Early last year, one gloomy spring morning, the gods of travel journalism offered me, an amateur explorer at best, the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Greenland, following in the footsteps of Amundsen, Franklin, Fiennes and the other greats of Arctic exploration.
Fishing in the Arctic - (Picture by Conor Mills)
My task was to report on the country's culinary revolution mixed in with some Arctic fishing and a bit of extreme sledging. With landscapes, fluorescent green skies, temperatures dropping as low as -50 and even more savage winds, it was pure adventure that shattered any David Attenborough-induced preconceptions I might have had.
Following in my footsteps later this month, albeit on the earth's opposing axis, is the self-appointed royal action hero and adventure junkie, Prince Harry. Unlike me, the Prince is somewhat more adept to such extremities. This will not be the Prince's first taste of polar exploration either. Back in 2011 Harry took part in a similar trek this time to the North Pole, also in aid of Walking with the Wounded, a charity for which he is the patron. Unfortunately, wedding commitments cut short the expedition and he only had time to scale the treacherous Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard before he was summoned back.
This time though, he's in it for the long haul. Like before, the expedition will be in the region of 200 miles but the South Pole is the new target. To reach the final destination in time, the plan is to cover 12 miles each day but making things a bit more interesting, each member will be burdened with 70kg of trailing sledge. This is something I've had a bit of experience with and the extreme temperatures, 50+mph winds, combined with steep mountain faces and frozen terrain make it as exhausting as it is exhilarating.
Apart from raising money and awareness for the designated charities, pride is also on the line. Competing against rival teams from both the US and Commonwealth, they will all be desperate to reach the Deep South before the other. The official start date is scheduled for November 30th and weather permitting the aim is to reach their goal on December 16th.
Not to be trumped by the third heir to the throne, I too am in the process of organising a return trip to Greenland and to the Arctic. Unexpectedly, the Greenlandic Tourist Board has kindly invited me back in December to celebrate Christmas in the capital city of Nuuk with the locals. I will be learning about the customs and traditions of these incredibly resolute people, and who knows maybe this time I'll run into a certain pot-bellied, red-nosed journeyman, who happens to share the same postcode.
To get me in the mood I've been reading Nick Rennison's recently published book, 'A Short History of Polar Exploration'. In my experience good literature on the Poles is not easy to come by. Just tracking down a copy of Lonely Planet's aging guide to Greenland and the Arctic was enough of a struggle. Rennison's book gives an insightful overview of Arctic and Antarctic exploration going back as far as the 1500's and following that through until the current day. There are also interesting sections on the Poles' role in literature and cinema and a really useful biographical dictionary of every major Polar Explorer at the back.
Last time I arrived in the frozen north only knowing what the documentaries had told me, this time I plan on being fully prepared.