Sunday, January 9, 2000

Tropical trekkers reach South Pole

Published in the Antarctic Sun

The first Singaporean expedition to Antarctica reached the Pole New Year’s Eve, after 57 days of sledging. The team, none of whom had ever skied before, traveled nearly 700 miles from Horseshoe Valley just north of Patriot Hills.

“It’s an extra challenge for Singapore,” said team member David Lim. The small southeast Asian country is in the tropics. Its highest natural point is only 500 feet above sea level.

“We have a little extra gap to bridge,” Lim said.

Last year several members of the group climbed Mount Everest, which caused a national sensation in the tiny city-state.

The public interest and available sponsorship dollars convinced the team to attempt a ski and sledge journey from 80 degrees south to the South Pole.

The planning began shortly after they returned from Everest, in May 1998. “We rested for one or two months, and got restless again,” said team member Khoo Swee Chiow.

In July 1998, they began preparation. In May 1999, they trained with British polar adventurer Roger Mear in Greenland.

“We didn’t know how to sledge,” Lim said. “And we had zero skiing ability.”

From that dubious beginning in Greenland to a second training trip in New Zealand in July, they felt prepared, but Antarctica still offered a challenge.

The first trial was arriving on the continent. Weather kept them in Punta Arenas, Chile, for nine days beyond their intended departure date. During that time, they met some others involved in Antarctic expeditions this year: the British and Australian team whose leaky fuel ruined their chances of a continental traverse.

They finally began their journey from 80 degrees south on November 4. Antarctica was just introducing itself.

“Most of us here have not been to this kind of cold,” said Khoo, a software engineer with Singapore Airlines. The team endured cold reaching minus 67 F, and a 46 mph headwind.

At 87 degrees south, they hit bad weather that forced them to hunker down for two days, the longest delay of the trip.

“Eighty-seven to 88, that was like the South Pole putting up her last defense,” Khoo said.

On the plateau before reaching the Pole, they met the British-sponsored “Last Degree” team who were skiing from 89 degrees south to the Pole.

The Singaporean prime minister is their primary patron, encouraging their mission “to promote the spirit of adventure in Singaporean youth,” said expeditioner Ang Yan Choon.

They left the Pole in a private Twin Otter operated by Adventure Network International on January 3. But a number of items would remain in the ANI cache at the Pole.

“Anything that’s edible or usable we’ll leave here for others,” Choon said.

The team will travel back to Singapore via Chile and New York. Their next adventure destination is uncertain at the moment, though the team all smiled when they thought of a “next time.”

“The world is pretty big,” Lim said.

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