Map Of Arctic Region

Antarctic Dreams

My primary dream of travelling to the Antarctic and then on to the South Pole had long pre-dated my great desire to reach the North Pole. Now I had achieved one and some years have elapsed, how was I to achieve the other? What would be the initial motivating force to start me on that very long journey? In order to deal with the complicated logistics, the costs and the time involved there would probably have to be something particularly special that would point me southwards, to the bottom of the world. Otherwise I’d just keep my dream ticking over and carry it forward to another year. That is also part of my Zen philosophy: waiting, thinking, acting and reacting, experiencing still moments, until something propels you in a particular direction, towards a certain course of action. Then you sense your movement towards the decision and invariably you know and feel when the moment is right. I hold numerous files of cuttings, reports and papers relating to the travels of many other fortunate explorers, incidents and adventures occurring throughout the globe, but my Antarctic files have gradually become the biggest. Perhaps now was the time!

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My travel maps are an integral part of my library and many times I like to take them out and spread them over the floor, just to contemplate some of the magical places there are, some of which I’ve seen and many of which are still to be explored by me. I love to browse the wonderful place names to be found throughout this extraordinary world and to feel the magic calling out to the adventurous.

Today I am fortunately alone. No one else is at home. I can examine my maps at my leisure and without interruption. Books of poetry are kept purposely in the shelves above travel and as so often happens, the inspiring words of some of the emotive poets are soon tumbling out. Wordsworth and his ‘Daffodils’ are a special favourite, the sense of the ordinary having the power of the extraordinary is very much part of the Zen philosophy, ‘I gazed and gazed but little thought what wealth to me the sight had brought.’ Then I switch to the inspiring Coleridge and his sumptuous richness, ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree a sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice.’

Across my maps I trace affectionately the contours of remote, high mountains, red-burnt deserts and white-iced terrain, gorging, winding, flowing rivers. I start to run my finger over exotic lands with unpronounceable names, faraway, valley-cradled countries; distant, remote nations trying to exist within adversity from man and nature. Africa remains at the heart of the Old World, always the cradle of mankind, yet where so much misery has been caused and still is extensively occurring. My friends at the Red Cross continue to work heroically in so many countries there. I so very much want to help their valiant efforts. The name of the continent of Africa in the atlas is writ large and as always so many of its volatile countries seem to be calling out to me. Some of the hottest places on Earth, regions continually suffering from famines, tribal wars and horrendous genocides between peoples. I decide I should again try to fund-raise for them, to make another personal gesture, hoping to encourage others to help, to show that they also care. But I had travelled to Africa before in order to raise funds, most recently to Tanzania and to Kenya, to climb the two highest mountains in Africa. Now I need to travel within another of the world’s zones.

So to search out Coleridge’s mythical ‘caves of ice’; this will be my goal. Some like it hot but also some like it cold. One koan states, ‘Hot, cold, it is you who feel them.’ Many love the coldest places on Earth. The Antarctic at last! I will try and travel to the South Pole, to achieve at last my childhood dream.

Some of my earliest memories are of the tales of Captain Robert Scott, following the story of his driven but ultimately tragic journey to try and be the first to reach the South Pole. Even though his expedition had arrived second to Amundsen’s, he ultimately became known as ‘Scott of the Antarctic’. The terrible disappointment had served to break him. His team of five had subsequently all perished, not knowing how close they were to reaching a supply hut which would have saved them. But Scott and his men had lost the will to continue, to survive. The three attributes of Zen you always need to carry with you, never more so than on an arduous expedition are: a great root of faith, a great ball of doubt and a fierce tenacity of purpose. It seems they had abandoned them all after receiving the heartbreaking news that Amundsen was first. However, the Zen philosophy always explains that it’s not necessarily important to achieve your planned goal, it’s making the effort which is more important, retaining the will not to give in and often the strength to turn back.

