Ben Fogle, The Daily Telegraph, November 21, 2012
Between a smouldering volcano and a freezing sea sits the most famous wooden hut in history. It is Captain Scott’s original shelter at Cape Evans in Antarctica. Open the door and you move from a world of light and wind to one of darkness and history. The hut is just as it was a century ago. The kitchen is stocked with everything from Heinz baked beans and tomato sauce to cheese and mutton. The beds, sleeping bags and even clothing are intact.
I was lucky enough to join the Antarctic Heritage Trust ( ukaht.org ) two years ago on an expedition there. Our goal was to conserve the hut, which was slowly being consumed by the elements. My time there remains one of the happiest experiences of my life. Scott was not always so positive about the continent. “Great God! This is an awful place,” he wrote in his diary. He had a point: Antarctica is one of Earth’s last frontiers. But it is also one of the most beautiful places I have seen, where freezing temperatures, ice and wind combine to create a rugged wonderland – a description that could just as well apply to the North Pole.
Adventures at the extremes
It is no surprise that the ends of the Earth still attract adventurers. Next year, the Walking with the Wounded veterans plan to walk to the South Pole, and there’s speculation that their patron, Prince Harry, may join the expedition. Sir Ranulph Fiennes is embarking on the “coldest journey in the world” by attempting to be the first person to traverse Antarctica during the winter. Non-stop darkness, hurricane-force winds and temperatures of -60C (-76F) will certainly test the veteran explorer as he spends up to six months travelling 2,000 miles.
Another notable forthcoming adventure is that being undertaken by Tim Jarvis, the Australian who will shortly set out to replicate the journey of another of my polar heroes, Ernest Shackleton. He and his team hope to recreate the famous open-boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia, where they will attempt to reach the old whaling station where Shackleton eventually found help.
At the other end of the world, many people may have been inspired by Operation Iceberg on BBC Two, in which Chris Packham and a group of scientists spent the summer in the Arctic contemplating these giants of the ocean.
Polar trips for all
Adventurous tourists want to visit these worlds of ice – although doing so is, unsurprisingly, an expensive enterprise. For the most accessible polar experiences, I recommend Iceland, Svalbard or Greenland. Iceland, with its volcanoes and glaciers, has long been popular with those in search of “fire and ice”. Svalbard, a Norwegian island high in the Arctic Ocean, is a gateway to the North Pole and one of the best places in the world in which to see polar bears. I once rode a dog sled across the island to the Noorderlicht, a wooden tall ship that is frozen into the ice during the winter to provide a remote luxury lodging. It was one of the most memorable hotels I have visited and can be booked through Basecamp Spitsbergen ( basecampspitsbergen.com ).
For a land-based holiday in Antarctica, the writer and explorer Patrick Woodhead offers the world’s only Antarctic safari experience ( white-desert.com ). Guests fly in a Russian plane to Novo air base, stay in civilised, newly built “pods” with stoves, and take part in activities such as kite-skiing on ice . For something more energetic, you could walk the last 60 miles from 89 degrees to the South Pole with Jagged Globe ( jagged-globe.co.uk ).
More strenuous still, Extreme World Races ( extremeworldraces.com ) still has places on its 379-mile ultra-marathon from the ancient Cossack city of Irkutsk across the Siberian ice – a test you can complete by bike, on foot or by kite.
Various cruise operators take people to ice-bound parts: you can get to South Georgia and a range of Polar regions with Hurtigruten ( hurtigruten.co.uk ), and Quark Expeditions ( quarkexpeditions.com ) offers the ultimate – a cruise that takes in Scott’s historic huts.
For a chance to spend longer than a few days at the planet’s extremities, keep an eye out for jobs at the British Antarctic Survey ( antarctica.ac.uk ). And if it all sounds too far away, simply visit the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge ( spri.cam.ac.uk ), where the “lost” photographs of Captain Scott have recently gone on display.