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