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William Gow works in Business Development across EMEA (Europe Middle East and Asia) for an asset management and financial services business called eSecLending. Interests: the history of anything; sport; music.
Sport: tend to be endurance based, except for the odd game of cricket and golf.
Music: fascination for the blues.
History of anything: current interest: sun record label; previous: the art of Sir Francis Claude Barry.
Family links: my great(x1) grandfather was Shackleton's father-in-law. My great aunt Emily Dorman married Ernest.
This project is the culmination of 8 years of adventures. It all started as a way of raising money for my mothers charity: the National Hospital Development Foundation and for their research into MS. At the time I was an enthusiastic smoker and drinker, but realized such
a lifestyle was not doing me any favours, especially as I was watching my mother deteriorate with MS - so I decided to take action.
My first event was the Himalayan 100 mile stage race across the foothills of Kanchenkunga. The race gave me a somewhat masochistic outlook on life and also raised pots of money which delighted my mother and gave me encouragement to pursue further adventures.
The polar adventure began with being accepted as an assistant leader for the british schools exploring society, where we took 75 teenagers into arctic Norway and spent several weeks on the Oksfjord icecap. The beauty and serenity of the polar landscape left a massive impression on me, and I started thinking how I might be able spend more time in those regions.
With a masochistic streak and a desire to explore the wilderness regions of the world, the next challenge on the horizon was the marathon des Sables. It was here that the plan for a trip to the Antarctic began to formulate.
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In 2005, my team-mates Will and Henry successfully completed a 320 mile foot race in Canada called The Yukon Arctic Ultra. In the year and a half since I've known them they have never tired of telling me all about it. They promise to stop only when I compete in the race myself, which I won't be able to do before our Antarctic expedition due to other training commitments.
This means that, throughout the expedition, I'll be prey to their endlessly evoking what it is like walking 18 hours in the frozen wilderness for 8 days in a row, towing your supplies behind you, suffering from the sensory deprivation of walking in the interminable white, day after day. It'll be like a running commentary!
Seriously though, I wish I had done the race. It's hard to imagine more condensed training for the mental stresses of polar travel and Henry and Will take great confidence from their achievement. The hard part must have been to stay focused when every part of your mind and body are calling for rest. Henry recalls that, in his exhausted state, he managed to persuade himself that he was hauling his sick child to the nearest doctor. That was how he conned himself into continuing. Will, on the other hand, is a loony and stopping probably never occurred to him.
Although we have each spent time in the Arctic on a number of occasions, neither Henry, Will nor I have any Antarctic experience. As a professional soldier, Henry has been taught how to survive in various environments. As a polar nut, Will spent weeks working on glaciers and attended polar training courses when the Foundation and expedition were a dream rather than a reality.
I have the least cold weather experience of the three of us. Sometimes the training daunts me, in terms of what we need to get through physically and the skills we need to acquire. We are not professional explorers and we are not sneaking a polar guide into one of our pulks. We are three men who long desperately to retrace our ancestors' footsteps and complete a 900 mile walk to the South Pole.
We will have trained for almost 3 years as a team before we start. There's just so much to learn.
Firstly, we need to travel efficiently across the innumerable variations of snow and ice we will encounter. We will use cross country skis with skins almost throughout the expedition, although for glacier travel we may need to resort to crampons to move over the ice.
We will need to negotiate the full length of the longest glacier on Earth, the Beardmore Glacier, on our route from the Ross Ice Shelf to the Polar Plateau. Only a handful of people have ever done this - why would you, unless you had to? Beneath the surface of this flowing ice field await cathedral-sized chasms. We must have the skills and equipment to move roped together and to rescue ourselves from these crevasses (not that we intend to fall in them in the first place).
Next, we need to be able to eat, sleep and equip ourselves for survival in the coldest, driest and windiest place on earth. This is where many expeditions come a cropper. Choosing the right kit and establishing the right routine are paramount in order to avoid a snowball of problems potentially culminating in evacuation or worse.
For example, if you don't brush the frozen condensation off the inside wall of the tent before you put it away each morning, it will melt as soon as you heat the stoves in the tent that evening. The melted ice will fall like rain all over the inside of the tent, soaking everything including the sleeping bags. Once these get wet, they are extremely difficult to dry and the down feathers lose all insulating properties, turning to ice. Your sleeping bag is now heavy and cold. At the very least this will affect your sleeping. You begin to get tired and your body isn't able to recuperate properly. Your chances of success drop more and more each day due to increasing levels of exhaustion, bringing with it greater risk of injury. All from not wiping the tent.
In our training to date, we've been on mountaineering and crevasse rescue courses in Wales, Scotland and the Austrian Alps, taught by Ross Ashe-Cregan of AC Adventures. We've been taught the art of polar travel by Matty McNair, a veteran of both Poles, in Canada's Baffin Island and more recently at Finse in Norway.
