Longest polar walk to fulfill Scott’s dream
Oct 11 2013
The bottom of our planet has lately been drawing a great deal of attention every year, compared to earlier times. The 2008-09 season— from October to January — saw Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu become the first Indian woman to walk from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, as a member of the Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition. The venture was the brainchild of British polar explorer and scientist Felicity Aston, who brought together women from different countries of the Commonwealth in a bid to promote mutual support among the female fraternity of the union.
Aston, who laughingly says her life so far “has been quite woven up with Antarctica”, in 2011-12 became the first woman to do a solo ski strip across the continent, from coast to coast through the South Pole. The 1,084-mile journey took 59 days during which she had no outside support and used no cache of supplies, carrying her entire requirement for the trip on two pulks (sleds) which she pulled throughout.
Then, the centenary of man’s first journey to the South Pole in 1911, intensified by the race between Roald Amundsen and Captain Robert Falcon Scott, saw a great deal of romance and hype surrounding the commemorative expeditions. Some of these expeditions spilled over to the next season as well. This season, there is one commemorative expedition setting out that has taken some time to happen because of the logistics and cost involved, but it is one to follow — with admiration as well as a lump in the throat.
I have written before in this column of my personal warmth for the Scott saga, partly owing to the fact that Captain Scott’s son — the naturalist and artist, Peter Scott — had sought out my father, a journalist with an interest in wildlife conservation, during a visit to Assam in the 1970s. As an adult, I was to understand the mistakes that the British explorer made, which led not only to his losing the race to the South Pole to Amundsen but also to the deaths of his team. But till this day the Scott story, especially the suicide of Captain Lawrence Oates on his 32nd birthday, fills my eyes with tears as it did when I first read it as an eight-year-old in the company of my father on a sunny morning in Guwahati. On March 17, 2012, I lit a candle in a quiet ceremony by myself to mark the hundred years since Oates said, “I am just going outside and may be some time.”
This month, after nearly 10 years’ work, British polar explorer Ben Saunders’ commemorative project is finally coming to fruition. Along with Tarka L’Herpiniere, Saunders will do the journey that was Captain Scott’s dream — walking from the coast to the South Pole and back again — and which has never been undertaken. The pair is slated to begin the 1,800-mile journey on October 15. It will be the longest unsupported polar journey ever done.