Tag Archives: South Pole

Calgary Herald: Albertan skis to South Pole for a cause, Jan 27, 2010

Albertan skis to South Pole for a cause
Cochrane doctor takes health care to the poor
Valerie Berenyi
Calgary Herald
Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I t’s not easy to sum up Dr. Bill Hanlon’s remarkable ski expedition to the South Pole in a single news story, so here are the Coles Notes:

The highs: the austere beauty of the Antarctic landscape; the camaraderie of three men pushing beyond their limits; the singular pleasure of sharing a can of Pringles on Christmas Day in a tent on a polar ice cap.

The lows: frostbite; constant headwinds adding to -40 C temperatures; repetitive strain injuries from pulling sleds laden with 54 kilograms of supplies across 1,200 kilometres of ice and snow for 47 long days.

After successfully reaching the South Pole on Jan. 2, Hanlon recently flew back from Chile to re-enter daily life as a family doctor in Cochrane. He’s also the founder and medical director of Basic Health International Foundation, a non-profit that brings health care to poor people living in remote, high-altitude places.

He’s still recovering from his physical ordeal, which involved skiing steadily upward from sea level at Hercules Inlet to the top of the South Pole at 2,835 metres. He did the trek with two companions, American explorer Eric Larsen and Dongsheng Liu, a Shanghai engineer.

The trio ate about 6,500 calories a day to fuel their eight-and 10-hour days: freeze-dried foods laced with butter and oil and as many chocolate bars as they could eat.

“I actually didn’t lose a lot of weight, only four pounds,” said Hanlon. “After some Chilean beer and steaks, I was back to normal.”

His frostbitten thumb has yet to fully heal. In their first week on the Antarctic ice — devoid of plant or animal life — the temperature plunged to -50 C and Hanlon wasn’t protected well enough against the extreme cold. It could have derailed the trip, but as trip physician he was able to treat himself, learn to use his left hand more and suck it up for daily tasks, such as lacing his boots, requiring both hands.

“It was definitely a wake-up call. That environment is very unforgiving.”

Although this was his first polar expedition, Hanlon knows about unforgiving places.

Two weeks before embarking on his Antarctic expedition, the seasoned adventurer was at the other end of the temperature spectrum when he summited Carstensz Pyramid in the hot jungle of Papua New Guinea.

There, he completed his 20-year quest to climb the tallest peaks on all the continents, including Mount Everest, which he tackled in May 2007. Only an estimated 200 climbers have achieved this mountaineering feat, known as the Seven Summits.

It was among the peaks that Hanlon found his passion: combining remote area medicine with physical challenges. It started about two decades ago, when he worked with Tibetans in the Darjeeling Himalayas. He was deeply touched by the people, the climbing and the geography.

Since then, he’s spent three or four months of every year volunteering to bring primary health care to those living in geographically isolated communities in countries such as India, Peru, Honduras, Thailand, Nepal, Tibet, Ethiopia and South Africa.

“These adventure trips are basically a way to promote some of our international medical work in remote areas,” he said, explaining that after each trip — paid for out of his own pocket — he gives talks to raise awareness and funds for Basic Health International Foundation.

His next talk, Medicine in High Places, is slated for Feb. 9 at the Banff Centre.

Hanlon’s experiences at the South Pole taught him a lot, said Hanlon, who is planning an expedition to the North Pole. Unlike the short, intense experience of climbing, this was more of a slow ultra-marathon: “a long plod.”

“It’s one of the few areas where middle age is an advantage,” the 55-year-old singleton said with a laugh.

If Hanlon went to Antarctica to promote awareness of medicine for the developing world, Larsen went to raise awareness of global warming with his Save the Poles expedition. Liu was there to fulfil a childhood dream of being the first person from China to reach the South Pole.

Despite the physical and mental challenges, the three men worked together well.

“I love the journey rather than the destination,” said Hanlon. “When we got to the South Pole, it was almost a letdown because it was over.

“It’s remote, you have to be completely self-reliant and rely a lot on teamwork. I love an expedition in the sense of being out there in the elements, working efficiently as a team, in that kind of harsh environment.

“It reminded me of how adaptable we are as a species.”


© Calgary Herald 2010

Reaching the South Pole , Cochrane Times, Date: Jan 2010

Reaching the South Pole
Posted By Brad Herron of The Cochrane Times


Reaching the South PoleThree small souls at the 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.


Success! Trekkers make it to South Pole updated 9:56 a.m. MT, Sun., Jan. 10, 2010

Success! Trekkers make it to South Pole updated 9:56 a.m. MT, Sun., Jan. 10, 2010Three small souls at the pole.

Healthy Remote Communities / Save the Poles Expedition (Nov – Dec 2009)

Dong and Bill showing off their 'explorer's portions'. Soon it will be freeze dry, oatmeal and Clif bars.Dr. Hanlon is one of only three expedition members on the Antarctic leg of the Save the Poles Expedition beginning November 7, 2009.

See the South Pole / North Pole News and Guide for additional information.

This is a link to the start of the adventure on Eric Larsen’s (expedition lead) Trip Blog