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Inspiring Explorers  – 50 days trekking to the South Pole

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Mike Dawson has been involved with Adventure Magazine for many year, kayaking, exploring, skiing, coaching. Now add Polar exploring!

 

The Inspiring Explorers were chosen from hundreds of young people from both New Zealand and Norway, Mike Dawson was one.

 

The team five consisted of Auckland firefighter and medical first responder Laura Andrews (28); two-time Olympian and coach of the New Zealand canoe slalom team Dawson (35); and Norwegian intelligence analyst Marthe Brendefur (31).

 

The team was guided by Norwegian polar guide Bengt Rotmo from Ousland Explorers and led by Antarctic Heritage Trust executive director Nigel Watson, the 50-day expedition followed the Messner Route from the Ronne Ice Shelf on the Weddell Sea, side of Antarctica to the South Pole. This was to celebrate 150 years since the birth of legendary Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen.

 

On his return we caught up with Mike:

Who is Mike Dawson – nuts and bolts name age, tinder profile (joke), achievements, location etc ?

 

Currently living in Okere Falls. I’m 36 years old & have represented New Zealand in the canoe slalom at the London and Rio Olympic Games. My passion was always getting out and exploring new rivers and new places around the planet, so I ended up doing a few extreme kayaking adventures around the world

 

Someone who knows you well how do you think that they would describe you.?

This is from Laura

 From Laura Andrews — Mike is this incredible guy who’s got a contagious belief that everything is possible. Despite being a legend himself, he builds everyone else up around him, making them feel like Olympian’s and inspiring them to expand themselves. He’s sarcastic, jokey and positive. He’s incredibly humble, super switched on, and lives life well for every moment. Mikes is incredibly capable, he has a novel worth of crazy experiences behind him. The amazing thing is that he can do these adventures and capture it as the same time. The awe-inspiring content inspires, educates and connects.

 

 

How did you become part of this expedition?

The expedition was put on by the Antarctic Heritage Trust — The trust is a New Zealand-based not-for-profit that cares for the expedition base huts and approx. 20,000 artefacts left behind by early Antarctic explorers including Captain Robert Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Edmund Hillary. The reason for this expedition is to celebrate 150 years since the birth, Roald Amundsen, who in 1911 became the first person to reach the geographic South Pole. Our team was a joint New Zealand and Norwegian expedition with 3 kiwis and 2 Norwegians. It’s the trust’s sixth major Inspiring Explorers Expedition following a crossing of South Georgia in 2015, an ascent of Mount Scott in Antarctica in 2017, a successful crossing of the Greenland ice cap in 2018, and kayaking expeditions on the Antarctic Peninsula in 2019 and 2020.

 

What training if any did you do and how much lead up time did you have.?

Skiing 1000km in Antarctica wasn’t something  I knew a lot about & it was completely different from whitewater kayaking so the preparation was a huge task. I guess the easiest way to look at it was getting conditioned to be on your feet all day for 50 days towing a sled and the strain this would put on your body. I think [the sled] was about 85kgs at its peak. It was definitely heavy To do this I was towing tires as much as possible around in the bush in New Zealand to try and replicate the drag on my muscles. Then obviously the gym and keeping.  It’s interesting doing something like this when you don’t have a lot of experience or know what it’s going to be like in terms of the environment or the toll on the body. It was a huge learning curve, just operating in that environment under that fatigue day in day out. The other side of preparation was trying to figure out the equipment, and how you’re going to stay warm and access things on your sled during the day. If there’s a big storm or it’s really cold you can’t take your gloves off so you need to learn how to do that with them on. Even thinking about stuff as simple as what kind of food to take because most things freeze — these are little bits you need to figure out before you get on the ice.

 

 

Most of your successes have been sitting down how was the challenge of a walking standing challenge?

Whitewater kayaking is fast-paced. When you’re out on a kayak mission you’re constantly solving the puzzle of Whitewater in front of you. Scouting, setting safety, and then running rapids. It comes at you all day. Skiing across Antarctica is completely different. The pace on the snow is slow. Often we were moving around 2,5km per hour with our goal being prioritizing keeping the team healthy and in the best condition to continue moving for 50 days on end.  There’s definitely a lot of risks operating in the polar environment, but it’s a slow burn and can be managed much easier than the dynamic environment of the river.

Describe the others in the group?

 

The expedition was unique in the fact that we hadn’t spent a lot of time together prior to departing. The expedition was a joint New Zealand-Norwegian expedition, in partnership with Ousland Explorers, and, would be guided by Norwegian polar guide Bengt Rotmo who has completed countless expeditions in the colder parts of the world including crossing the North West Passage by ski. Our team was led by trust executive director Nigel Watson, who has been a member of all the (8) IEE Expeditions including Greenland crossing, South Georgia Crossing, Mt Scott etc.  Marthe Brendefur, a cyber “Intelligence Analyst” and ex-Norwegian Armed Forces member from Norway who skied across the Greenland ice cap in 2019 and has traversed the scandinavian high plateau at Finnmarksvidda and Hardangervidda joined the team with a huge amount of experience in the polar regions. Making up the Kiwi contingent was 28-year-old Laura Andrews, a firefighter at Auckland Airport, who had completed heaps of incredible adventures around the world.

 

So the team had a mix – all were used to being out there on the mission, however our polar experience ranged from almost none to world leaders.

 

 

Pre the event were you scared? How many of the other explores some of which did not return did you read up before you left?

 

I wouldn’t say I was scared. There were some nerves mostly around what it was going to be like operating in such a cold and desolate environment day after day.

 

I constantly tried to find out – How was it going to be? Would I enjoy it?

 

And then of course the team – most of us were meeting for the first time in Punta Arenas to head South. We had spoken on Zoom etc, but to be thrown into an undertaking like this with people you barely know in a place you no almost nothing about was daunting and I guess a huge risk factor for the success of the expedition.

 

It seems from what I have read so far there was a lot of reflection on those that had travelled to the pole before you- what part did that history play?

 

Having Nigel Watson on the expedition meant we were able to draw on the endless Antarctic History

 

Describe the average day? 

Around 6 am the stove would go on and the snow would start to boil (11L). This would take a few hours until approx. 8:30 am.

Breakfast would consist of a staunch amount of Oats and coffee.

Tents down, sleds packed, and on skis at 9 am

A ski day would be about 11 – 12hrs with breaks every hour and a more substantial break for lunch.

Around 8 – 9pm, we would set camp (wherever we ended up) and start boiling water for dinner etc

12pm we’d be asleep ready to repeat.

 

Best moment?

The moment the plane left after being dropped on the edge of the Ronne Ice shelf, and just realizing the magnitude of the undertaking. Once the plane left it was eerily silent and we knew we were a long way from anywhere – this was it, the only way back was South to the pole.

Worst moment?

I’m not sure there was a specific moment. There were some hard days when you were tired physically and mentally. The sled in certain snow conditions would make it hard sometimes but despite how hard it was you know that if you get one ski in front of the other eventually we’ll make camp and rest. I guess just remembering to take it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

 

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