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A Very British Polar Expedition

PUBLISHED: 10:11 12 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:29 20 February 2013

Old Bournemouth School chums Jon Beswick (in black-tie) and James Balfour celebrate in style at the South Pole

Old Bournemouth School chums Jon Beswick (in black-tie) and James Balfour celebrate in style at the South Pole

Jeremy Miles meets a Bournemouth adventurer whose old fashioned derring-do not only took him the footsteps of Scott but also ended in a game of golf at the South Pole

A Very British Polar Expedition


Jeremy Miles meets a Bournemouth adventurer whose old fashioned derring-do not only took him the footsteps of Scott but also ended in a game of golf at the South Pole

Think its turning a bit chilly? Think again. This time last year Dorset architect Jon Beswick had just spent 24 hours in an industrial freezer as part of his training for an expedition to the South Pole. Within weeks the Bournemouth-based adventurer was battling his way across the icy wastes of Antarctica blasted by snow and bitterly cold winds with temperatures plummeting as low as minus 50 degrees centigrade.
As part of an elite three man/two woman team, 31-year-old Jon was following in the footsteps of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, marking the centenary of his doomed Terra Nova expedition. Despite losing the race to be first to the Pole - the Norwegian Roald Amundsen made it first on 14th December 1911 - the tragedy of Scotts expedition captured the hearts and minds of the world. His intrepid team successfully reached the South Pole on 17th January 1912, but all five men perished trying to get back to base-camp, beaten by exhaustion, starvation and the extreme cold.
Exactly 100 years later, on 17th January 2012, Jon retraced the route of Scotts heroic team led by Neil Laughton - a formidable action man who had already trekked to the North Pole and climbed the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.
Jon, no slouch himself in the adventurer stakes, had climbed the highest peak in Iraq, driven from London to Cape Town, motorcycled solo across the Himalayas and crossed Great Thar desert on a camel. He was a natural for the team.
Other members included project-creator James Balfour, another Dorset man, whose CV includes climbing Mount Everest at the age of 24 and going on to conquer some of the highest mountains in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Amazingly James was at Bournemouth School with Jon, though not in the same year. We certainly knew of each other, says Jon. The expedition was a great chance to get reacquainted!
For Jon it was also a chance to test out a new survival shelter designed by his London-based company Well-done, Medium or Rare Architects. Ive always tied travelling in with my work, says Jon. I try to take lessons that Ive learned back from these trips. When I heard I was going to the Antarctic I used my experience of other expeditions to design an emergency shelter. We used the prototype this shelter all the way and it worked really well.
The two women on the team were experienced polar adventurer Nancy Moundalexis and self-styled Berkshire housewife Julie Ashmore. Julie joined after a mountaineering expedition proved that she wasnt cut out for high altitudes. Although this would certainly be a flatter adventure the sheer physical and mental effort it would take to get to the Pole created mountains of a psychological nature to be tackled along the way.
Leaving on January 1st the team spent two and a half gruelling weeks battling their way across the frozen landscape.
Shuffling on skis and dragging sleds laden with equipment and provisions they trudged in convoy, one behind the other. At times it was a nightmare, says Jon, who spent many weeks training for the expedition. I built up my fitness by pulling three tyres across Bournemouth beach for up to eight hours a day. Physically I was ready but mentally it was incredibly tough. What you cant prepare for is that even though you are part of team youre spending hours alone with no stimuli at all apart from endless snow and ice.
It was very slow going. Youre pulling the best part of 90 kilos of kit and, when the weathers bad, you completely lose visibility, theres nothing but white. It was incredibly disorientating, you couldnt even judge where you were putting your feet. You would stumble and sometimes even fall over.
With such extreme condition Jon says he would find his mind wandering. We took it in turns to navigate; one time when I was leading I suddenly veered off at 90 degrees. It was only when I looked back that I realised Id changed direction. You have to stay in that line.
There were other challenges too. Despite the hard physical effort they could not allow themselves to break sweat. If you start sweating, it freezes and then youve got real problems, explains Jon. You have to get yourself to a point where your clothes and your work-rate match. Wed ski for 55 minutes and stop for five. As soon as we stopped we had to put on extra clothing and take on board as much high calorific food as we could to combat the sudden drop in body temperature. We were absolutely rigid with keeping time too, down to the absolute second. But the rhythm and routine kept us focused.
In contrast to the highly disciplined slog of crossing the ice, the overnight camps were full of camaraderie. At the end of the day the time in the tent with the rest of the team was amazing fun. We really got on well, says Jon. It was tremendous shared experience.
When the team finally reached their iconic destination and planted their flag at the South Pole the fabulous fives joy was unbridled. They celebrated their achievement with whoops of joy andhigh-fives. There was immense euphoria, although it was more powerful for some than others, recalls Jon. For Julie it was incredible, she was a novice, while Neil Laughton, who had already climbed seven summits, had now reached both poles. So for him it was the end of a journey, for her the beginning.


The Russian and Chinese team just couldnt understand it. But we felt that bringing your clubs with you was just the sort of thing a good Englishman does.

Surrounded by sundry international teams also marking the centenary of Scotts arrival, Jon says they were keen to stamp their own unique brand of Britishness on the occasion. This was achieved by setting up impromptu games of cricket, golf and rugby followed by their pice de rsistance - the solemn wearing of black tie.
We sort of agreed it all beforehand. There were always going to be people there who had done more amazing journeys than us so we decided to go for our own British twist on Antarctica. It was great fun but you should have seen some of the looks we got! he laughs.
People spend months trying to reduce the weight of their sleds, taking only equipment that is absolutely essential, and then we arrive at the Pole and start pulling out golfing gear! The Russian and Chinese team in particular just couldnt understand it. But we felt that bringing your clubs with you was just the sort of thing a good Englishman does.
Jon believes that being born and brought up in Dorset has given him an edge as an adventurer. Ive always had access to outdoor activities - walking, camping sailing surfing. When I meet people who grew up in London, its so much harder for them. They dont have the basic skills that I took for granted. They have to learn to sail, climb and tie knots. Bournemouth and Dorset offered me a great starting point. I love it - which is probably why it is still my home today.
Not that hes spending a great deal of time in his beloved home county right now. On 1st December Jon leaves on another expedition to climb the 7000m Mount Aconcagua in Argentina. Once again he is planning an eye-catching celebration once he reaches the summit. Im determined to do something silly at the top. Maybe play a game of darts. Im sure Ill think of something!

For more about Jon Beswicks work and adventures go to www.wmor.co.uk

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