The North Pole and Everest are under his belt. Now the South Pole is next.
I must be mad. I’m 66, a billion pounds in debt, and I’ve just signed up to drag a sled weighing considerably more than I do 140 miles across the Antarctic ice sheet to the South Pole.
Obviously it’s all in a good cause. This is the centenary of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Polar expedition and the noble self-sacrifice of Captain Lawrence Oates. As the team made its painful trek back after finding Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian flag already at the Pole, Oates became convinced that his slow progress – the result of a wound he had suffered in the Boer War – was threatening everyone’s survival. So he famously walked out into a blizzard with the words: “I’m just going outside and may be some time.” It did not save his companions, but it earned him a place in the pantheon of great British heroes.
This November, three more wounded heroes from Oates’s old regiment, the Royal Dragoon Guards, will be heading for the Pole in an expedition led by David Hempleman-Adams and Justin Packshaw, who were both in the successful summit party on our Iceland Everest Expedition last year.
Packshaw is a former Royal Dragoon Guards officer, and an absolute master of the art of persuasion. Or possibly just an outstanding hypnotist. Because I still don’t really know how it happened, but somehow I found myself agreeing not only to write a cheque but to join the expedition in person.
This will come as a surprise to anyone who followed my Everest blog last year, and therefore appreciates that my real comfort zone is a five-star hotel. Of course, I am a seasoned Polar explorer, having already visited the North Pole a couple of years ago with my pal Lord Kirkham. In fact, this is all his fault, because that was where I met David Hempleman-Adams and the idea of climbing Everest first came up.
Getting to the North Pole only involves a ride on a clapped-out Russian helicopter. Everest was the real deal: a genuine adventure that took me right to the limit of my endurance. But the South Pole sounds even worse: battling across difficult terrain at -40°C with no home comforts like the food and drink I took to the Himalayas, and no Sherpas to do the heavy lifting. All to reach a goal that Scott memorably summed up in the immortal words, “Great God! This is an awful place”.
But this trip isn’t all about remembering the heroism of the past. It’s about honouring the heroism of the young men and women who are wounded in action while serving in our armed forces today. ‘In the Footsteps of Legends: the Iceland Antarctic Expedition’ will be raising money for two massively important and deserving causes: Iceland’s established charity partner, Alzheimer’s Research UK, and Walking With The Wounded, which helps to fund the re-education and retraining of injured service men and women.
The stars of the expedition will be three young men who have fought their way back to serve with the Royal Dragoon Guards after being blown up or shot on active service. Mine is just a walk-on part, and I only hope I don’t prove to be the Captain Oates figure who slows everyone else down.
Because, while I don’t much fancy spending 14 nights in a tiny tent in a howling blizzard, I have absolutely no intention of stepping outside for any time at all.
If you would like to make a donation, please visit Malcolm Walker’s JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/mcwalker