In it for the long haul and the Legion

Soldiers are tracing the steps of Scott and Amundsen in aid of the service charity.

The 1911 race between Captain Scott and Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole, and its tragic end, is as much a defining moment in exploration history as it is part of British folklore. A century later, two teams are attempting the first full re-enactment of the 920-mile race by the two pioneers and their parties.

The Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race, which began this month, sees two teams of three soldiers set out to reach the South Pole on foot, unassisted. One will follow Scott's path, a longer route, but with a more gradual ascent, the other Amundsen's shorter journey, but with a tough climbing section – both, however, will have to endure some of the toughest terrain on the planet.

The race, which is expected to last until January, is being staged to raise money for the servicemen and women helped by the Royal British Legion.

Lt Col Henry Worsley MBE, an adventurer and author who has reached the South Pole unassisted before, is leading team Amundsen. As well as collecting sponsorship, he hopes that the trip will help "put the spotlight on a fascinating period of Edwardian exploration".

Speaking via satellite phone from the Antarctic, eight days into the trek, an upbeat Worsley describes the conditions as "perfect". Though it is important to note, that "perfect" for him means temperatures of around -18C or -20C and little wind – not your average comfortable holiday temperature.

"It's going well," he says. "We're getting into the rhythms, you go slower at first because you're pulling 150kg [the weight of their sledge], which is all your food and fuel for 65 days. You eat your way through your burden."

The routine isn't for the faint-hearted. Every day they get up by 8am, with a breakfast of porridge. That takes a couple of hours to make as the water comes from snow, which is apparently particular in the Antarctic. By 10am, they are on their way again, skiing until 7 or 8pm, then they set up their tent and bed down between 10 and 11pm.

Dinner is what Worsley calls a "polar pot noodle" – dehydrated food such as pasta with hot water poured on top. On the move, they sound like they're constantly grazing, eating chocolate, flapjacks, energy gels and nuts in an attempt to consume 6,000 calories a day (the recommended male consumption is 2,500 calories). This will become crucial when they face temperatures as low as -50C. With a heavier load, they will average eight nautical miles per day. As their packs get lighter, they will be hoping to reach 13 or 14 miles a day.

Worsley is upbeat despite one of his team dropping out after struggling two days into the trip. Even after a century of vast technological advances, the Antarctic still poses as great a threat to humans as it did when it claimed the lives of Scott's party. "It is disappointing as it's so early on," he admits. "[But] it's a dangerous place – sometimes help can often be a week away."

While keen to point out the six soldiers "want to give something back" by attempting to raise £500,000 for the British Legion's Battle Back centre for wounded service people, Worsley admits that because of the two-team nature of the trip, as well as a certain amount of derring-do, that "there is a competitive nature to it".

"For Scott in the early days it was very much a scientific expedition," he says. "Many of Scott's biological specimens are in the Natural History Museum. It wasn't until Amundsen came on the scene quite late on that it became a race, something Scott wasn't particularly happy about. But Amundsen saw it as a race very early on."

Both teams are travelling unassisted, although some trappings of modern life have been accepted for the trip and the teams are not taking dogs (non-indigenous animals are no longer allowed in the Antarctic). The two groups are, however, determined to keep things authentic when it comes to knowing the progress of their competitors.

"We've arranged to speak on the phone on Christmas Day," he says. "So we will have to see if either gives their position away. We just hope that when we speak to our families they won't give it away." Not that Worsley's particularly keen on using technology anyway. "We're only a satellite phone away from the rest of the world, which is slightly annoying as part of the lure of this place is its isolation," he says.

Keeping them company (and sane), however, are their trusted iPods. "I've been listening to Adele, Johnny Cash and Rachmaninov today," he says, adding that once the batteries die, "You're very much at the mercy of your imagination."

"A day can be hell without an agile mind," he says. "[But] it's a good place to remind yourself how infinitesimally small you really are."


Suggested Topics
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments