Four middle-aged office workers with no previous experience of polar exploration set off yesterday from London to re-enact Captain Scott's ill-fated 1912 expedition to the South Pole - and to raise £1m for charity.
Robert Scott's trip ended in disaster, costing the lives of the explorer and his entire five-man team. In every other respect, though, the amateurs will seek to replicate Scott's mission as accurately as possible, using fur boots, wooden skis, reindeer-skin sleeping bags, and a diet of biscuits, butter, sugar and pemmican - dried meat, jelly and fat.
"It was an idea born over too much red wine, but it's taken on a life of its own," said team leader Simon Daglish, 40, a radio marketing director from London. "None of us has been anywhere colder than a ski resort, and the equipment is a major challenge: it's difficult to use, big and clumpy."
Mr Daglish will be joined on the expedition by three friends: Ed Farquhar, 39, a security firm director; James Daly, 41, a company managing director; and Roger Weatherby, 43, chief executive of Weatherby's bank.
To prepare for the mission, the group has undergone an arduous training regime, including nights spent in a giant deep freeze at a Battersea-based ice-sculpting company, and hauling piles of car tyres around London's public parks.
"The food is disgusting," Mr Daglish admits. "It's very fatty and we'll have to wean our bodies on to it. But we want to experience as much as we can the difficulties Scott faced."
Like Scott, the explorers will navigate with a theodolite, which measures the elevation of the sun, and an old-fashioned sextant. They will sleep in a tent made from bamboo poles and heavy-duty canvas, just like Scott.
To help them face the perils of frostbite, giant crevasses, snow blindness, altitude sickness (the Pole is at 10,000ft above sea level), wind speeds of 50mph and temperatures of -40C, they will have on hand polar traveller Geoff Somers, 54.
The team is already half-way towards its target of raising £1m for good causes, including the children's charity Tommy's and the Winnicott Foundation, which funds research into premature births. The youngest of Mr Daglish's three children, Felix, was born prematurely and suffers from cerebral palsy. Mr Farquhar lost a son and a daughter following premature births.
Captain Scott's expedition ended tragically in March 1912 when he and the two surviving members of his party died just 11 miles from a food dump they had been trying to reach. Scott had been narrowly beaten to the Pole by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and had completed about three-quarters of his gruelling march back. His injured colleague Captain Lawrence Oates had already sacrificed himself to give the group a chance of making it, leaving the tent for good on his 32nd birthday.
Polar explorer and author Tom Avery, the youngest Briton ever to reach both Poles, kite-surfed across the frozen continent in record time listening to his iPod. He said the group faced a tough but unforgettable journey. "Scott is a true British hero, and what he achieved cannot be overestimated. I hope we'll still be talking about his expedition in another 100 years, because he deserves to never be forgotten."
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