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Modern Day Antarctic Adventurers, Heroes or Holidaymakers?

There has been an ever increasing tendency in recent years for people to use Antarctica
 as an adventurous playground for their extreme exploits.

Ice Tracks - book cover
Icetracks by Angie Butler

The accounts of modern day Polar Adventurers
This is an extension of the drives that take people up mountains and down rapids, to engage in long overland journeys from one place to another for some historical precedence - following in the wake of some famous figure who has gone before, or because they want to be the first.

But when these exploits happen in Antarctica, they seem to frequently become imbued with some kind of heroism that I feel doesn't always really apply.

Take the South Pole for instance, all sorts of people go there today, and many are trying to be the "First" something, first to get there wearing an orange hat, first to get there and have clean underwear on everyday. They, or maybe the press (or their press officer) tries to convince us that they are "Walking in the footsteps of Scott".

Ahem! - Scott and his team really did walk there - all the way from the coast - and despite great logistical support of their own organization died in the process. By 1950, there had still only been ten men who had stood at the South Pole, five from Scott's party and five from Amundsen's, and half of them had died on the way back. Today's climate of technologically advanced clothing, tents, communications and support is very different. Not to mention the fact there are lots of National Stations dotted around the continent for emergencies - more of those later.

Sometimes charity is cited as the reason for all this effort. While there are those who do raise great amounts of money for charity through their efforts, there are those for whom this seems to be a great way of getting to go to a place they could never otherwise manage and to have a great adventure in the process. I met someone a few years ago whose expedition was looking like it was going to fail through a lack of sponsorship, fortunately it was rescued at the last minute when his father came in and supplied many thousands of pounds to pay for it all. When I asked if he could come to the state school where I taught at the time and give one of his heavily promoted talks, he regretted that he couldn't as we couldn't afford to pay the (very expensive) asking price - so much for charity.

fun in an Antarctic crevasseA while ago there was some guy whose expedition was to be the "First" to ski down Mount Erebus. He was sort-of in that he was the first to mount an expedition with this as an aim (and indeed I think he succeeded) but personnel from the nearby New Zealand and US Antarctic stations have been using Mount Erebus as a ski slope for years. They just weren't claiming that it was particularly heroic to do so.

Now I'm not of the ilk that says we should all stay away from Antarctica and not touch it or not go there at all, far from it. It's a fantastic place and if you ever get the remotest chance of going I suggest you grab it with both hands.

Having spent two of the best years of my life in Antarctica, I feel that I know it more than most who go there briefly or just write about it. Antarctica is not so different to the Arctic and plenty of people live there all the time and have done for centuries. What is different about the Antarctic is that it is even more remote than the Arctic and has a greater mystique as so few people have been. To survive there is not a great feat, it is the result of careful planning, familiarity with the risks and having the ability to deal with any unhoped for but at least half (or more) expected trouble that may come your way. It also relies on the fact that you aren't going to do anything extreme unless you're well practiced. Would you haul a sledge or trolley for a few hundred miles from your home to a distant city, plant a flag and go back again? .....thought not.

Maybe it's just a part of my progress to becoming a grumpy old man, but I find it less than impressive or convincing, when starting around the end of November and running through to about March, I read about some new great heroic expedition (why are they always expeditions?) in the press every month.

I hope you have a great time and get what you want out of the experience, but please:

Don't allow others to think that what you're doing is in any way heroic, or god-forbid - important.

Please plan and pay for it yourself unless you really are famous or hardworking enough to get corporate sponsors to help you raise plenty of money for worthy charities.

When the ice melts, I'll be able to get my leg out and go homeThen there's one more thing that I've saved until last, that is possibly the most important this is in regard to support and rescue.

There have been several instances particularly in recent years, where adventurers have got themselves into what could potentially have been a fatal position. The reason that it wasn't is that there were research bases nearby (often by design of the adventurers) who came to the rescue (or answered the door when a knock was received). The rescue may have been literal in the case of downed aircraft or more benign in the case of adequate food, shelter and transport for those who simply hadn't provided for themselves when things went wrong.

Human nature will always ensure that someone in an emergency will receive help and assistance from those nearby who are able to give aid. However to put yourself into a position where you know you are relying on others to achieve your own goal, adventure - dare I say - holiday, is of a rather different nature.

Comments Received

  • I think that Antarctica is truly a beautiful place, and yes I think we should be allowed to visit and learn about these places - like we are at the moment, not many people go there anyway and those who do aren't really doing much, we should be telling those people what they can do while they are on Antarctica not that its best not to. What harm are people doing if they just go to see the beauty?
    Karina Holmes

  • I'm against for developing the Antarctica because its beautiful place and has it own natural resources. The animals are safe and wild within their habitat and people develop this the is a possibility that we may destroy this. I think we should just leave it because it is a beautiful place and if we pollute it we will lose Antarctica.
  • Firstly let me say that this site certainly offers a wealth of information. I have found it a very interesting read. I intend to visit Antarctica, I will be putting together a continental crossing that will be sponsored by a corporate, have some scientific value and gain money for a Leukaemia charity. I have 2 reasons for doing this;

  1) I can raise money and awareness for my wife's rare Leukaemia (My wife has CML), and

 2) I personally want to go to Antarctica.

I do not intend on selling my experience purely for commercial gain, what I hope to offer from the experience will be positive achievements in the face of adversity. I believe that anyone who takes on a challenge whether it is North Pole, South Pole, Everest or any far away experience (dare I say Expedition) should be recognised for the effort they put in. I am aware that people have different reasons for going to the South Pole and that you may not approve of them all, as you say, in your experience help is never too far away and so, they cannot really be called explorers.

However in many cases, if there is a weather change and parties are a reasonable distance from assistance then there can still be danger (please correct me if I am wrong). Just as some may sell their Expedition rights and not offer free talks to schools there are other individuals that are inspirational and do intend to share their experiences so people can gain a better understanding about one of the worlds most important continents. It seems that you have had a bad personal experience with one or more of the new adventurers, and perhaps are quite rightly upset, however, please do not tar everyone with the same brush new adventurers can still be Explorers.

  • I think that people should have more safety gear and more people around when they go to Antarctica.
    Sarah McEwen
  • I don't think that people shouldn't be going to Antarctica because of all the waste they leave behind and what about the animals they should be left alone. If you want to go there and risk everything then go ahead but just think about things first!!!
    Nicole Butcher

  • But if you're saying Antarctica is such a beautiful place, why would you want to just leave it there- what a waste of pure beauty! Sure we need to take many, many precautions, and make sure the impact on the environment is minimal, but if it's there why not indulge in it- after all we only live once! As for the animals- what about all the animals in the Amazon who die because of deforestation, why not worry about those animals, who we all know are disappearing because of our inhumane acts, before we worry about something which hasn't even happened yet.

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