South Pole and North Pole. Being bi-polar is a 50 year plan. Inspiration to me

June 1st, 2010 § 1

I shared dinner with the first man to walk to the South Pole and the North Pole last week!  Robert Swan is a remarkable man in many ways. I want to share a bit about him, his 50 year project and what this meeting meant to me. I can’t believe my luck.

Robert Swan, South Pole

Robert Swan, South Pole

Robert Swan walked to the South Pole in 1986. At 33, he walked to the North Pole (1989). He’s earned a spot in history alongside the heroic explorers of old, becoming the first man to walk to both poles. Incredible. He doesn’t do things by halves, and he’s taken on some Herculean tasks since.

Robert Swan was in Wellington last week and I was invited to a small dinner.  Robert gave a pre-dinner slideshow that set the scene for an inspiring evening, and touched many chords for all of us. 

For me, having been to both polar regions, having some idea of how epic his walks were, and being a student of polar heroic history, it was a big treat sharing his tales, elbow to elbow, at the dinner table.

Robert Swan's final message to us

Robert Swan's final message to us

Robert was inspired by Antarctica and the heroic explorers when he was 11.  He dodged Oxford Uni (much to his father’s chagrin) and in his twenties decided to raise $5,000,000 for an expedition, bought a ship, convinced 25 volunteers to give up 3 years, and set sail to Antarctica, to walk to The Pole.  It took him 5 years to get 1000 sponsors and enough money, before setting sail in 1984 – meeting Capt. Scott’s last surviving expedition member Bill Burton in Lyttelton.  He tracked down original sponsors of Capt Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910-1913 expedition, e.g. Shell Oil supplied petrol to Captain Scott and again supported Robert’s attempt. It’s worth mentioning that Robert had never even been camping at this stage!

The short story is that he walked to the South Pole in 70 days without radios but, upon arrival, discovered that… his ship had sunk in ice. They had no way to get home, and no assets to cover costs! Rising from the ashes, three years later he walked to the North Pole with a multinational team of seven. Unexpectedly the team struggled to survive because of uncharacteristic early melting of the polar ice. This sparked a concern for climate change.

His supporters, Jacques CousteauSir Peter Scott (Capt. Scott’s son), and our Sir Ed, encouraged Robert to be an advocate for the protection of Antarctica. With the Antarctic Treaty up for renewal in 2041, Robert developed his 50 year mission to make sure Antarctica remains protected and respected. Robert has since taken the stage with world leaders at the Earth & World summits, run campaigns to clean up old Antarctic bases, used oceanic yacht races as calls to action, sailed around Africa, is a motivational speaker, works on climate change awareness, runs Antarctic leadership tours, built an educational base in Antarctica, and is currently planning his next mission which might just involve another long walk. Whoa!

I took to following messages from Robert Swan:

  • You can do anything if you put your mind and heart into it.  He certainly has proven that.
  • Believe in yourself, go your own route, commit, and don’t be scared to do hard yards. 
  • Follow your heart and do things that inspire you.
  • One person can create something big and make a difference.
  • The climate might be warming naturally, but humans are adding serious harm, and consequences are serious for all of us.

Photos of Capt. Scott’s Cape Evan’s hut in Antarctica, containing many of the brands that went on to support Robert Swan’s trek again in 1986. 

Thank you Rob Morrison for being a very generous host to us all.

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