andre Agassi get back his game and Hugh Jackman “stay in the zone” –  whatever that means. 

Virgin Airlines’ Richard Branson, gaming magnate Steve Wynn, Hollywood producer Peter Guber, Salesforce CEO and co-founder Mark Benioff and hedge fund trader, Paul Tudor Jones are among his billionaire A-list fans. “Tony’s genius is his ability to deconstruct what drives certain behaviors,” says Jones.

The big man also comes with a big heart. Robbins donates all his book earnings to serving at least 50 million meals to the less fortunate through the nonprofit, Feeding America. “I discovered a long time ago that if I helped enough people get what they wanted, I would always get what I wanted and I would never have to worry.” 

The desolation of South

Once the explorer bug bites, there’s no telling where it will take you next.

Sam Pimentel has set her sights on the South Pole. This time she is out to reach 89° South and ski to the Last Degree South Pole. She also aims to scale Mount Vinsons, one of the 7 summits of the world and the highest peak in Antarctica at 16,050 feet (4892 meters). 

The expedition will take off from Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of Chile, South America. Today the weather down there is  -54 °C but feels like -77 °C. The South Pole is one of the iciest, most windswept and isolated places in the world. In winter, temperatures can plunge even lower. It’s almost always windy, with occasional wind blasts that can simulate the vigor of a hurricane. Altitude sickness is possible unless aclimatized. 

Sam Pimentel has issued an invitation for likeminded Filipinos with a yen for adventure. The challenge and likely ordeal are their own motivation and beguilement.

To paraphrase a famous old ad supposedly used for Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition in the 1900s: “Men  and women wanted for hazardous journey. High costs, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return not guaranteed. Honor and recognition in event of success.” –


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