Reaching the South Pole
Posted By Brad Herron of The Cochrane Times
Reaching the South Pole
By Brad Herron
On. Jan. 2, a Cochrane doctor joined his childhood heroes like Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen as explorers of Antarctica.
For 47 days, Bill Hanlon braved temperatures that reached below -50 C and bitter winds to raise awareness for remote-area medicine.
With two other men — including one from China who became the first Chinese man to ski to the pole — Hanlon skied across Antarctica, guided only by a compass, to conquer a life goal and promote Basic Health International, his foundation.
And while he has accomplished many other feats, including climbing Mt. Everest in 2007 while serving as the expedition’s doctor, travelling across the frozen landscape provided unique challenges not seen in any other locale.
On days when the wind picked up, Hanlon said travel became something akin to being a ping pong ball inside a lottery machine; directionless and, at time, nearly lost.
“One day I was navigating where I couldn’t see my skies,” Hanlon said. “It can be nauseating at times, because when you are navigating in a complete white-out like that it is hard to know what’s what.”
While the trip was going to be a physical struggle from the beginning without added challenges, Hanlon received frostbite on his right thumb during the seventh day of the trek, something he now blames on not heating his core to an adequate temperature before leaving camp. Luckily, Hanlon packed along medication for just this reason, medicine he credits for “saving” his thumb. But enough though his thumb was saved, it made daily tasks difficult for the right-handed man and even two weeks later, the blackened thumb is still sensitive to temperature.
Putting pain aside — something each of the man did, as Hanlon said his fellow travelers often received large blisters on their feet — the crew travelled about 26 to 28 kilometres per day, extending their skiing to 42 kilometres one day and staying in camp due to weather another.
In constant sunlight, the men rose each morning at 6 a.m. and were on their skis by 8 a.m., travelling into the evening hours before pitching camp and starting the experience over.
“When your body is wanting to stop or feels that it is time to stop, you have to ignore those vibes and get going. It’s like having a Monday morning experience every day for 50 days,” Hanlon said.
Just maintaining a steady body weight is an arduous task, Hanlon explained. During the trip, Hanlon increased his diet to 6,500 calories per day, taking in as much high-calorie food as his 55-year-old body could handle, even mixing olive oil and large globs of butter into his oatmeal during breakfast.
“One of the few times in life when you can eat large quantities of chocolate, carbohydrates and fat without feeling guilty about it,” Hanlon chuckled, adding he lost four pounds during the trip, but quickly added them back by dining on Chilean steak and drinking a few celebratory beers.
After more than a month-and-a-half of travel, the trio spotted the South Pole — with consists of a ceremonial pole as well as a research station — nine km from where they had planned to camp. Feeling energized, they continued on and finished their journey.
Hanlon said it was a “very strange feeling” arriving at the pole, as members of the research team came outside to meet the men.
“Having travelled, just the three of us for 47 days without any animals or anything, it was very strange. The toughest part was adapting to the change,” he said,
Within two days, and after letting the icicles from this beard thaw, Hanlon and the others were on a plane to the edge of the continent. From there, they set out on a Russian aircraft that brought them back to Chile and civilization.
From his doctor’s office in Cochrane, Hanlon said the trip taught him new lessons in “teamwork and endurance,” lessons he believes he can use in his daily life and potentially pass on to others.
“One of the nice things I really love about expeditions is it really pares down the extra stuff in life and you are down to basics, like survival, food, shelter and a stove to melt snow,” Hanlon said.