SA’s South Pole adventurers to heat things up

Two intrepid adventurers are planning to swap extreme cold for extreme heat after becoming the first South Africans to walk unsupported to the South Pole.

Speaking from Patriot Hills, a base in Antarctica, only hours after completing their epic 1 113km journey, Alex Harris said on Friday that he and his teammate, Sibusiso Vilane, had originally planned to tackle the North Pole next, but had now decided to take on a desert.

”I have had enough of snow, clouds and winds to last me the rest of my life. We are so fed up with the cold, we’ll go to the Empty Quarter [in the Arabian Peninsula] and cross it unsupported.

”It’s never been done across the entire length; it’s something totally different. As South Africans, we might handle it better,” Harris said.

The Empty Quarter — or Rub’ al Khali, as it is known in Arabic — is one of the biggest sand deserts in the world, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula.

Meanwhile, Harris and Vilane, who arrived at the South Pole late on Thursday afternoon, were waiting for a plane at Patriot Hills to fly them to Argentina, before heading home to South Africa.

”For a few weeks there will be sense of emptiness accompanying the sense of fulfilment … because it is a vision and it has been accomplished,” Harris said.

The two South Africans completed their long walk to the pole in temperatures ranging from eight degrees Celsius to about minus-40 degrees.

They did it without support teams putting out food or rigging tents, and on foot, without wind power or sled dogs to get there.

”It surprised us that so many people found it intriguing and inspiring because it is not as glamorous as Everest, it is kind of an unknown thing, people walking to an arbitrary geographical point,” Harris said.

He admits there were times during the 65-day journey that they felt like giving up, especially during days of snow storms.

”You can’t see the snow under your skis, you literally can’t see anything; you pull sleds for ten hours a day in thick snow; it sapped all our energy and we did not make much mileage.

”Not being able to see anything, you don’t realise how that destroys your soul. We come from a land where the sun is abundant and always there,” he said.

It was knowing they had support back home that made them push onwards.

”It was a real encouragement to know that so many people backed us and believed in us,” he said.

Harris said they were both looking forward to getting back to South Africa.

”I’m going to enjoy getting [back to] normality … I look forward to taking my shoes off and walking barefoot on grass and seeing the large sky. I haven’t seen a star in 65 days,” he said.

The date for their desert adventure has not yet been finalised. — Sapa

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