Me on the Radio! Phoenix FM’s Morning Show with Sara

This morning I was on the radio!

I went down to Phoenix FM in Halifax to talk to Sara Hinchliffe on the Coffee Culture  morning show.  It was great, on for an hour and it felt like 5 minutes. So thank you Sara!

Hope I didn’t get too much wrong!

Click on the picture below to listen


Please visit the Phoenix FM website and show your support for local radio and follow em on Twitter too!

Click here  to go to their site Phoenix FM or click here to follow them on Twitter

The American Antarctic Programme Shutdown

As I said earlier in this blog, I think I’ve got my dream job. Excited doesn’t even come close.

The thought of that being snatched away from me because of politics would have me crying like a broken-hearted child. For those working for the American Antarctic Programme this is pretty much what a lot of the people will be feeling at the moment.  People who were probably just as excited as me to be going to Antarctica for the first time. They may have quit their jobs, sold or let-out their houses and packed up all they own ready to deploy.  A nightmare.

As shocking as that thought is to me though, it still doesn’t make me as angry as what is happening to the people actually down there and what is going to happen to the work that has been done. Science that has been going on for years, at great expense, science that has been making valuable discoveries about our world and how it works is now under real threat, and in some cases ruined.  Years of research flushed down the drain.  Peoples lives thrown into disarray for years with no clue as to what they will do now, watching what they have been working for destroyed.

A disgusting, completely unnecessary situation, damaging so much in the name of politics.

At a time when I’m looking forward to my journey I’m so gutted for the people who this is affecting.

There are some great pieces about the shutdown below.

The first is by Marie, a 2013 winterer at The Amundsen-Scott station at the Pole. Although she is leaving this year she is witnessing first hand the impact of the shutdown.


The other is by Genevieve who has been South for a number of seasons and is now at McMurdo.  She is directly affected by this mess and writes passionately about what’s going on.


I’ve been reading a lot about the people down there that this is affecting (and a bit about some who didn’t even make it out of the US) and it’s just all so messed up. I hope that for all caught up in this that it will only be a temporary blip, albeit a long one, and they’ll be back or beginning to do the work they love.

Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration: Sir Robert Falcon Scott

Ok, following on from Amundsen we have a little bit about Robert Falcon Scott, his great rival and leader of the second team to make it to the Pole. Instead of returning home in triumph like Amundsen, Scott had a more unfortunate (and more famous) end and will be forever remembered as a tragic hero.

Sir Robert Falcon Scott

Sir Robert Falcon Scott

Sir Robert Falcon Scott, commonly known as Scott of the Antarctic, was a naval officer in the Royal Navy and had no particular fascination with polar exploration. He applied for, and gained, command of the Discovery mission in order to further his career. Once he went south, however, he would forever be associated with Antarctica.

The first of his two missions was the Discovery mission in 1901-04. Scott, who was looking for personal distinction and career advancement in a Navy full of ambitious men, learned of the South Pole expedition from the Royal Geographical Society President Sir Clements Markham, whom Scott had met earlier in his naval career. This was the opportunity for command Scott had wanted and he eagerly volunteered for the mission.

Scott was made leader of the mission and promoted to the rank of Commander.  The fifty expedition members onboard the Discovery were relatively unskilled with the dogs, ponies and skis they took with them and the first two years of the mission were spent trapped on the ice and stuck in camp. Markham held the view that professionalism was less of a virtue than “unforced aptitude” and this attitude seemed to have influenced Scott.

Scott, along with Ernest Shackleton (who I’ll post about later) and Edward Wilson, set off to the Pole and got to within 530 miles of their target before retreating. The return journey took such a toll on Shackleton that he had to sent home from the mission.

The mission was not purely about reaching the Pole however and a great deal of scientific work was done whilst on the continent in the fields of biology, geography and zoology.

On the mission Scott cemented his views that dog sleds and skis were inferior to man-hauling, the method of pulling the cargo on sleds by man-power alone, something he held with later in his career.

