Writing a new chapter in Antarctic history

This really is the most incredible experience. The tv crews have disappeared, the photographers have packed up and I’m sitting alone in Shackleton’s original cabin aboard the RRS Discovery.

It is a decent size, with a desk (at which I am now sat), a bench and cupboard in burnished wood, and a cabin bunk. Although it is very quiet now, after I have given a series of interviews about my expedition, and posed for photographs outside the cabin bearing Shackleton’s name, I can imagine the ship alive with activity; men in the ward room, making plans or recording observations, Dr Wilson sketching.

There is, even after all this time, still an air of expectation, of promise, to the ship. It was beautifully designed and was fitted with the best technology of the day; portable stoves, matching crockery with the British Antarctic Expedition insignia, a smart, brass-lined ship’s wheel.

I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed special access aboard the Discovery in Dundee, after earlier this year I was granted permission to wear Scott’s original sledging harness, recovered from the tent which became his final resting place after reaching the Pole.

Here then, in this cabin, is where Shackleton’s Antarctic story began, here at this desk. And it is here that I begin mine. As I write these words, little bolts of excitement shoot through my body – here is a ship which has been to the mythical continent of Antarctica, which at the time was not on any map, was untouched by human presence.

I’m wearing clothes based on Shackleton’s and Crean’s originals, and I couldn’t be closer to Ernest himself. I wonder what he would have thought about a woman on an Antarctic expedition. If I’d made it aboard the Discovery in 1901; perhaps Lady Markham [wife of Sir Clements Markham, then president of the RGS, and the woman who launched the ship],  had an unmarried younger sister, a scientist maybe. Could that have persuaded Scott to take a risk and take a woman? Perhaps they might have allowed me to cook or clean, certainly I would not have been invited to join the parties who struck out into the unknown from the huts after the sun returned to the continent. How might it have been, to overwinter? Without sight or sound of home, without light or life outside of the hut where they spent the dark months of the Antarctic winter?

And how is a major expedition viewed now, now we have satellite mapping, tracking beacons and emergency get-outs? I’m pioneering a new route to the geographic South Pole – is it still about the way into the unknown?

There must have been times when Shackleton, when planning future journeys, despaired of ever raising the funds to set sail, but Antarctica was in his heart, and so he found a way.

And once there, once I step onto the blue ice of Union Glacier, will it consume my soul, as it did for Shackleton, Scott and latterly Henry Worsley, as Everest did for Mallory. This week, Henry’s ashes will be scattered in South Georgia, and a simple stone erected in his memory. It will be place on a hill above the grave of Shackleton himself. A more fitting tribute to a man who loved Shackleton cannot be imagined.

When it comes to imagining – Antarctica exists, can only exist at the moment, only in my imagination, only in my head. What kind of place is it? My head tells me it’s desolate beyond imagining, harder than I can conjure up, more testing than I can replicate on training sessions at home.

Yet my heart tells me it is a place beyond wonder, of beauty which no Wilson painting or Hurley photograph can ever really convey. And in this, Antarctica takes on that mythical quality; a place of extremes which must be witnessed; dreams realised, fears confronted.

As I sit here, and turn-of-the-century music drifts from the men’s quarters, stepping into Antarctica will, for me, bit almost like stepping back in time, to Shackleton, Scott, Amundsen and Mawson’s stories, but adding a few lines to the next chapter in Antarctica’s story.

The hardships these early Polar pioneers endured cannot be imagined, certainly we would not want to replicate them, but that hardship is something which is undeniably attractive, which draws me in.

So why go somewhere so desolate, so difficult and, in all honesty, so dangerous? That is a question for British Polar explorer Wally Herbert:

“And of what value is this journey?”

“It is as well for those who ask that there are other who feel the reason, and never need to ask.”

·  With thanks to https://www.dundeeheritagetrust.co.uk/ The Shackleton Company, InLine Risk Solutions, Brunsfield Property Management, and Euphoria Freefly

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British woman launches world first polar expedition

A unique expedition which will pioneer a new route to the South Pole launched officially on Sunday, August 6.

In the spirit of the great British Polar explorers, a team will be taking on a world first with a 400-mile route up a never-before-climbed glacier to reach the heart of the Antarctic continent.

Set to take up to 55 days, and with pulks (or sledges) weighing up to 120kg, the team will face temperatures down to -50, crevasses, white-outs and blizzards, in one of the most isolated places on Earth.

