Shackleton Centenary Expedition

Getting to the Heart of the Antarctic May 18 2007

An old Polar refrain has it that there are three ways of getting to the South Pole. There's the Norwegian way, with skis. There's the Canadian way, with dogs. And then there's the British way, with the heart.

We might be British but we'll be using skis as well as heart. Our ancestors did in fact use dogs, skis and even ponies on the original Nimrod Expedition with varying fortunes, although their staple means of travel was walking.

In the modern era, animals are not permitted on Antarctic expeditions on the basis that there are no indigenous species on the polar plateau and this lack of animal life should be maintained. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this argument, it means that we have a simple brief in terms of polar travel. We must walk or ski. Given the efficiency of modern cross-country skiing equipment, we'd be foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth, so skiing it is.
We'll be using Asnes Rago cross country skis, which have been used on many polar expeditions and are universally recommended. The skis have removable skins on their underside. These are synthetic strips with angled tread, allowing you to slide forward but stopping you sliding backwards, so you can ski uphill (see the orange strips on the skis in the photo above, taken from Asnes' website).
To connect our skis to our boots, we'll be using Rottefella NNN Back Country bindings. These are light and simple to step into. They also have a wide plate which slots underneath our boot soles, aiding stability over uneven ground.
There is no perfect binding system and the main concern with this system is the potential for the metal bar across the toe section of our Alpina BC boots, which slots into the binding, breaking. We'll be taking spare boots and bindings with us (spare boots are needed in any case lest our feet swell over time, necessitating bigger boots). Even so, having looked at various binding/boot systems, we believe the Rottefella/Alpina combination is the best compromise between weight, efficiency, comfort and strength.

If we encounter a lot of hard blue ice on the Beardmore Glacier, we'll take our skis off and don crampons. Ranulph Fiennes and Mike Stroud were faced with terribly icy conditions when descending the Beardmore during their trans-antarctic expedition and had to resort to makeshift crampons fashioned from knotted ropes.

Our poles are the imaginatively named Mountain Pole, made by Swix. They're strong, light and have been used on numerous Polar expeditions. They also look great with their retro leather grip and basket.

We'll be carrying all 150 kgs or so of our kit in pulks supplied by Marc Cornelissen. We first heard of Marc's designs through Matty McNair and via website. It goes without saying that pulks for Antarctic expeditions aren't exactly mass-produced, so Marc made some up specifically for us.

Marc met us at 5am on a bitter January morning at his factory in The Netherlands, where we took delivery of the pulks. Now that's great service. More than that, he even had a cigar for us each! We were very satisfied customers as we headed off to Norway with the pulks strapped firmly to the roof of my trusty car.
Having used the pulks in anger in Norway, we're pleased report that they performed brilliantly. They have a very efficient shape for gliding over rough surfaces. They're also extremely strong, as Henry found out when he fell down a 10 foot drop with his pulk in a snowstorm in Norway. Both pulk and man emerged unscathed, much to Will's and my disbelief.

The pulks are connected to harness worn round our waists via a rope trace about 3 metres long. The trace has a piece of heavy duty elastic in the middle, to ease the stress on our backs of the pulk jerking over rough ground.
And that's that - for 900 miles!

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