He returned home a hero and found his mission had caught the imagination of the public. He was awarded many distinctions and honours and promoted to the rank of Captain. Between his two mission to the Antarctic he fell out with his fellow explorer Ernest Shackleton who had announced his own plans to return for a second go at reaching the Pole. Shackleton had planned to use the base at McMurdo sound to launch his expedition. Scott  claimed the rights to this area  until he chose to give them up, including the entire Ross sea region. Shackleton reluctantly agreed ,though on the Nimrod mission Shackleton was unable to keep his promise after searching for other landing areas. This was something which was condemned in the British polar community at the time.  Today it is Scott that is judged in a more negative light for his insistence on Shackleton searching elsewhere for a base camp.

The second, and most famous, of Scott’s missions South was the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition of 1910–1912.  Whilst planning, Scott was unaware that the expedition was a race until he received a telegram from Roald Amundsen informing him of his aims to reach the Pole in October 1910.

Scott determined to use a mix of transportation, including motor sledges, ponies, skis and much man-hauling. From the off things went wrong, with the ship stuck in ice for twenty days en route to the start of the attempt. A motor sledge broke through the ice and sank and the ponies struggled to acclimatise to the conditions. With these difficulties the main supply dump, one tonne depot, was laid 35 miles north of its planned location. Scotts companion Captain Lawrence Oats suggested to Scott that he kill and eat some of the ponies and put the depot where it should be. Upon Scotts refusal Oates  was said to comment “Sir, I’m afraid you’ll come to regret not taking my advice.” Six of the ponies would die on this journey from the cold or because they were shot for delaying the team due to deteriorating health

The attempt began on 1 November 1911,  with mixed transport groups including dogs, motor sledges and ponies pulling loaded sledges. These groups were travelling at different speeds and were all designed to provide support for a final four-man team who would push on for the final stage to the pole, with successive teams dropping back as the expedition neared it’s target.

In early January Scott announced a five man team, including Oates to make the final leg to the pole. They  reached the pole on 17 January 1912, only to discover, to their horror, the tent and flags that Amundsen had left there 5 weeks earlier. Scott’s diary has the following written about his feelings on his discovery:

“The worst has happened”; “All the day dreams must go”; “Great God! This is an awful place”.

Scotts Party at the South Pole

Scott’s Party at the South Pole

The team then faced an 800 mile journey north. The party made good progress in poor weather along the first 300 mile part of their  journey across the Polar plateau but the following stage of the trip, the 100-mile  descent of the Beardmore Glacier, Edgar Evans began to deteriorate. Evans fell on the 4th of February leaving him injured and incapable and then suffered another fall on the 17th and died near the foot of the glacier.  The four remaining men continued to travel the 400 mile journey across the Ross ice shelf in worsening conditions suffering frostbite, exhaustion, hunger and snow-blindness.

On 16 March, Oates, who was now barely able to walk, realising he was hindering the progress of his team made the decision to leave the tent to face certain death. Uttering, according to Scott perhaps the most famous last words ever recorded:

“I am just going outside and may be some time”.

Captain Lawrence Oates

Captain Lawrence Oates

On March the 19th the remaining three men made their final camp just 11 miles south of the one tonne depot (but 24 miles beyond where the depot was originally meant to have been located). They stayed there for 9 days in atrocious conditions unable to travel and with their supplies rapidly running out. Scotts words in his diary as he accepted the inevitable were:

We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last … Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.

It is though that Scott and his companions died around the 29th of  March 1912. The position of the bodies, when found, indicated that Scott was the last of the men to die.

Upon news of the tragedy reaching Britain, Scott became a national icon and a symbol of British bravery and values. The surviving members of the expedition were all awarded honours with many monuments and memorials across the country and as, per Scotts final request a huge amount of money was collected and divided amongst the families of the team.

