Amelia of the Antarctic

Amelia Hempleman-Adams, 16, is more worried about missing Facebook than the dangers of frostbite during her 14-day trek to the South Pole with her father David, the explorer

As one of Britain's best-known adventurers, David Hempleman-Adams has made 30 successful Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, reaching North and South poles a record 14 times.

But this weekend he left Britain for the trek that he admits is causing him more anxiety than any he's ever embarked on. Because this time his 16-year-old daughter Amelia will be accompanying him, and together, they face a 97-mile journey to the South Pole through temperatures that could be as low as minus 60 degrees. If they succeed, Amelia will be the youngest person ever to have reached it on skis.

Taking one of his children on an expedition isn't new for Hempleman-Adams: the 55-year-old has been accompanied by both his older daughters, Alicia, now 22, and Camilla, 19. But Amelia, as he readily admits, is his baby: and while he's used to coping with Arctic hardships, he's all too aware that it will be a complete culture shock for her.

"The thing is that I've done lots of these trips – I'm used to them, I know what to expect, and I know how to get through them," he says. "But for Amelia it's all going to be new and some of it is obviously dangerous.

"The biggest danger will be frostbite: it's entirely possible for your fingers and toes to be damaged beyond repair in as little as three minutes. You have to be constantly wary, and if you suspect you're getting frostbitten you have to do something about it straight away.

"What worries me about Amelia is that she'll keep quiet about a problem when she needs to speak up. There will be 10 of us on the trip, and everyone else is much older than her so we'll all be looking out for her."

Some people, says Hempleman-Adams, will berate him for putting his daughter in danger – not to mention taking her out of school for three weeks. "But I'd say to them, what about the dangers of wrapping your child up in cotton wool, in never giving them the chance to get through a demanding situation? There are dangers in not exposing our children to difficulties too, but we never talk about them."

As for missing lessons, he says the educational aspects of the trek will be worth many hours in the classroom. "But the main thing she's going to learn is perseverance: this will be a gruelling, even a gruesome, experience. We're going to trek from the exact spot where Ernest Shackleton had to turn back in 1909, to the South Pole. It will take around 14 days and they will be very hard, skiing by day and trying to sleep in tents despite the 24-hour sunlight there."

His main advice to Amelia, says Hempleman-Adams, is that the first 10 days will be the worst. "If things aren't working out, we can fly home," he says. "At least Amelia will have tried. The biggest tragedy in life isn't people who've failed, it's people who haven't even tried."

Amelia, meanwhile, admits she's daunted by what's ahead – but says she's determined to do her best. Her biggest anxiety is how she'll cope without Facebook. "Leaving my friends behind, and not being in constant touch with them the way I usually am, will be the hardest part," she says. "We won't have any internet connection, though we do have a satellite phone in case of emergencies."

Her sister Alicia, who trekked across Baffin Island in 2005 on a similar trip, says Amelia doesn't have an inkling yet of what she'll be up against. "That's the thing about a trip like this – you don't know what you'll be coping with until you're out there coping with it, and then you just have to carry on," she says. "You learn so much about yourself at such a young age: things you might not have known for many more years, maybe never.

"I'm at university now, and I'm quite often aware of how much that Baffin Island expedition gave me, in terms of making a lasting difference to who I am and what my life is about."

Hempleman-Adams says Alicia's verdict is spot on: he's convinced that few experiences are as important in adolescence as the chance to tackle such a trip. "I went to an ordinary comprehensive and it was a school trip to the Brecon Beacons when I was 13 that changed my life," he says. "It was wet, cold and some would say horrible – but I glimpsed adventure for the first time. I loved it from that moment.

"It made me realise that when you're up against it you can do more than you realised you could do – and that was a lesson that changed my life."

He and fellow explorer Richard Mitchell founded the Mitchemp Trust in 1992 to give teenagers experiencing difficulties at home or at school the chance to take part in adventure camps. "What we want to do is bring young people out of their comfort zone, to stretch them further than they have been stretched before," says Hempleton-Adams.

"My guiding principle is summed up in a quote from Robert Browning, who said that a man's reach should exceed his grasp. If you show a youngster that there are no glass ceilings, that it's possible to attempt anything you want to attempt, you're teaching them something that will carry them through the rest of their life."

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