The Last Great First

By AG STAFF 6 July 2021
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They’re about to attempt something no-one’s ever done before – 2600km in 110 days across Antarctica. Would you dare?

Imagine walking 2600km, the same distance as from London to Moscow!

Now imagine the journey is across snow and ice, up glaciers and through unexplored mountains. The temperature around you will average from -10°C to -60°C with wind chill. Storms are frequent and dangerous with wind speeds that can exceed 150km/h, lasting for days.

The sled you drag behind you is your life raft, packed full of all the gear and food needed to survive this 110 day expedition. It weighs over 200kg. To make it you must average a distance of 24km per day. Bad weather or storms cannot hold you up, or the food will run out. There are no rest days.

That is what doctors Gareth Andrews and Richard Stephenson from The Last Great First, will be doing. They are planning to change polar history by being the first to ski across Antarctica from coast to coast. It will be the longest unsupported ski crossing or polar expedition of either pole, ever.

Gareth and Andrew

Their first major expedition for both Gareth and Andrew was to the Magnetic North Pole and since that time the magic of the polar regions has kept calling them back. In Denmark, this unique pull to the beauty and solitude of the pole is called polarhuller.

Gareth and Richard are both doctors and have spent the last year working on the frontline of the COVID-19 response. Gareth is an anaesthetist and has just returned from a year in Cardiff where he was working for the NHS. Richard is an Emergency Physician in Dunedin, New Zealand. They are both specialists in expedition and retrieval medicine and have been exploring and adventuring together for over 10 years.

Their most recent expeditions have seen them cross the Greenland Ice Sheet and complete a world-first traverse of Iceland.

The polar regions have long held a grip over Gareth and Richard; wild and beautiful, dangerous and uncompromising. For the two explorers the frozen reaches of our planet are the essence of adventure; a world of ice, bears, penguins, blizzards, frozen oceans and unexplored mountain ranges.
Inspired by the great polar explorers

As schoolboys, their imagination was captured and hunger for adventure sparked by the tales of daring from over 100 years ago. Nansen’s Farthest North, Scott and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole, Shackleton’s quest to be the first to cross Antarctica. These stories of courage and resilience, of triumph and tragedy have helped the team forge their own paths to the

It was the great Sir Ernest Shackleton who first conceived and attempted a crossing of the Antarctic continent. Shackleton’s Endurance famously became ice bound in the Weddell Sea forcing the vessel to be abandoned and leaving his team at the mercy of the Antarctic sea ice and the Southern Ocean.

This has become one of history’s greatest stories of survival, bravery, resilience and leadership in adversity. Shackleton guided his crew to safety and rescue without the loss of a single person. He described it as ‘the last great adventure in South Polar exploration…’ and it is his vision that drives Gareth and Richard to complete this most difficult of journeys.

The last great polar journey yet to be achieved
Most Antarctic crossings to date have traversed the land mass at its narrowest point, missing out the vast permanent ice shelves, or have been wind assisted with the use of kites.

The Last Great First team will start their TransAntarctic expedition in mid-October 2021 from the Bay of Whales on the outer edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. They will first cross the ice shelf, then explore a new route across the Transantarctic mountains before turning towards the South Pole and onwards across the continent.

The greatest challenge of this expedition however is not the physical element but the psychological. For much of the journey the doctors will feel like they are adrift on a great white ocean, spending days on end travelling across a desolate, featureless plateau.

It is their mental resilience that will see them keep moving forward day after day.

Making a contribution to globalscience, medicine and education
The Last Great First team wants to achieve far more than the first unsupported ski crossing of Antarctica. Through their work with the Australian Antarctic Science Foundation and Scouts Australia the team will make a significant contribution to Antarctic climate change science and conservation while inspiring and educating the next generation of leaders and adventurers.

This expedition will further our knowledge of rarely traversed sections of Antarctica; how humans perform in extreme conditions and our continuing impact on this most pristine of environments. It will bring the future into focus for a new generation, underlining the importance, majesty and fragility of Antarctica and its pivotal role in our survival on this planet.

The Last Great First Expedition will be the ultimate test of resilience, tenacity, meticulous planning and risk management while highlighting the urgent need to protect the fragile, pristine wilderness of Antarctica now and into the future.

Quick Expedition Stats
Team Members: 2
Total distance: 2600km
Days on the ice: 110
Sled Weight each: 200kg
Average daily temp: -30°C
Calories consumed: 1.3 millions

On Wednesday 7 July at 5pm Sydney time Gareth and Richard will give a one hour webinar. The format is a short introduction followed by 25 minutes of “talk time” with slides, maps and photos and then 30 minutes of Q&A.

You can join the webinar and register for this free event here.

Gareth, Richard and The Last Great First team invite you to become part of this historic world-first expedition by following us on our social media platforms. You can also go directly to the team’s website where you’ll find a unique and enticing range of sponsor and donation options that will make The Last Great First possible.