Ultimate Ski Tour: The Last Great First Expedition

There’s hard yards (or metres) and there’s a lot bloody more of them, the Last Great First Expedition involving a 2600km trek across Antarctica!

The expeditioneers, Dr Richard Stephenson and Dr Gareth Andrews, will undertake one final training at Guthega in the Snowy Mountains on August 30 before heading off on the adventure of their life to complete The Last Great First expedition.

Training for Dr Richard Stephenson © The Last Great First Expedition

Following a rigorous training schedule for the past three years, in October the explorers will put their training to the test when they embark on the first fully unsupported coast-to-coast ski crossing of Antarctica.  

Keenly following their journey so far have been Scouts from all over Australia, many of whom are avid adventurers themselves and will join the explorers in Guthega to learn firsthand the skills required to survive in temperatures of -20°C.  Hours have been dedicated to preparing for their time in Antarctica where for over 110 days, the explorers will traverse 2,600km of frozen unforgiving wilderness burning 7,000 calories a day, hauling 200kg sleds containing all the equipment required for the entire adventure.  If successful, it will be one of the greatest feats of human endurance achieved to date, breaking the world record for the longest unsupported polar expedition.

Commenting on the upcoming expedition, Phil Harrison, National Chief Commissioner, Scouts Australia, says, “Scouts Australia is proud to be supporting The Last Great First Expedition. Invested as members of Scouts Australia earlier this year, Dr Stephenson and Dr Andrews will demonstrate many of the Scouts Australia’s values and attributes including courage, resilience, empowerment, responsibility, and self-confidence fuelled by teamwork, passion and commitment during their time in Antarctica.”  

“Scouts Australia welcomes the opportunity for our members to work alongside the explorers during their final training efforts as they gain an understanding of what it takes to be a polar explorer.  Whilst they may not experience the same 200km/h winds the explorers will endure; the Scouts will learn how to erect a tent at speed so as to avoid frostbite, build an emergency shelter in the form of a snow trench and how to cook a gourmet freeze dried meal in order to maintain the necessary sustenance needed each day of the journey.”

As a team, Dr Stephenson and Dr Andrews have been exploring and adventuring together for over 10 years. As school-boys their imagination was captured by tales from over a hundred years ago and has helped the team forge their own paths to the poles.  Working with Scouts of all ages in Australia and internationally, Dr. Stephenson and Dr. Andrews hope to inspire the next generation of Scouts to reach for their goals and achieve their own remarkable aspirations.

In for the (very) long haul – sleds to be dragged 2600km across Antarctica © The Last Great First Expedition

Scouts Australia provides young Australians aged 5 to 25 with fun and challenging opportunities to grow through adventure. With over 70,000 youth and adult members from many cultural and religious backgrounds and with varying abilities, Scouts is one of the largest and most successful youth organisations in Australia.  Scouts caters to all age groups from Joey Scouts (aged 5-8) to Rover Scouts (aged 18-25) with Cub Scouts, Scouts and Venturer Scouts in between.

At a young age Eleanor Hewitt, Chair for the National Rover Council of Australi,a was encouraged by her parents to join Scouts.

“My first camping experience in the snow was when I was a Venturer Scout and this experience opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I leant new skills, and spent more time skiing and exploring areas outside of ski resorts. Combining these new alpine skills and rock climbing, I was able to discover mountaineering, an activity I have a true passion for. That love of mountaineering has not only taken me to some amazing places, but it also equipped me to lead the first Scouts Australia Expedition to Baden-Powell Scout Peak (a 5.800m tall mountain) in Nepal.  I look forward to picking up some survival tips from Dr Stephenson and Dr Andrews that I can deploy in my future adventures.”

In similar circumstances, Dr Stephenson and Dr Andrews were both introduced to Scouts when they were young and their love for adventure grew from there.  Dr Andrews explains, “My time in the Scouts equipped me with the necessary survival skills to be safe and to push the boundaries in the world’s wild places. It was also in the Scouts that, as a youngster, I was first introduced to the concepts of leadership, camaraderie and teamwork. Scouts also taught me my most valuable lesson, to be inquisitive about the world we live in. I carry these lessons with me now, many years later, and I firmly believe they make me a better Doctor and adventurer.” 

The expedition has involved preparation that is both physically and mentally challenging.  “We have been pulling tyres up and down beaches, along with a robust strength and conditioning program to ensure we are as strong and fit as possible, ready to drag 200kg sleds across snow, ice, crevasses and mountains.  The mental challenge is not something to be ignored, being separated from loved one will be hard, however, if we can stay strong psychologically, we’ll be in a better position to meet the tough physical challenges,” explains Dr Stephenson.  

Scouts have been part of the history of Antarctic exploration for many years.

“In 1921, two Scouts sailed from England with Sir Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica having been selected from around 1,700 other Scouts to represent Scouting and their country on Shackleton’s 1921 expedition,” says Mr Harrison.

“Whilst our Scouts may not be able to join Richard and Gareth on their journey to Antarctica, they can certainly draw inspiration for their own adventures by following the expedition from Australia, including their efforts to contribute to Antarctic climate science through data collection.  We wish Dr Stephenson and Dr Andrews well on their expedition and look forward to seeing the world record being broken.”

Dr Andrews, Dr Stephenson, Ms Eleanor Hewitt and members of the 1st Kosciuszko Venturer Unit will spend the morning of Tuesday, 30 August undertaking a training session at Guthega Ski Resort, NSW. 

Good luck Docs! © The Last Great First Expedition