Living in isolation tests strength of Antarctic adventurers

Wed Jan 6, 2010 8:48am EST
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By Pauline Askin

CAPE DENISION, Antarctica (Reuters Life!) - Living in freezing isolation in Antarctica is a test of endurance for even the toughest of adventurers with veterans to the South Pole convinced that a sense of humor is a key tool for survival.

Despite passing psychological assessments, for some people the hardest part of an expedition to one of the world's most inhospitable environments comes on the day that their ship sails out of view, leaving them stranded on ice.

When early Antarctic explorers like Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Douglas Mawson led their expeditions to the South Pole about a century ago, psychological testing was not a part of the selection process.

These days, however, in addition to technical competence there is a strong emphasis on mental and physical prowess when vetting candidates to work on the ice such as during an annual program to conserve the huts of Mawson and his team.

"When you get closer to Antarctic a lot of people are very aware they've left a hell of a lot behind and when they land at the station and the ship sails away that's an important moment," Rob Easther, expedition manager for the Mawson's Huts Foundation, told Reuters at Cape Denison.

Cape Denison is 2,473 kms (1,537 miles) south of the Australian island state of Tasmania and is officially the windiest place on earth at sea level, where the highest recorded gusts reach 300 kms an hour.

Easther has over 20 years experience with the Australian Antarctic Division living and working on various Australian Antarctic stations and was awarded the Antarctic Medal for his services.

But he tends to rely on gut instinct when selecting candidates to travel on the Mawson's Huts Foundation Expedition, an annual six-week working program to conserve the base of Australia's most famous polar explorer, Mawson, and his team, set up during their 1911-14 expedition to Cape Denison.   Continued...

<p>Dr. Chris Henderson poses for pictures at Cape Denison, East Antarctica January 6, 2010. REUTERS/Pauline Askin</p>