By AHT General Manager Operations and Communications Francesca Eathorne
My memories of my great-uncle Leon are of a spritely man who was always very well dressed, with short silver hair and piercing eyes the colour of those icebergs you sometimes see that are more blue than white. He had a way of telling stories that made you feel as though you were there in that moment with him. A seasoned drilling rig operator he had worked around the world and eventually would spend ten seasons in Antarctica working on the first drilling projects in the Dry Valleys.
Next week, I follow in his footsteps. The only other person in my family (as far as I know) to have the opportunity to work in Antarctica. While I won’t be operating a drill rig I will be staying at New Zealand’s Scott Base, where Leon spent so much time.
As you might imagine, at Antarctic Heritage Trust our team is full of interesting people who have had some pretty extreme adventures. There’s the boss who often leads our Inspiring Explorers’ Expeditions like climbing Mt Scott in Antarctica, our Communications Advisor who was a member of the first New Zealand Alpine Team, and our new GM – Partnerships who completed some epic trips like the first extended sea kayak expedition in Antarctic, paddling the length of the Antarctic Peninsula, and completed the first all Kiwi crossing of the Greenland icecap and the first circumnavigation of South Georgia by kayak. There’s our conservation team who each year spend a portion of their lives working in the world’s most extreme environment caring for the remarkable legacy of the early explorers.
And then there’s me.
While I love being in nature I had my first overnight camping experience only six weeks ago at the age of 40 as part of our Young Inspiring Explorers’ Summit. (Long story as to why we didn’t go camping as kids—involving dad’s distinct dislike of campgrounds and camping in general.)
I’m not sure camping out in mild spring weather in Canterbury, New Zealand has at all prepared me for several days camping at Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans!
So it was with some trepidation that I accepted the opportunity to go to Antarctica to work with the team on the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project this season. My first thought when I got offered the chance was what a privilege it would be to visit Antarctica and to experience the legacy the Trust cares for on behalf of the international community.
My second thought was “I’ve never camped a night in my life!”.
Positive risk-taking is one of our core values at the Trust and I decided that is exactly what this experience is for me. A chance to explore, to step out of my comfort zone and to discover more about myself and, importantly, to experience first-hand the legacy I spend a lot of my job talking about.
My role as General Manager Operations and Communications is mostly office-based and while I am heavily involved in our Inspiring Explorers’ Expeditions I’m usually running logistics and not in the field.
It’s been fascinating for me to watch the young people that are involved in our Inspiring Explorers programme flourish as they step out of their comfort zones and visit remote and wild places like Antarctica. Some of these young people have never had the opportunity to experience exploration like this and others have already completed many of their own adventures. Regardless, everyone comes back changed.
It’s given me great cause for reflection to think how this trip might change me. I haven’t stepped out of my comfort zone like this for some time. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I hope I’m fit enough (I’ve heard there’s a lot of snow digging in my future).
I’m excited to step inside the heroic-era huts of Scott and Shackleton and see the work the Trust has done conserving these special places and the many items left behind. Sir David Attenborough, when he visited the huts, said “They are a time-warp without parallel”. I want to experience that feeling, that powerful sense of place.
I’m curious to step inside Sir Edmund Hillary’s TAE/IGY Hut at Scott Base, which I know intimately in digital detail through our virtual reality project we are about to launch. It’s really strange to work in a virtual world on a space you have never actually been to!
Every year I lecture around the country and give dozens of presentations at schools, community groups and at conferences so I am looking forward to saying “I have been there” and actually being able to describe Antarctica first-hand and truly do the stories justice.
My personal connection to the Ice through my great-uncle Leon and his stories of this wild, desolate and fascinating place will be at the forefront for me as I follow in his footsteps for a moment.
Now it’s time for me to finalise my Antarctic kit and work out how to stash nine pairs of gloves in my bag. I’ve been asking everyone I know who has been to Antarctica for their hot tips for their first trip to the Ice so keep an eye out for that blog next.