The British adventurer on the challenges he faced reaching the South Pole,
and his childhood hero and longtime Globe-Trotter fan, Robert F Scott
Globe-Trotter and adventure have always gone hand-in-hand. In the early half of the 20th century, when the company was in its infancy and Britain was experiencing a renaissance in exploration and discovery, Globe-Trotter suitcases were the luggage of choice for those daring pioneers.
One known Globe-Trotter fan was Captain Robert Falcon Scott. The British naval officer and explorer was famous for his travels to the Antarctic and, after his untimely death, he came to symbolise a quintessentially British hero: stoic and intelligent with insatiable curiosity. It’s little wonder that more than a century after the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition, his words and legacy live on.
One man who knows this more than anyone is Tom Avery, a record-breaking mountaineer, adventurer and motivational speaker. It was his childhood fascination with Captain Scott and Antarctica that tempted Avery to chart his own expedition to the South Pole in 2002 – exactly 100 years since Scott’s first attempt. Avery holds the title of youngest Briton to have reached both poles and is one of only a handful of people to have completed the ‘polar trilogy’ – full-length South and North Pole expeditions and a coast-to-coast crossing of Greenland. Here he talks to us about adventure, Antarctica and achieving his childhood dream.
When did you first learn about Captain Scott?
When I was about seven my mum gave me one of those old Ladybird storybooks about Marco Polo and Joan of Ark and there was one about Captain Scott, which totally captivated me, I read it over and over again. There’s just something about this spectacularly beautiful, vast world at the bottom of our planet and also this story of incredible heroism and sacrifice in the pursuit of glory.
What was it about Scott, in particular, that you were inspired by?
Firstly he was very determined, and I appreciated this as I was growing up. He was a scientist as well so he just wanted to learn more about Antarctica and its geology, history and natural resources. But it was also his character that really came across in his poetic diary entries, which were so modest in a British stiff upper lip kind of way, yet they really showed the human side of exploration. The fact that he had the presence of mind to continue writing so beautifully up until his last few moments almost bought the whole thing home really.
Do you have a favorite quote of his?
‘Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.’ Pretty stirring stuff.
What do you think his legacy is?
He made Antarctica accessible. He tried to reach the South Pole in 1902 and that was the first time Antarctica had really been written about and studied in so much detail. Ultimately, he unlocked the frozen door for the rest of us mere mortals to follow. We owe him a huge amount.
You travelled to the South Pole in 2002. How did it feel to be walking in his footsteps?
We didn’t follow his exact route but there were times when it was emotional, particularly because we were reading what he was up to exactly 100 years earlier to the day. It was amazing to see these views that only a handful of people have seen before. To be stood there at the South Pole was emotional because you couldn’t help but think about Scott reaching the pole and perishing on the return journey.
Did it live up to your expectations?
It did. It was utterly spectacular, though I didn’t quite appreciate how windy it would be and it’s bitterly cold, we all got some degree of frostbite! But the biggest surprise was the South Pole itself because there’s a science base there. We couldn’t actually find the Pole and we ended up having to ask directions from this guy who was driving a JCB truck, so that was quite surreal and something that I hadn’t expected!
Could you appreciate the struggles that Scott and his team went through?
Yes, definitely. The tents and clothing are more comfortable these days but it doesn’t completely protect you from everything; it’s still a battle, you’re still very cold. When things get difficult I try to put the negatives to the back of my head and think of the positives and how lucky we are to be in this unique landscape and how lucky I am to be able to follow in the footsteps of my childhood hero.
How long did it take to organise?
It took two and a half years to organise and raise the sponsorship, organise the logistics and training and supplies. It was a massive undertaking.
Were there any mornings when you woke up in your tent and thought ‘God, I’m still here’?
Yeah it is sometimes a bit like Groundhog Day! There are times when there’s nothing to see. The longest we went was three and a half weeks without seeing any land or mountains – it was just flat, white snow and, if you get a whiteout, there’s no definition at all so you may as well be skiing for 10 hours with a pillowcase over your head!
That must make you feel quite delirious?
It does. They say that an expedition to the South Pole is 80 per cent mental and 20 per cent physical and I can totally relate to that.
What was the highlight?
I think it was seeing Antarctica for the first time out of the plane window when we flew in from South America. It’s just geography on a monumental scale and it was every bit as dramatic and beautiful as I’d envisaged when I was a little boy.