Magazine article Geographical

Chloe Scott-Moncrieff Inconversation with a Tom Avery

Magazine article Geographical

Chloe Scott-Moncrieff Inconversation with a Tom Avery

Article excerpt

Tom Avery, at 29, is the youngest Briton to have reached Both poles. He and his team recently retraced Robert Peary's 1909 expedition, in the process becoming the fastest to reach the North Pole on foot, even beating Peary's disputed 37-day record

How similar was your expedition to Peary's?

We both travelled with light loads, which makes an enormous difference. Peary had 24 men and 133 dogs. He also had four support parties of about five men. Every 160 kilometres, a group would deposit food and turn back, so the team decreased in size as he went north. We didn't have the extra men, but we had caches air-dropped in the four locations where Peary's support parties turned back. Although armchair historians say that Peary's claim to have completed the expedition in 37 days was untrue, we now know it's possible. We also left from Peary's starting point at Cape Columbia, Canada.

Didn't technology give you one up on Peary?

Technology doesn't help with lifting a sled. Your speed is determined by the dogs and how quickly you can get a stuck sled through the ice. The hardest part was lifting it fully laden, it weighed 295 kilograms. The terrain is very uneven, filled with pressure ridges. The sled would get jammed behind six-metre ice walls and regularly capsized. Having a GPS and satellite phone doesn't get you through any faster. Also, Peary was more experienced than us and had previously made several expeditions to the Arctic.

You're renowned for your optimism, were you ever seriously scared?

A lot of the leads--gaps in the pack ice were frozen only to a thickness of three or four inches [7.5-10 centimetres]. It was too dangerous to hold onto the sled when crossing them, so the dogs would go ahead. It was terrifying, as the sea ice is rubbery and flexes. Huge bow waves would increase in size until they reached the other side. The waves would often break, causing both the dogs and sled to fall in. After, we would ski across. It was real heart-in-mouth stuff. You could feel the ice flexing with your weight and you knew the sea was close. We all had near misses.

Did you find other explorers' advice helped?

Sir Wally Herbert, who used dogs in his phenomenal 1969 expedition, was very informative. Will Steiger, the American Ranulph Fiennes, has taken dogs to the North and South poles. He's done more with dogs than anyone in the polar region and to hear his advice was incredible.

There are only about 400 Canadian Inuit dogs in the world. …

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