In the news: David Hempleman-Adams - The man who broke the ice and entered the history books

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The Independent Online
AT the end of a 600-mile, 57-day journey across creaking ice, David Hempleman-Adams stepped into the history books as the first person to complete the adventurers' grand slam, writes Clare Garner.

The 41-year-old British businessman's conquest of the geographic North Pole made him the only person to have reached all four poles, magnetic and geographic, north and south, and climb the highest peaks in each of the seven continents. His arrival at the top of the world on Tuesday completed an 18-year odyssey that has dominated his life.

He can now look himself in the mirror and answer with a resounding affirmative the question which has goaded him on to greater heights. For it was the words with which Margaret Thatcher's father frequently berated his daughter - "It is easy to be a starter but are you a finisher?" - which at times kept him going.

Among the first to congratulate him were to be his wife, Claire, and daughter, Alicia, who yesterday flew to Resolute Bay, in Canada, to meet him. "I can't wait to see my dad, although I know he will stink. Normally he has a bath before I see him," said Alicia, eight, who was to become the youngest Briton to stand on the North Pole. Mrs Hempleman-Adams, who has not seen her husband since February, said: "All the other expeditions have been relatively successful but this one has been his Achilles' heel

It is 15 years since Mr Hempleman-Adams first set out to beat the North Pole. In 1983 inspired by a report in National Geographic on the Japanese Noami Uemura, who made the journey to the geographic North Pole, he tried to walk alone and unsupported to the pole. He gave up after cracking two ribs. In March 1997 he made a second attempt which was thwarted when his Norwegian companion Rune Gjeldnes's sledge fell to pieces.

On 5 March this year, they set out once more. They braved winds, blizzards, thin ice, stretches of open water and temperatures of -80C (-112F). For comfort they listened to Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" and Van Morrison on their stereos, and ate chunks of chocolate hourly, sucked to ensure they did not lose their fillings.

Mrs Hempleman-Adams, 35, a solicitor, has never been under any illusions about her husband. While he has been away conquering mountains and icecaps, she has stayed at home in Swindon, Wiltshire, to bring up their three daughters, Alicia, Camilla, three and Amelia, two.

She knew from the moment she met him - at 18, in a student bar at Bristol - that he would never give up his thirst for adventure. "I never thought he would grow out of it, because he is the type of person who has to have something to aim for," she said. "He has set up and sold a successful business, built a house and explored the world. He was one of those people who cannot let life go by. He has to do things. He is a doer as well as a talker."

GRAND SLAM

The adventurers' grand slam consists of: the magnetic North Pole in the Arctic Archipelago; the magnetic South Pole off the coast of Antarctica; the geographic North and South Poles at the top and the bottom of the world; Mt McKinley (6,194m) in North America; Mt Kilimanjaro (5,895m) in Africa; Mt Everest (8,848m) in Asia; Mt Elbrus (5,642m) in Europe; Vinson Massif (5,140m) in Antarctica; Mt Aconagua (6,960m) in South America; and Carstensz Pyramid (5,030m) in Australasia.

FIRST TO NORTH POLE

Admiral Robert Peary, from Maine, in the United States, claims to have been the first man to reach the North Pole on 6 April 1909. A prior claim had been made by his former colleague, Dr Frederick Cook who had many supporters. However, scientific investigations verified Peary's accounts and in 1911 the US Congress recognised his claim. Of the 13 explorers who set out for the geographic North Pole this year, Mr Hempleman-Adams and Mr Gjeldnes are the only two to have reached the top of the world.

LONG ROUTE TO THE TOP

It took Mr Hempleman-Adams 18 years to complete the adventurers' grand slam. He began his quest as a holiday mountaineer at the age of 23, fired by the enthusiasm of completing a Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. He started by climbing Mt McKinley in Alaska in 1980 during a break from his post- graduate studies.

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