The Trust’s Inspiring Explorers Expedition™ team have shown how far an explorer mindset can take you, reaching the South Pole on 6 January 2023 after towing sledges 920km from the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Over 50 days, the Kiwi-Norwegian team of Inspiring Explorers Laura Andrews, Marthe Brendefur, and Mike Dawson, along with Expedition Leader and former Trust Executive Director Nigel Watson, and Ousland Explorers Polar Guide Bengt Rotmo, worked their way through a maze of sastrugi and around crevasse fields, while experiencing extreme winds, punishing sub-zero temperatures and the effects of altitude. The team would ski for an hour at a time for up to 12 hours a day, and they would each take turns at leading. The person at the front carried the mental load of navigation and the physical load of breaking the path for their teammates behind them.
The expedition celebrated 150 years since the birth of legendary Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. Norwegian Inspiring Explorer Marthe Brendefur said, “I have so much respect for what Amundsen and his team went through now that I have experienced how piercing, cold and ruthless Antarctica can be. I love the expedition life – even the unpleasant parts. I loved pulling my sledge, using my entire body to move it – it was really satisfying!”
On arrival at the South Pole, Expedition Leader Nigel Watson said the team shed tears and felt joy. “We are cold and tired but exhilarated to be on this spot in the footsteps of legends like Amundsen, Scott and Hillary. We are in awe of Amundsen’s speed of travel. The team definitely reflected on the early polar explorers and what they were able to achieve over 100 years ago. Our Inspiring Explorers Expedition™ has inspired a new generation of explorers who will be part of the future guardians of the explorer’s legacy the Trust cares for.”
Inspiring Explorer Laura Andrews says, “What I learned from this expedition is that we all have strength in different ways and it’s not necessarily just physical. Strength is a combination of physical, mental, and emotional, and it is hugely influenced by your team spirit. We were successful because even though we were strong individuals, we were an even stronger team. We went from strangers across the world to a team that thrived together by talking and learning about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We lifted each other up.
“Mike brought years of high performance sport tools to help build a positive team culture. He made us all feel like Olympians. Bengt was a world of wisdom to us. He made sure that we could stand on our own and survive on our own. Nigel led the team with an ever-present reminder of the heroes who had come before us, he looked after us and kept us in stitches with jokes. As for Marthe, if you can share a two-man tent with somebody for 50 days and still be friends that says a lot about the kind of friendship you have forged. She was my polar sister. We found joy and gratitude in every moment, in the environment around us, and in the people we were with.
Laura discovered there is a certain beauty in living life in its purest form, disconnected from the world, “Our mission was really simple – survive each day and ski South. We were back to basics, set up shelter, boil water, fuel yourself, get enough sleep, and repeat. The day we arrived at the South Pole, it was white out conditions, it was the coldest day of our journey yet, about -30 degrees, with a wind chill of -45. We were wrapped in every layer we had. The early polar explorers bravely overcame obstacles and the unknown and showed huge amounts of resilience, comradery, and passion. The advances in knowledge and technology that we benefitted from can be attributed to their curiosity, and the innovation driven by the explorers that came before us. Despite these advantages, we still had to navigate using the sun and the wind, and have the perseverance to endure 50 days in the elements. 111 years apart, we experienced the same environment, we experienced awe and wonder, days of physical exertion, and moments of soulful elation.”
Now that they are home, our Inspiring Explorers are delivering outreach plans for how they will share this life-changing experience with their communities.
The Inspiring Explorers Expedition™ team at the South Pole. L-R: Bengt Rotmo, Marthe Brendefur, Laura Andrews, Mike Dawson, Nigel Watson. © AHT/Mike Dawson
The Inspiring Explorers team L-R: Bengt Rotmo, Marthe Brendefur, Laura Andrews, Nigel Watson. © AHT/Mike Dawson
Inspiring Explorer Laura Andrews skis towards the South Pole. © AHT/Mike Dawson
Inspiring Explorer Laura Andrews pitches her tent at the end of a long day. © AHT/Marthe Brendefur
Partners and Supporters
The Trust extends its sincere thanks to Expedition partner Ousland Explorers, Clothing Partner Norrøna, Photographic Partner Canon, TrackMe NZ, Roald Amundsen’s House, Brynje of Norway, Fjellpulken, Helsport, and Åsnes, with logistics provided by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE).