To The South Pole for Charity

P1050538Report by: John Harrison

I met Niall Carton at Silver’s in December and again on Feb 2nd at Katie’s. Between these two meetings, Niall had been on a little trip to the South Pole. If you are wondering whether this was the kind of story that materialises in the spaces between a few too many, you are wrong. For those of us who know Niall, who runs the financial markets desk at ING bank, this is nothing out of the ordinary. Last year he went to the North Pole and almost died in the process. Niall tells all:

“I came here five and a half years ago, being from Northern Ireland I’ve always wanted to go to the North Pole, it just seemed like the right place to go. Alexey Borichev, one of my Russian colleagues came with me on a trip there in April of 2011, and we managed to raise $80,000 for the Tula orphanage, mostly from the financial brokers here.

“I trained for four months, got fit, everything was good, but during the first day on the ice I fell, it was a bad fall, we thought I had cracked a rib. I skied on for another 7 days, and made it to the pole. Five days after I got back to Moscow, I went to see the doctor and he told me that I had three broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung. Stupid Irishman kept going!

P1050606“So then I thought; ‘I’ve done the North Pole, I’d like to do the South Pole.’ I’d like to have a pain-free trip. So we started to plan a trip to the South Pole. Eventually, a group of 14 people formed, made up of Brits, Canadians, myself, Alexey and Alexander who works for Barclays as a trader.

“The plan was to ski the last degree of latitude, which is a distance of roughly one hundred kms, a trip which should take about 8 days. We were to fly from Chile to the Union Glacier base camp. We planned to live in tents, and pull the sleds ourselves, after all, using dogs is sort of cheating. Then back to the base camp of Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica at 4,892 metres, which we reckoned we could climb, which was quite ambitious as I for one have never climbed anything higher than Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland.

When I met up with Niall again in February at Katie’s, I hardly recognised him, he had lost so much weight. But the same smile was there, and after certain liquid refreshments he told me about the Antarctic trip:
“The trip happened, it was fantastic. We have managed to raise around EUROS 20,000 so far for a charity called The Greater Chernobyl Cause. The charity focuses on re-introducing hospices for terminally ill people in Russia, Ukriane and Belarus. It is a great cause which enables people to die with dignity.

P1050521-2“To be honest, it was really tough. All the training I did beforehand wasn’t enough. The altitude was 3,000 metres roughly, but this is equivalent to about 4,500 meters in Europe because of the freezing temperatures. The change from zero to 4,500 meres led to constant headaches and no sleep for the first few days. We only made 4-5 miles on the first few days, and then had to really push ourselves to make up lost ground on the remaining days. Even though the ice was flat and relatively easy to ski on, the altitude made us absolutely breathless by the end of the day. The exertion seemed to be greater than at the North Pole. I was doing the 8 miles that we needed to average a day in 1 hours 45 minutes when training in the forest near Rosinka, and I wasn’t tired at all. But in Antarctica that same 8 miles took me over 7 hours, and I was absolutely exhausted. For 7 out of 8 days the terrain was very flat, just white desert as far as the eyes could see. The sunshine is so bright that it can inhibit your vision, despite the special goggles. One day we hit some ice hills created by the wind called Sastrugi. We skied over them but couldn’t really work out up from down, which was rather disconcerting because suddenly our skis could be in mid-air.

“We saw the South Pole Station 3 days before we got there, because the air is so clear that you can see a long way. This raised our hopes and expectations. The next three days were hell because the Station didn’t seem to get much closer. The last day was really tough. We had our normal 8 miles to ski, but then we realised that we would have to ski around areas where scientific experiments were being carried out. In the end, we skied for about about eleven and a half hours, and we were beat. We pitched camp at the South Pole, but we were on Chilean time, and the people at the South Pole Station were on New Zealand time, and there is a 17 hour difference. But at 9pm that evening we got the clearance to enter the Station, which was quite amazing. They have 250 full-time staff there during the summer and 50 in the winter. They have two gyms, massive kitchens, a huge scientific area, and so on. The station is built on stilts so that if the snow piles up, they can raise it.

P1050653“All 14 members of the group made it safe and sound apart from me, typically. I woke up on my last day unable to see out of my right eye, I had very blurred vision. When we got back to the base camp, it was diagnosed as snow blindness. It took about five days to clear and it meant I couldn’t climb Vinson Massif.

“The most memorable experience was getting to the South Pole and the station, flying the flag and celebrating. What surprised me the most were the storms. We had two storms at the base camp. The winds were 80-90 miles an hour. The strangest thing was that the winds were blowing at ground level, but when you looked up, you had these fantastic cloud formations, which weren’t moving at all. The wind hits the mountains, goes straight up in the air and creates intricate cloud patterns called Lenticulars. You would open the door of the tent in the base camp, the door would slam open, and you would be off your feet. The conditions were pretty extreme. The weather forest would say be careful because there is going to a strong wind the next day. Then it would be an absolutely beautiful sunny day, and 5 minutes later you are in the middle of an 80 mile-an-hour wind, and 10 hours later, the winds suddenly stop, just like somebody flicked a switch, it was unbelievable.

If you wish to donate to the charity that Niall, Alexey and Alexander have been raising money for please Click Here to go to the Charity Website.