What It Takes: Big Dreams
Trek to the South Pole
How to Retrace the 1912 Race to the South Pole
Four men trek to the South Pole in Captain Robert Falcon Scott's footsteps (and underwear)—unlike Scott's crew, they manage to survive.
Text by Joe Robinson Photograph by Geoff Somers
Simon Daglish, 41, sales director
James Daly, 42, entrepreneur
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Englishman Simon Daglish and his middle-aged, white-collar friends had an outlandish notion: They would trudge to the South Pole along Captain Robert Falcon Scott's 1912 route with the same type of gear the heroic British explorer used, from reindeer boots and beaver-skin mitts to oatmeal biscuits and bamboo ski poles. The fact that Scott and four of his men froze to death was hardly a deterrent. "We went into it with blind stupidity," admits Daglish, who hatched the idea with James Daly while deep in their cups one evening.
Their plan worked splendidly. Along with polar guide Geoff Somers, 56, Daglish, Daly, and pals Roger Weatherby, 44, and Ed Farquhar, 40, staggered to the South Pole marker on January 14 of this year, after 17 days of fighting both the elements and their abrasive woolen underwear.
An idea that seemed ludicrous—stalking the South Pole in antique garb—is what helped them raise 1.3 million dollars. The lesson: It's not the dreamers who have to look good; it's the dream.
"It hit a real nerve here," says Daglish. "People said, We like it. We'll back you." The Mail on Sunday newspaper paid a tidy sum for the rights to the expedition journal, but this was more than just a costume drama. The team was also on a mission to raise funds for cerebral palsy research (Daglish's son was born with the disorder), and that helped land $100,000 from Numis Securities, their main sponsor.
To make the transition from urban professionals to polar explorers, they trained
90 minutes a day, attaching old car tires to ropes and hauling rubber through London parks. To acclimate to the big chill ahead, they rode exercise bikes in a friend's walk-in freezer. The vintage gear proved a formidable challenge as well. They sewed blankets together to simulate old jackets and had reindeer-skin boots made to Scott's exact specs. Still, the wardrobe was a wild card, since its ilk hadn't protected Scott a century ago. "We weren't 100 percent knowledgeable about the kit," says Daglish, with classic British understatement. "And we had no idea how the sledge would perform."
On Antarctica's Beardmore Glacier, in the first minutes of their expedition, it didn't work at all. They hooked up to the 12-foot-long (4-meter-long) wooden sled and started pulling, but it wouldn't budge. "We couldn't believe it," Daglish recalls. "Everyone had the same look on their face—which one of you isn't pulling?" Eventually, they figured out a rhythm and got the thing moving. Like apparitions from an old newsreel, they hauled it for two hours at a stretch, eight hours a day, in -35ºF (-37ºC) weather. Other than frost nip on exposed faces, there were no major injuries.
Daglish found himself commiserating with Scott's doomed party. "Pulling a sled through ice," he discovered, "is immensely boring."
To a rousing reception by some 50 South Pole scientists, they crunched across the finish line and celebrated by having an extra biscuit. Cerebral palsy researchers could eat cake, too. The trip raised $640,000 dollars.
Choke it Down
"We tried to bring in our own food, but the Chilean authorities didn't like the looks of it and ordered most of it burned. So we had to go to Plan B. We did have the same biscuits Scott had, a sort of oatmeal biscuit. We ate 16 of those a day. But we had to switch from the pemmican that we'd brought over to a kind of freeze-dried porridge, which was our main meal. That became insufferable, but there wasn't much we could do about it. We had to eat."
Tinker With It
"We set up our tents on the Beardmore Glacier and put the cooker on. It didn't work. We had the same design as Scott had, but we had to use aviation fuel because we didn't have any paraffin. Aviation fuel isn't very combustible, and it sent off the most noxious fumes, which made us all sick. So we were faced with a terrible situation: Without heat you can't melt snow, so you can't get water. We fiddled with it and bashed it around and poked holes in it and somehow managed to get it going. It worked perfectly from then on."
Take a Victory Lap
"We played this little trick where you stand right at the Pole and put your hand on the marker and walk around it. You can actually walk around the world in eight steps. It may have been partly the exhaustion, but at the time we found that fact deliriously funny."
DO-IT-YOURSELF: TURN BACK TIMEDial In: Time TravelThe replication trend has been in high gear this year, from the Scott reenactment to a re-creation of Norwegian war hero Jan Baalsrud's epic 1943 escape from the Nazis across the desolate Arctic Circle.
"These replays aren't simply a grasp at lost glory," says Jeff Blumenfeld, editor and publisher of ExpeditionNews.com. "You can retrace a trip to see how things have changed or to verify an earlier expedition." But most re-creators, he admits, simply yearn to celebrate a piece of hard-won history.
One trip yet to be reenacted (and one that would have a low wardrobe budget): Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca's amazing seven-year trek, barefoot and often buck naked, across the southern U.S. in the 1530s.
Sign On: Back to the Pass
It was one of the most sought-after quests in expedition history—the Northwest Passage. After centuries of disastrous attempts to find a northern route between Europe and North America, Norwegian Roald Amundsen weaved his way through the Arctic ice in 1905. Now you can retrace his historic voyage in the company of Geographic Expeditions ($13,000 for 19 days; www.geoex.com). Beginning in Anadyr, at the northeastern edge of Russia, you'll head by icebreaker through the labyrinth of islands and ice floes at the top of Canada into a realm few have glimpsed. Time there remains frozen, literally: Little has changed since Amundsen's day.
The Pioneer: Epic Floater
Norwegian ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl was well ahead of his time when it came to traveling back in it. His 1947 expedition to Polynesia aboard Kon-Tiki, a balsa-wood raft, not only garnered him world attention, it supported his contention that there was pre-Columbian contact between Pacific and South American peoples and confirmed the skill and sophistication of trans-Pacific navigators. Heyerdahl's seminal reenactment is proof that you don't always have to be first to make history.
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How to Retrace the 1912 Race to the South Pole >>
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Our October 2006 issue features how to live your Adventure dream; Tanzania's man-eating lions; outdoor activities in San Francisco; World Class adventure travel trips; and more!
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