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To the South Pole and back


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After nearly two months of freezing temperatures and 600 miles to walk, Robert And Barney Swan have returned from their South Pole expedition last month.

If this is already a remarkable achievement for any explorer, Robert and Barney went a step further. Father and son have in fact just completed the world-first expedition to the Geographic South Pole using only renewable energy sources.

Armed with the latest technologies, developed together with NASA scientists, and powered by Shell advance biofuels, they walked eight to nine hours every day.

The Antarctic season ends in late January as conditions become dangerous because of the cold and snow. This means the team had to push between 12 to 14 miles a day to safely complete the expedition.

“On day 45 I actually had frostbite on both of my feet,” tells Barney to The National Student, “and by that time we had really bad winds and it was minus 40. My boots were cracked and my feet were just unbelievably numb and cold and for two days I couldn’t feel them at all. […] Two or three more days and I probably would’ve lost a toe.”

When asked how he did overcome these harsh situation, Barney says that: “I had to remind myself that I was there by choice and not by circumstance.”

But even today, where technology would allow explorers to safely extracted from most dangerous situations, the couple did not surrender.

Robert Swan was actually the first man who walked on both poles, and he felt this element of “safety” was something hard to come to term with.

“I made this expedition for the first time 32 years ago, and we had no satellite communications, no GPS, nothing. And I think the hardest thing for me was to realise that if I did make a mistake I wasn’t going to die. And it took me a hell of a long time to overcome that feeling.”

Robert decided to step back from the second half of the expedition and return to Base Camp at Union Glacier in late December. After trekking 360 miles in gruelling conditions, the team needed to go faster and ski over the previously estimated 10 miles a day to reach the South Pole before the season closed. But Barney helped Robert to overcome the feeling to disappointment coming from that. The two are very close and Robert, being very experienced, knew his limits.

But the expedition went on. Started when Robert set his foot on the South Pole over thirty years ago, it has been completed by his son now.

“We’ve been working together for four or five years now, side by side,” Barney says, “and my father was never forceful in sharing his passion for the outdoors”. Roberts says he’s extremely proud of what Barney achieved at such a young age.

But the achievement Robert and Barney have brought home does not only belong to them.

“Talking to NASA scientists about the melting and the patterns of the sea ice and ice shelves breaking off in Antarctica,” says Barney, "I felt a huge responsibility to step up and join my father in this mission. I believed that embarking on the first renewable powered expedition would be a good platform to walk the talk of energy solutions and energy mix”.

Robert says they believe there are many jobs coming up in the green sector and surrounding sustainability, and an increasing number of job markets that are just blooming every year.

“I think, if people are inspired to do something they can potentially help the planet or being behind some technology that can help the planet. So everything we’re doing is to inspire young people. Bringing them down to Antarctica with us every year, well that is a part of that.

“We are hopeful that young people can follow and know this story, cause this is not the end. It is the beginning of a journey, and we want them to be part of. I think that with a small effort we can make a huge difference.

“Whether is dedicating your career to a certain pursuit, making more efforts to contain emissions or simply bringing a shopping bag to the shopping centre,” says Barney, “we can all be part of this and be more hopeful and proactive, instead of being paralysed by all the information and the inconvenient truth.

“The time of the inconvenient truth is over, and we need convenient solutions now.”

To find out more about the technology used on the expedition, and about Robert and Barney, you can check out their website here. 

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