RISING catches up with Scott Sears, the 26-year-old Lieutenant in the Gurkhas elite British fighting force, as he gears up for his lonely, unsupported 1100km journey across the frozen wastes of Antarctica in -60º temperatures
There In Time For Christmas? Scott Sears is aiming to complete his trek within 38-40 days, which means he would arrive on Christmas Day. It would make a nice Christmas Present for the Nepalese victims of 2015’s earthquake for whom Sears is aiming to raise £25,000 for The Gurkha Welfare Trust, in order to rebuild a local school destroyed by the disaster. ‘Christmas Day is a nice target to aim for, but it could end up being into the New Year,’ he tells RISING, which means he has to carry two months of food.
Nice Day For A Ski Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and highest continent on Earth with temperatures down to -89º and wind speeds in excess of 200mph. Fortunately Sears will be there in the Antarctic summer but the mercury will still drop to -50º, even -60º close to the South Pole and he will be blasted by winds up to and over 100mph. ‘The winds pick up pace across the plateau so I end up walking headfirst into the wind for the vast majority of the time.’ Sears has worked with The Shackleton Company to develop a down jacket that’s good down to about -65º, but he says the bigger danger actually lies in getting too warm…
If you start to sweat that’s when it gets really dangerous because it will freeze to you
Sweat Is A Deadly Enemy Sears will be working hard, skiing into headwinds but he will have to constantly monitor his temperature. ‘You’re working so hard dragging all the weight in the sled, if you start to sweat in those temperatures, that’s when it gets really dangerous because your sweat will freeze, and that’s one of the main reasons people get cold injuries,’ he says. ‘It’s about monitoring at all times so you don’t overheat with too many layers on, but also that you are not skiing along with the exposure factor at -60º.’
Dragging Anthony Joshua, Heavyweight Boxer ‘I have to carry everything from start to finish,’ says Sears, who will drag a high-tech, carbon-fibre and kevlar sled that only weighs 4kg (9lb) but has to carry the 100kg (220lb) of food and kit kit he will need to survive for up to two months on the ice. ‘It has come a long way since the Shackleton and Scott days but it will still weigh about as much as Anthony Joshua in total,’ he says. It includes 70kg (155lb) of food, 12kg (26lb) of fuel to melt snow for water, and kit.
The Antarctic Diet ‘I am going to be burning between 7,000-9,000 calories per day but the human body can only consume just over 6,000 calories,’ says Sears. That means he will be running an unavoidable calorie deficit. ‘I will be dropping an awful lot of weight, which is why I have had to pack on an extra 10kg (22lb) before I go – you can eat whatever you want! I’m over 100kg (220lb) now but I was still training and burning calories so I had to double up on everything to keep the weight on. In two weeks I have managed to get a nice little tyre around my waist! It will all be gone by the time I get back.’
Train Like A Mule Sears is a junior officer in the Royal Gurkha Rifles, a light infantry regiment that carries everything on its backs. On a recent exercise in Wales he carried 50kg for 60km, so his job is a form of training. But the solo trek will be so demanding that he has had to add specific workouts to his preparations. ‘I’ve been based in Brunei so I was on the beach every week dragging tyres up and down the sand for five or six miles each time to train this new set of muscles – it’s really dull but I listen to music and podcasts,’ he says. ‘Dragging isn’t something we do in everyday life so you feel it in unexpected places – in your upper back, shoulders and hips.’
Polar travel is the toughest solo journey you can take, to that absolute limit where you have no safety net
Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Skier Mental strength was an vital factor in preparing for this challenge. Sears spent five days training in the Arctic but instead of heading off across an icy plateau, he set a purposefully dull 10km track to ski down, in order to replicate the boredom. ‘It is very tough – you’ll be skiing and think, “I’ve been going for an hour now, surely. Then you’ll look at your watch and it’s seven minutes later. You think: “Wow, this is going to be a long day.”’ He was told that most expeditions fail not through catastrophe but because people reach the point where they just can’t go on anymore. ‘So, being prepared for the days where you are just not going to want to put one foot in front of the other is important.’
The Crevasse Zone You might think that the start of this quest, closest to civilisation, would be the easiest – think again, says Sears. He will be aiming to cover 7-9 nautical miles per day in the first few days when his sled is at its heaviest. But this is also where the biggest risk to the expedition lies. ‘The initial phase is a 2,000ft elevation where the crevasse risk is at its absolute highest. I’m by myself so if I fall in a crevasse then I’m really in trouble – that will keep you up at night as a solo traveller. If you’re in a white out by yourself it’s really quite difficult. That’s the risk and you just have to tolerate it – you can do your absolute best to avoid them and I have extra-long skis, but you just have to accept the risk or you’d never do it.’
Not A Snowflake In Sight Despite being part of the generation that gets flack for being ‘snowflakes’, Sears has always wanted to challenge himself and has been inspired by people even younger than him. ‘My millennial generation has a bit of a reputation for being very soft and weak, but there are some people out there doing pretty impressive things. In the Gurkhas I am working alongside people who are 18, 19, 20-year olds who are some of the toughest people I know, so I do think it’s a bit unfair.’
He sees polar travel as the ultimate test. ‘I’ve always wanted to do a major expedition and to I wanted to make it the absolute toughest that I could to take myself to the absolute brink. Polar travel is physically, emotionally and mentally the toughest journey you can take and doing it by yourself takes it to that absolute limit where you’ve got no safety net.’
WHAT NEXT? You can follow Scott Sears’ progress on social media all the way up to Christmas Day as he attempts to claim this world first. ‘As a true Millennial I will have my iPhone with me down there, which I will hook it up to my Iridium Go and I will upload a picture and a small blogpost per day. I’m going to try to be as honest as I can, rather than falling into the pitfall of pretending you’re feeling really strong and it’s all going great! I have no doubt that there are going to be days where it’s blowing a storm out and every cell in my body is saying: “Don’t get out of the tent!”’ Follow the Antarctic Gurkha Instagram Facebook and at The Shackleton Company.
Follow the writer @mattfitnessray