British explorers recount 'agony' of Pole trek

By Matthew Beard
Tuesday 23 January 2007 01:00

A team of explorers have spoken of their "agony" at enduring high winds and sub-zero temperatures to become the first to reach the remotest part of the Antarctic on foot.

The British-Canadian expedition trekked more than 1,700km - aided by kite ski - to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility, the furthest point from any ocean, on 19 January. The Pole, more than 3,725m above sea level, was first visited in 1958 by Soviet explorers in a convoy of snow vehicles.

The latest team, led by Canadian Paul Landry, said it was surprised to find a bust of Vladimir Lenin, erected by the Soviets, still standing in the ice. The team, called N2i, also includes Britons Rupert Longsdon, Rory Sweet and Henry Cookson.

By satellite phone, Mr Longsdon said: "About 20 miles out, we spotted a black dot in the horizon. As we got nearer the dot began bigger which gave us something to aim for. Before that I'd just focused on the horizon. It was strange because during that 25 hours, the hard hours seemed to last for days but the two or three hours passed in what seemed like no time.

"Once we were about 200 metres from the black dot - the bust of Lenin - we all stopped and took off our skis. There was a huge amount of hugging and shouting as we walked the last bit." The three Britons won the 2005 Polar Challenge, a competitive 563km (350-mile) race to the North Pole, with no Arctic experience. They then hired Mr Landry, a veteran polar explorer who has led numerous Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, to guide them to the former Soviet base.

Mr Longsdon said the team's achievement was just beginning to sink in. "We've had messages from all over the world via e-mail. People we've never met are sending their congratulations. We are a bit overwhelmed and physically and mentally exhausted. It was agony but worth the pain."

Mr Sweet added: "We're all exhausted and elated. We've skied for 25 hours non-stop to get here. All we can think about now is getting some sleep."

It took the group 49 days to complete their journey from the Russian scientific base Novolazarevskaya, on the Antarctic coast north-north-west of the Pole of Inaccessibility. They will now fly to another Russian base, Vostok, before travelling on to Cape Town.

The Pole of Inaccessibility lies some 870km (540 miles) north-east of the South Pole. After the Soviet explorers reached it in 1958, it was used briefly as a meteorological research base. The area was last visited by a six-man French team, which passed through the Pole of Inaccessibility on a trans-Antarctic expedition supported by dog sleds in 1989-90, according to the Australian Antarctic Division.

Henry's father Richard Cookson, who lives in Corfu, opened a bottle of champagne when he found out the team had made it.

"It's a marvellous achievement," he said. "All three of them are just amazing. To be the first to get to the Pole Of Inaccessibility has been on their minds for a while. They deserve it. And all for charity too."

The 60-year-old, who works for a tour company in Spain, had his reservations when his son first set out. "It's a worry, which makes the fact they've got there even more of a relief."

Mr Sweet's partner Steph Gore said: "Considering the problems they've negotiated and the four days they spent in the same position the distance they've made up is incredible. We can't wait for him to get back."

Throughout the journey, the team breakfasted on granola with water. Lunch was cheese, salami, nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. Drinks included hot chocolate, tea and coffee.

The team melted ice and snow and used it to hydrate the food, which they cooked on a one-ring gas burner.

An aeroplane will take them to Camp Vostok. From there thesy will fly to Camp Progress on the eastern coast of Antarctica and on to Camp Molodezhnaya, from where they hope to catch an icebreaker boat on 27 January.

They are due in Cape Town on 5 February, where their friends and families will meet them before they go their separate ways.

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