Earlier this month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Polar Regions (together with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Reserve Forces and Cadets) welcomed members of the South Pole Expedition Army Reserves 2017 (SPEAR17) to Parliament to celebrate their incredible achievement of becoming the first British team to complete a full traverse of Antarctica.
The six-man team, comprised of British Army Reservists (including three doctors, a paramedic and a software developer), was led by WO1 Lou Rudd, a former Royal Marine and qualified military ski and Arctic warfare instructor. More than 100 reservists had applied to take part. None of the five who were eventually selected had any experience of expeditions in the polar regions.
The team’s initial plan was to complete an unsupported and unassisted trek from Hercules Inlet on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the Geographic South Pole, approximately 730 miles. However, the sad death of Lt. Col. Henry Worsley (a close friend of Lou Rudd) after he was airlifted from Antarctica in January 2016, inspired the team to go on to complete a full coast-to-coast traverse of Antarctica, completing the route that Lt. Col. Worsley had been attempting to do solo. That added a further 400 miles to the team’s expedition taking the full distance to more than 1,100 miles. It took SPEAR17 66 days, two hours and forty-five minutes for the team to accomplish this incredible feat.
Travelling mostly on skis, the team faced all kinds of challenges. Antarctica is one of the coldest and windiest places on earth and despite the austral summer, the team had to manage temperatures ranging from -20°C to -57°C. Huge blisters were an issue early on, while throughout the expedition the team also had to battle with frostbite as they dragged 120kg pulks behind them. At times, members of the team were losing up to a kilo a day in bodyweight over extended periods. As they climbed the Titan Dome to 11,000ft above sea-level, they faced the strains of being at altitude. Mentally, the team had to deal with isolation from the rest of the world as well as periods of intense monotony as the landscape could remain unchanged for days on end. To maintain spirits, the team celebrated crossing every degree of latitude (15 in total) with a party in the expedition leader’s tent.
The team celebrated Christmas Day at the South Pole where they received a re-supply of rations and fuel before going on to complete the second-leg of their journey to the Ross Ice Shelf on the East Antarctica coast. There, on the 22nd January, they were picked up by ski plane and returned to Union Glacier as members of a very exclusive club– only six other people have ever fully traversed Antarctica (fewer than have walked on the moon). Not content with what they had achieved, four members of the team then went on to take part in the Antarctic leg of the World Marathon Challenge.
Over the course of the expedition, the team raised £50,000 for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity. Their accomplishment, sends a strong message about the capabilities of the Army Reserves, promoting both recruitment and retention, while also inspiring others across the Armed Forces, the Reserves and the Cadets to take up similar challenges for good causes. It also reminds us that, at a time when climate change and resource politics often dominate news headlines about Antarctica, the region also continues to be used by Britain and others for adventure – a place where human endurance can still be tested to its limits, as it has been for more than a century.
The SPEAR17 expedition team was: Lou Rudd (Expedition Leader), Alex Brazier, Chris Brooke, Jamie Facer-Childs, Alun George and Ollie Stoten.
For more information about SPEAR17: http://www.spear17.org/