Travelling from the Ross Ice Shelf, across the Transantarctic Mountains and then to the Pole, the epic journey harks back to the golden age of Polar exploration.

Wendy Searle, a mother of four from Salisbury, Wiltshire, is organising the expedition. A veteran polar adventurer will act as team guide to ensure the expedition reaches its finish point – the geographic South Pole.

As well as treading a path which has never been walked before in history, the team will be working with scientists to bring back environmental data on climate change in this fragile and remote environment. In partnership with Exeter University, and using cutting-edge voice and facial recognition technology, the team will also be taking part in research on mental resilience at the limits of human endurance.

Modern-day explorer and star of the Walking the Nile, Levison Wood, is lending his patronage to the expedition.

“It’s so important to support each other. Ultimately we are all trying to keep the great traditions of British exploration alive and we are all on the same side.

“The major challenge of polar travel is dealing with the relentless landscape, which doesn’t change for days, or even weeks on end. This is pretty unique – even the desert has some variety! You’re out there in the icy cold with very little support and completely at the mercy of the weather.”

Women are in a minority when it comes to Polar journeys; one of the aims of the expedition is to inspire young women and girls to take more risks, and to accept more opportunities.

“I’ve never thought that being a woman could ever be something which could hold me back in any way – that’s never occurred to me. When I started researching Antarctica I fell in love with its mythical beauty. It has become something of a mission to reach the South Pole and bring back some useful work, just as the original Polar explorers like Scott, Shackleton and Mawson did,” Wendy added.

The launch was held at Gilbert White House in Alton, Hampshire, which holds the Captain Oates collection, the Polar explorer on Scott’s fateful journey to Pole in 1912 who famously sacrificed his own life to try and save his team mates.

Expedition patron Patrick Cordingley OBE, who was at the launch, said:

“Wendy has the spirit of a true adventurer – courage, passion and optimism. Mounting an ambitious expedition like this is no small undertaking. Partnership work with companies who have a similarly ambitious outlook will ensure the expedition achieves its aims.”

For more information, or to support the expedition, visit www.southpole2020.com

Exclusive interview with expedition patron and adventurer Levison Wood

As part of the launch of the expedition, patron and adventurer Levison Wood gave an exclusive interview on inspiration, women in adventure and why he's never done a Polar journey...

On surprises in adventuring..

 

Incredibly, I am still surprised. There are so many places that defy expectation and defy the stereotypes that have built up around them. Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan get all sorts of attention in the media, often for all the wrong reasons – but the people in both countries are some of the most friendly and hospitable that I’ve met. There are surprises around every corner when you travel – I recently saw some incredible views in Russia that I hadn’t expected and in Mexico I chanced across unknown pyramids.

 

On inspiration..

 

Most of the people I meet are pretty inspirational – and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some real heroes on the road, such as being invited to a audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Most recently though, my friend Alberto has taught me a lot about life and been a great inspiration. At the drop of a hat, he left his life as a studio photographer behind and came on the road with me – walking from his home in Mexico, the length of the Americas, to reach Colombia. He’d hardly walked before and certainly wasn’t versed in expeditions or the challenges of that. But he embraced it all with such a sense of adventure and fun, and most importantly an incredible sense of humour.

 

 

On female role models in adventure travel..

 

Sadly there aren’t enough women getting the opportunities in adventure travel and of course I’ll always encourage them to get involved. But there are some great role models – from the historic greats like Freya Stark and Gertrude Bell, to modern day heroines like Nepali mountaineer Pasang Sherpa, who has achieved incredible charitable work in the aftermath of the earthquake, as well as her impressive summit feats or Hanli Prinsloo, a free diver who founded a marine conservation charity alongside her underwater record-holding adventures.

 

 

On Polar travel..

 

I suppose in truth I am more of a warm weather kind of person – but polar travel is definitely on my bucket list.

I suppose I’d see the major challenge of polar travel is dealing with the relentless landscape, which doesn’t change for days, or even weeks on end. This is pretty unique – even the desert has some variety. You’re out there in the icy cold with very little support and completely at the mercy of the weather.

 

On the importance of adventurers and expeditioners supporting each other..

 

It’s so important to support each other. Ultimately we are all trying to keep the great traditions of British exploration alive and we are all on the same side.

 

Image: Levison Wood

Image: Levison Wood