Age: 38 Specs: 6-foot-2, 187 pounds
Home: Oslo, Norway
THE CASE: A former deep-sea diver in the icy North Atlantic waters off Norway, Ousland has redefined what it means to be a masochistic loner. In 1994 he became the first man to travel solo, and without assistance or resupply, to the North Pole. A year later he skied solo to the South Pole, and in 1996 he became the first to cross Antarctica alone and unassisted—a trip that took 64 days. While those before him have relied on resupply caches and airdrops, Ousland lugs his provisions behind him on a sledge, trekking across perilously thin ice in whiteout conditions that can reach minus 55 degrees Celsius. He has an almost pathological attention to detail and an uncanny knack for discerning safe ice from sketchy ice. Fine, but how's he stay warm and sane? A diet loaded with olive oil and butter, and a Walkman blaring Jimi Hendrix.
SECOND OPINION: "Ousland is Roald Amundsen incarnate," says polar sage Will Steger, invoking the turn-of-the-century Norwegian explorer who made the world's first trek to the South Pole. "He is strong, well prepared, cautious, and he understands ice better than anybody."
MOST HARROWING MOMENT: On a 1993 ski expedition from Franz Josef Land to Spitsbergen, in the Arctic Ocean, he awoke to shotgunlike sounds—ice cracking—and found himself and his teammate bobbing on a raft of ice. The men spent two days adrift at sea, their ice-island eroding at the edges, before rescuers plucked them to safety.
WHAT'S NEXT: In January Ousland will attempt what's considered the last great feat in polar exploration: the first unsupported traverse of the Arctic, from Russia to Canada via the North Pole.