It may seem lazy to be writing up my Antarctic Expedition three months after returning, but without this pause I would have been vague about the main aim of the expedition, education. And anyway, wind chill temperatures as low as -60 deg C, winds gusting to 70 mph and hours of sledge hauling stick in the mind well!
On November 10th 2007 I was one of four teachers to fly 4.5 hours south from Punta Arenas in Chile, aboard a Russian Ilyshin bomber and land, in perfect weather, on a blue ice runway at Patriot Hills (80 deg S, in the Antarctic interior). The aircraft had no windows in the hold and so there was no way to prepare for that incredible first view; with visibility of over 150 miles the stark, vast and harshly beautiful landscape was breathtaking.
Overnight a fierce storm blew up that made us grab the shovels, dig in the tents and build snow walls, not easy when dressed in nearly every item of clothing you’ve brought and the winds are doing a good job of knocking you over! After the glorious day before, where we’d been wandering around taking photos, it was a timely reminder that we needed to be on our toes.
After a few days of training at Patriot Hills we were whisked away by Twin Otter ski plane to our first field research site on the Henderson Glacier. Now we were just four teachers and two guides, over 40 miles from any other humans and in areas that nobody had been to before. The next three weeks saw us haul our sledges up the Henderson Glacier, over the crevassed pass into the Connell Canyon and then up a 1:3 slope to over 1500m in order to reach the Horseshoe Glacier and the way home. As we travelled we completed research on lichens, tardigrades (microscopic organisms that live on lichen), cryoconite (ice dust), our psychological state and our physical wellbeing.
The sledge haul home was over 40 miles and, due to an incoming storm, we had a weather window of only four days. At the end of the third day it was looking more likely that we would be have to be rescued than ski back into camp as we still had 21 miles to go. The next day, with weather conditions worsening all the time, we packed up camp hauled for 7 hours, set up the tents, ate, slept for 2 hours, packed up camp and hauled for a further 5 hours making Patriot Hills at 5am!! The storm struck only a few hours later and it raged for days, delaying our return to the UK and at some points making us think that we would be spending Christmas in Antarctica. Finally the storm cleared and we got back to the UK on the 21st December.
Our return was not the end by any means. The last few months have seen me turning my research project on how the human body copes with extreme cold into teaching materials, give speeches at the Geography Association Conference and the Scott Polar Research Institute and talk to local Schools, Rotary Clubs and Community Groups. All my talks have ended with a challenge: What are you going to have achieved in 18 months time? I set myself the target of raising over £10,000, acquiring survival skills and putting together a serious science project; my reward was the adventure of a lifetime. What are you going to do? I hope it involves travel and I hope you go with Hallmark Travel an inspired and insightful company who I can’t thank enough for their support.
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