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Adventure Article

During April 2005, two Australians, Rob Porcaro and Matt McFadyen joined Eric Philips of Icetrek Expeditions and trekked to the North Pole. Both Rob and Matt used this adventure as a training exercise for a treacherous solo South Pole trek to be attempted in November 2005.
Rob Porcaro’s goal is to become the first Australian to trek solo to the South Pole while Mr McFadyen will become the youngest person ever to trek solo to the South Pole. Read below, Eric Philips article on their adventure to the North Pole and experience with them a taste of what is to come.

The 2005 season proved to be markedly different from other years and offered it’s own unique challenges, for guides, participants and private expeditions alike. As always, the bottom line never changes and Icetrek ensured that the experience would offer adventure, education, fun, safety and challenge. This we experienced in abundance.

Australians Matt McFadyen and Rob Porcaro joined me (Eric Philips) in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, on April 7 with plenty of time to prepare before the April 11 departure for Borneo. Equipped with Flexi bindings, Atlas harnesses and Icetrek sleds (kayaks) the team looked distinctly different and attracted much inquisitiveness from the transient and local adventuring community in Longyearbyen. These items would also be used during Matt and Rob’s solo South Pole expeditions at the end of the year so the opportunity to test them in the Arctic was an integral part of this Last Degree expedition.

Rob boarded the AN74 in Longyearbyen on April 11 with a developing flu and the trip would prove to be onerous on both him and Matt (who copped the brunt of the domestic work of tent pitching and cooking). I tented alone and, though lumbered with an annoying cough, was separated from the challenges of the infirmary.

Borneo offered its usual hospitality of hot meals and a heated mess tent but the first night was spent in an unheated dormitory tent which served as a great and gently introduction to cold-weather sleeping – Matt and Rob coped marvelously and stayed warm in their new, puffy down bags, despite temps close to –30C.

April 12. Day 1

The morning was spent finalizing our packing and confirming a communications schedule with Borneo and flight coordinator, adventurer and all-round nice guy, Victor Boyarsky. At 1.30pm we bid the locals farewell and headed north from Borneo. With a slightly shortened season the guys made the decision to begin from Borneo, and not 89N, to ensure their arrival at the North Pole. With sponsorship and fund-raising at the forefront of their minds, it was more important to attain the pole than begin on the 89th parallel.

Both the guys had never been on skis before but their concerns at coping were quickly allayed. Matt and Rob are highly coordinated adventurers and looked as though they’d been a lifetime on skis; however a generally good surface throughout the trip (more like Antarctica) assisted their skill development and speed and Matt lead for much of the afternoon, compass swaying around his neck. We skirted a small, soft lead just short of camp at 5pm, happy with our progress of 5.5km. Both guys perspired a great deal and were icy under their wind jackets, a problem we would actively work on over the coming days. While setting up camp Rob chilled quickly due to his flu and Matt did well to get him in his bag and warm him ready for a recuperating hot dinner of pasta, spicy sauce, pine nuts and bacon. Once in our tents a happy banter passed between our walls and I was happy in the knowledge that our first day was a success and, though Rob’s flu was deteriorating, the future looked promising.

April 13. Day 2

Awake at 6am to porridge and coffee and the boost that we had drifted north 100m. A fast pack-up saw us in our harnesses by 9am, pretty good going for an inaugural morning. The clear sky didn’t last and we were soon under a blanket of cloud, heading into the eased but persistent NW wind. An unseasonal blanket of drift snow disguised holes in the rubble and covered fresh leads making us wary about crossing anything without giving it a good poke. I led all day to give the guys an opportunity to develop their skills on skis and we traveled fast covering 11.8km by 4.30pm. Very happy about that though we were fully aware that a blizzard, large open lead or deterioration in illness could easily set us back a day or two. Rob and I coughed in unison throughout the night, Matt heard nothing and contributed to the symphony with arias from his vocal chainsaw.

April 17. Day 6

A blizzard developed overnight and the NW wind drifted us backwards almost 5km. A disheartening scenario but, with two guys intent on learning everything they can about polar travel in preparation for gruelling full-length South Pole journeys, I wasn’t up for wallowing in our tents. I called out at 6am and Rob responded. Though I’m sure he and Matt pondered the sensibility of my push through the storm, they also knew that it was a training opportunity not to be missed. I assured them that storms always feel worse inside the tent than out, and that blizzards brought warmer temperatures - both were appreciated once on the trail. Visibility was less than 10m reducing travel to its most basic form - pick the bearing and follow it. Route selection through rubble from afar was not an option and it wasn’t until my skis punched through drifting snow-banks that I realised we were on anything but a decent route. I stayed out front. Fresh leads were the greatest concern in the bad visibility and high winds but we were blessed with safe ground. However at times it seemed like we were going in circles and indeed on one occasion I’m certain we did. Breaks were welcome as we always found shelter behind pressure ridges, enjoying the brief eddies while we could. The guys also began enjoying the blizzard - warm fingers, goggled faces and blind travel make for interesting times. Beats listening to commercial radio in a traffic jam. With a papal blessing from Matt in the morning together with reverential mutterings of a clear sky by midday, the miracle was performed and in a seeming instant, around lunch time, we were surrounded by blue, still sky. Matt For Pope, we say. As if the improvement in weather was not enough, the surface transformed to that of the Antarctic plateau with sweeping vistas of flat, firm pack festooned with the distinctive and beautiful striations etched by the polar wind. Another 14 km put us within striking distance of the top of the world, tired but happy.

Happy adventures!
Original Post by Break Loose


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