1915 statue of Scott in Portsmouth

1915 statue of Sir Robert Falcon Scott in Portsmouth

Although Scott was considered a hero for many years after his death his reputation began to be questioned in the latter half of the twentieth century.  People began to question his methods and leadership and he began to be seen as amateurish and unprepared, especially when compared to the professionalism of Amundsen (who, around the time of his triumph was considered to have been un-sportsmanlike due to his meticulous planning and training) and was also overtaken in the public consciousness by Shackleton for sheer heroism. Scotts attempt was full of seemingly avoidable mistakes, both in planning and execution and suffered catastrophic breakdowns in communication. However, in later years this again, was re-questioned and Scott is now looked upon more favourably with many viewing one of the biggest factors in the events being the especially bad weather on his return journey. Whilst Scott’s reputation will perhaps always be  tarnished by the very things that his contemporaries considered so worthy, though we now see things with different eyes, he is again thought of as a Hero, who bravely fought for distinction and honour in the one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.

For an insght into Scott’s last journey, and an amzing read, you can find his diary below at the Scott Polar Research Institute Website- which is an amzing source of information.


Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration:Roald Amundsen.

Once I’m at Halley I’ll be using this blog to keep people up to date with what I’m doing and also post some great photos of the place. I’ve not put my photography skills to the test yet but I get the feeling that in such a beautiful place it will be hard to not at least get some good shots.

In the meantime I’ll be posting about my training (more to come on that later) and about the Antarctic continent itself. This post is about the men who set off to discover the place, if only very briefly. The most famous are Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton and Mawson. A lot has been written about them over the years and opinion has changed in that time.

Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen

Probably the most uncontroversial of them is Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole. Although not entirely without difficulty, Roald Amundsen’s attempt to be the first man to reach the South pole was without major incident and easy when compared to the harrowing stories of tragedy and endurance that typified the journeys of his contemporaries, and indeed his achievement was overshadowed by their heroic failures. This is a testament to the planning, preparation and single mindedness of  Amundsen as opposed to simple good fortune.

In the words of the man himself:

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

— from The South Pole, by Roald Amundsen

An accomplished polar explorer who had already become the first man to traverse the northwest passage Amundsen had made plans to be the first to reach the North pole but, upon hearing that Frederick Cook and then Robert Peary had taken that honour, decided to head south instead.  To avoid losing financial backing he kept this quiet and later informed Robert Falcon Scott about his intentions whilst en-route with the following sent in a telegram:

"Beg to inform you-fram proceeding Antarctic-Amundsen"

Whilst Scott and Shackleton did surveying and scientific work on their attempts (with Scott carrying thirty pounds of rock collected on the way to the pole) Amundsen had the single aim of being the first to the pole, taking only two photographs on the way.  Amundsen took dog and sled teams with him, and, importantly, men experienced in their use, these would be the principle method of travel. Dogs, as well as having a history of polar travel in the Arctic had the added benefit of being able to provide both meat for the men and for the other dogs. Of the 45 dogs who set off to the pole, only 18 would arrive, with the rest killed for food. Unlike the ponies favoured by Scott they would require no fodder and could be fed on food caught in the Antarctic such as seal and penguin.

As well as sled teams the men would also use skis. the team was at least proficient in there use, with some members being world-class skiers.

The equipment he used was the best available including boots that had been tested for years in the Arctic and clothes similar to those used by the Inuit. Sledges and ski’s were of the best design and the primus stove Amundsen used is similar to those used today. The tents were described as the best and most practical that had ever been used.

Roald Amundsen

Amundsen on the ice.

Amundsen’s journey to the pole and back took ninety nine days and he reached the pole on the 14 December 1911, planting flag poles and leaving a tent that Scott would later find on his ill-fated attempt.

Amundsen at the South Pole December 1911

Amundsen at the South Pole December 1911

Amundsen was respected amongst explorers and although he was hailed as a hero this was somewhat muted. In Britain, it was thought that his preparation, use of dogs as opposed to man-hauling the sleds and his general approach to his attempt were somehow not in keeping with the spirit of the age – that he was too professional, something that would be considered ludicrous today.  Amundsen reached the pole because of excellent planning, the vast experience of a squad of men picked for their skills and physical capabilities and because he used both tried and tested means of transport and modern equipment. He focussed on a single goal and was unsentimental about his source of food. Despite a false start to the attempt and some disagreements with team members the journey was an example of how polar expeditions should be accomplished.

The U.S. Antarctic base at the pole bears his name, along with that of Scott and Roald Amundsen is remembered as a giant of the era and a true Antarctic hero.