Shackleton, by some acknowledged to be the greatest of all the polar explorers, never achieved his ultimate goal of reaching the South Pole, but throughout his heart-breaking journeys he never gave in. He knew his responsibility to his men was paramount and he brought them all back out of the frozen wastes of the Antarctic to safety. He never lost a man. He was truly a brilliant leader as well as a great explorer. But I, like many others, have always loved Scott; we can understand his pain, his tremendous sense of loss, his feeling of utter dejection. We can imagine what was going through his mind. If only he had realised, had understood what an inspiration he would be to us and would always be, that might have helped him to keep going and return. Then his infant son, Peter, would have really known his exceptional father.

Peter Scott was only two and a half when his father died. However he had been left a legacy which was to inspire him throughout his life. Robert Scott’s farewell letter to his wife included the following words: ‘Make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games; they encourage it at some schools. I know you will keep him in the open air. Above all he must guard and you must guard him against indolence. Make him a strenuous man. I had to force myself into being strenuous as you know – had always the inclination to be idle.’ I think the words used on Robert Scott’s memorial in Antarctica, taken from Tennyson’s Ulysses describe his character better – ‘To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’. Sir Peter Scott had been left a historic legacy and certainly took his father’s words to heart. He became a distinguished naturalist as well as a fine fauna painter and his contributions in his field were very important. He was co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund International and the first person to be knighted for services to conservation.

OK, so that’s where I am going. To Antarctica. To stand where Amundsen and Scott had stood, all those years ago.

Just the thought of it is absolutely thrilling. I am finally going to travel to the coldest region on Earth, hopefully to feel what so few polar explorers had experienced, when trekking and fighting across those vast ice lands.

I announce my plans. I will travel to the Antarctic to raise funds for the work of the Red Cross. Everyone at first thinks I am joking. They find it hard to believe. My family look at me askance. Some of my friends decide to humour me, thinking I will change my mind but my friends and colleagues at the Red Cross are delighted. They realise it is a totally unique challenge and hope it will also act as an encouragement to their many supporters to take on other challenges, to set up other events where they too could raise funds for the vital work of the Red Cross. I state that all the monies I raise I want to go to their work within Africa, particularly in Rwanda and Burundi and they readily agree. In my mind’s eye I am already on my way to the South Pole.

When to go? How to travel? I start making enquiries. There are a few organisations that can help and provide information. However, I have known for several years of a travel and exploration company arranging specialised trips to the Antarctic Adventure Network International. On several previous occasions I have discussed the possibility of my travelling out with them but for one reason or another I hadn’t been able to commit. This time I will, no matter what, and I again contact the owner, the indomitable Annie Kershaw. Any remaining doubts quickly vanish as Annie immediately and mouth-wateringly conjures up the delights and thrills that will be waiting for me in the Antarctic. There are several possible dates available, all within the months of December and January. It is necessary that travel to the region takes place in the period of Antarctica’s summer when there are greater chances of actually getting to the South Pole. Going in the subsequent months would make it extremely difficult and dangerous to travel through the huge tracts of ice wastelands, particularly those that separate their base camp from the South Pole Station. After considering the various options I decide to plan my journey in order to have the opportunity of perhaps spending New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day at the South Pole. What a memory that would be! My family finally understands and agrees to waive their objections. They accept it will be the chance of a lifetime and they then actively encourage me to go ahead. We have often travelled together abroad at that time in previous years and have celebrated the New Year in such diverse places as Ecuador in the tropical rainforest, Cairo and Luxor in the Valley of the Kings and in the eternal Jerusalem. They know there will be other family opportunities like that in the future. This is one journey I will have to take alone.

My preparations are soon underway and as usual I train to get myself fit. I am not certain what difficult situations I might have to face but I know that being stronger and fitter will stand me in good stead and I must be prepared for anything. Now I want to learn as much as possible about Antarctica, its human and animal inhabitants, Antarctic weather conditions and habitats and of course the history of those who have gone before me. Indeed, first of all I need to read up on some of the incredible explorers who have carried out, in this most remote of all the continents, so many inspiring exploits of daring, adventure and bravery. Their stories are astounding. They make me more determined than ever to follow their way.

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