Next up, we're due to attend a cold weather injuries course later this summer, at which we will learn more about hypothermia and frostbite, amongst other nasties. We will then go back to the Alps this winter for more glacier travel/crevasse rescue work. After that, in April/May next year we will undertake a three week crossing of Greenland, where the conditions are quite reminiscent of Antarctica. This will in many ways be our dress rehearsal.
In the meantime, we each have a responsibility to maintain our own fitness levels. Up til now this has by and large meant running, cycling or swimming. However, I've just taken delivery of a stunning set of used tyres which we will fix to our harnesses and tow round various parts of England.
So if you see three strange men pulling tyres around and cursing, we'd love it if you shout some encouragement. Just don't ask about The Yukon if you're in a rush.
I have heard many stories about Shackleton since I was very young and as I grew older, I started to understand and admire Shackleton more. My Dad collects paintings and books about Shackleton and when I found out that he was re-enacting Shackleton's second trip to the Antarctic, I was extremely excited.
I am very happy for my Dad that he is doing what he has always wanted to do, but I am also worried for him. Even in the most barren place in the world there is a risk of falling down a glacier or crevasse. I also know that it is a very special trip for him, as he is following the exact footsteps that Shackleton and his team took exactly one hundred years ago. A lot of work and organisation has been put into this trip and my Dad has been training in Norway with his team, hopefully getting very fit for the long journey ahead!!!
Although the trip is very important, I also admire how a variety of people have set up a great foundation, giving people the opportunity to fund expeditions with the element of risk in them, but this website will explain more about that.
I do feel happy for my Dad and I am longing to hear how the trip went when he gets back, and hopefully some day I will be able to go to the South Pole with him and really take in the atmosphere and conditions of the Antarctic.
What beauty is seen through the mist of white snow,
The depths of Antarctica, where no one will go.
The biting wind will freeze thoughts from your mind,
And the deathless cold will leave you behind.
The elegance of animals that lie deep within
This barren island where new life can begin.
But life that lay low years before mine,
May show out to others and soon it may shine.
At night however all life has died down
The wind that was raging is going to drown.
The stars so calm appear life's only light,
And next is the sunrise, the only delight.
Now that its morning the beauty shows,
And as the sun rises, Antarctica glows;
And as I leave this beautiful land,
The life beyond me starts to expand.
"Waiter, has the chef peed in the soup?", asked my great-grandfather earnestly in a smart London restaurant. "Good Lord, of course not Sir Jameson", replied the shocked waiter. "Then I won't have any."
This was typical of "the Mate", so called because that is how he addressed almost everyone from King to coxswain. It also hints at the sort of character Shackleton must have been looking for when he asked the Mate to be his number two on the Nimrod Expedition. The Mate was very much his own man, running away to sea aged 13 (he met Shackleton when he was serving with the Royal Navy) and never short of a joke.
I never met the Mate but my father, his grandson, remembers him fondly. He was by all accounts terrific company (unless you happened to be a waiter), which helps when you need to survive, in every sense of the word, as part of a small team on a long polar expedition.
Sadly his diaries were lost to fire in the Second World War and he never published his own account of the Nimrod Expedition. I dearly wish I knew more about what he went through personally. I can only imagine how it must have felt to get within 97 miles of the Pole, the closest in history at the time, having sacrificed and risked so much over many months, before having to turn back in order to stay alive as their supplies dwindled. Scott and his team were to face a similar situation a few years later in their race to reach the pole before Amundsen and as we know, they took a different decision and paid the consequences with their lives.
I owe the Mate an enormous debt of gratitude. Firstly, he came back from the Antarctic alive, but for which I wouldn't exist (thank goodness he didn't get the wrong sort of frostbite). Secondly, on the centenary of the original expedition, I and the other descendants of the original Nimrod team literally have a once in a lifetime opportunity to retrace our forebears' footsteps and walk a very long way in a frozen, lifeless and stunningly beautiful land. Just getting there is a giant challenge. We will do and when we do, we will discover for ourselves what the original team must have gone through. We will also, like them, discover a lot about ourselves.
I will also be fascinated and privileged to visit the wooden hut at Cape Royds on the New Zealand side of the Antarctic, which Shackleton and his men built to survive the long Antarctic winter before embarking on the march to the Pole in October 1908. The hut marks the start of our journey and still stands 100 years later, with the team's belongings preserved within. To go inside will be to walk back in time. It will be a monumental inspiration before we set off.
And the expedition is just part of it. The Mate dedicated much of his life to youth development after the Nimrod Expedition. Shackleton's feats are well known and inspire awe throughout the world. We have set up a charity, The Shackleton Foundation, to promote, benefit from and encourage in others the accomplishments and spirit of Shackleton and his men.
The expedition is the first fundraising event for The Foundation. You can read elsewhere on these pages about the purpose of The Foundation. Its ambit is, in one sense, as wide as can be, the criteria for potential benefactors being that the projects for which they seek funding are bold, innovative and useful. For me, this means two things: that whoever is seeking a grant must have total faith in their idea or product and that it will make the world a better place.
I can't wait to meet the applicants and hear their ideas. Just need to walk 900 miles to the South Pole first.
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