I joined 65 Degrees North back in July 2014…after a coffee with the team manager and an overview of the project. Feeling inspired my mouth uttered the words ‘I can ski’. Three words that sealed my fate as being the Doctor responsible for assisting Pete Bowker, an amputee from the recent conflict in Afghanistan, and three other ex-serviceman in their attempt to cross the Greenland ice cap- unsupported.
Why? How? and so many other questions entered my head. I was [am] a GP who has worked with Disability Sport, and various international sporting events over the last 15 years. But me- a mum with two young children.. go on an expedition?.. Had I ever been in polar conditions?- No, did I have ANY expedition experience?- No. And So, what to do…. get information from those who did.
I spent months meeting with polar doctors, expedition experts, and other females who had completed polar expeditions. Gaining little pearls like how to wee in a bottle when the temperatures are hitting minus 35 outside the tent walls, to how to keep your feet warm at night time. How to manage blisters, frost nip and generally keep everyone going for the duration.
Momentum gathered and D-Day fast approached. A training week in Norway in February helped to familiarise the team with the skis, boots, tents and cooking equipment. It also served as an important team bonding week.
And so May was upon us… Copenhagen stop over, next stop Greenland. Kit inspection and an early start up to the ice cap.
28 days. Weather watching, tent routines, daily ward rounds, blister management, pain relief… marathon days of skiing, pulling pulks weighing more than me. White out days, blizzards and wind speeds of up to 33m/s and temperatures down to minus 37.
Crevasse fields, polar bear watch, rescuing team members, roping up and the final day of 17 hours skiing.
Medical encounters:- several. Main complaints blisters and MSK problems.
Lessons learnt:- requirements for this type of challenge are be inquisitive, knock on doors, find someone who has and interrogate them. Learn from their mistakes.
It was an honour to be part of this project. Pete is a truly inspirational individual, and every day proved that we can all achieve more than what we expect. Would I do it again? YES.
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