Saturday, January 20, 2007

Walking to the pole

A UK team who have made history by reaching the centre of Antarctica without mechanical assistance have spoken of their epic journey. Henry Cookson, Rory Sweet and Rupert Longsdon used only skis and kites to travel 1,093 miles (1,750km) to the Pole of Inaccessibility.

Mr Cookson told of the moment when they saw their goal.... "We were on the verge of collapse, but we just looked at each other and started laughing," he said.

The Pole of Inaccessibility is marked by a life-size bust of Lenin, left by a Russian team who reached the pole using vehicles in 1958.

"We saw this black dot on the horizon. It got larger, then we saw this silhouette of the statue. It was so surreal after travelling across 1,750km of flat Antarctic plateau," said Mr Cookson. He said the team, accompanied by Canadian guide Paul Landry, had experienced "serious lows and highs" throughout their journey.

"We had three or four days without a breath of wind. Our bodies seemed to relax. When we started again, the pain was mind-numbing," he said.

He added that the team helped each other by keeping at the same pace and helping each other with equipment problems and sharing out loads when one person was finding it too tough.

The challenge was completed to raise money for The Calvert Trust, which provides adventure opportunities for disabled people.

The team - who call themselves N2i - hope to raise £150,000 towards a sports centre.

They pitched their tent 30ft from Lenin's gaze and will spend the coming days preparing for their pick-up.

Henry Cookson, 31, from West Kensington in London, Mr Sweet, 39, from South Cerney, and Mr Longsdon, 34, from Coates, both in Gloucestershire, expect to return to the UK on 7 February.

While they are waiting to be collected, Mr Cookson said the team intended to dig below the Lenin statue to try to find the hut it is said to stand on top of.

"In the base there is said to be a golden book, which we will sign if we can get to it," said Mr Cookson.

As for the future, Mr Cookson said newly-married Mr Longsdon intends to spend some time with his wife and Mr Sweet is hoping to break the hot air balloon altitude record.

"I just want to get home safely and in one piece, then I'll see what else is tempting. There are some fantastic possibilities," said Mr Cookson.

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