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Scottish explorer Dave Mill is attempting to set a new world record by completing one of the final challenges left to man - walking solo and unsupported to the North Pole. Lorraine Wakefield follows his progress so far as he battles against the elements and the ice.

Snow blindness, storms, shifting ice, open water, temperatures of -90C and hungry polar bears are just some of the hazards facing Perthshire man Dave Mill as he attempts to be the first person to walk solo and unsupported to the North Pole.

Dave set off from his base camp on Ward Hunt Island for the second time on 10 April after his initial start to the trip had to be cut short after five days due to both stoves breaking, solar panels on his satellite phone failing to charge and a broken snowshoe forced him to turn back.

He spent a week in the huts salvaging food from 1974 emergency food rations to keep him going until an aircrew could bring him new stoves and more supplies which included a slap up meal of steak and chips!

The abortive start to his epic trek was not the first hurdle Dave had to cross however as the entire expedition was in doubt due to lack of sponsorship just a few weeks before he was due to leave but a last minute deal with O2, a provider of mobile communications services in Europe, meant his attempt could go ahead.

His sponsors have also provided him with communication equipment so he can stay in touch with his UK team during the trek with daily diary and position updates and he also has regular live links with employees of O2 to keep them up to date with his progress.

It is Dave's third attempt to reach the North Pole without any back up and he currently holds the record for the furthest unsupported trip across the Arctic ice cap after he covered 460km of the 800km journey in 45 days last year.

Dave is being backed in his bid by legendary British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes who chose Mill as his reserve walker for his solo attempt to walk to the North Pole in 2000. After Sir Ranulph's accident, Mill re-started the walk and completed 34 days.

Dave's determination to complete his trip to the North Pole will be tested to the utmost limits during his latest expedition, which has already seen several setbacks but his willpower and tough mental attitude mean he is pushing ahead towards his goal.

On setting out from Ward Hunt Island for the second time Dave knew speed was of the essence if his trip was to succeed and he completely re-organised the supplies he was carrying on his pulk (sledge) to trim the weight down to the absolute minimum.

The first five days out on the trek Dave had to cope with huge rubble ice fields, stretches of open water and fierce winds and storms that threatened to rip his tent from the surface of the ice. Despite of all this he managed to make progress most days and by the end of the first week the weather and ice had settled down again.

But the good progress was brought to a rapid halt when Dave was confronted by the biggest stretch of open water he had encountered so far and there was nothing for it but to sit it out for a day and wait for the water to freeze over.

Two days of good trekking followed but the huge physical toll the trek is taking on Dave was demonstrated by the fact he was trying to put his boots on the wrong feet and he wisely decided to have a rest day before again tackling the rubble strewn ice fields and moving ice pans.

By 28 April Dave had covered a total of 92km but suffered another setback when the mounts around the ski bindings on his boots broke and he had to use his initiative to come up with a makeshift repair - "I made a metal plate from an old fuel bottle and with a heated needle created holes through the rubber soles, then bound together with wire. A couple of the wire links later gave way so will replace with screws."

This solved the boot problem and fortunately Dave has enough fuel bottles with him to replace the repair every few days but this has not been the end of his inventiveness with a new pair of sunglasses also being crafted from various bits of his kit after he lost his best pair!

The biggest hazard Dave has had to face by far though is a polar bear that was stalking him across the ice and in a call back to the UK by satellite phone he admitted that was by far the most frightening experience of the expedition, "The tracks that I saw were very erratic in direction which may have been due to the wind change affecting the polar bear's sensing direction. There is no doubt that a very large beast was on the prowl, the prints looked like a large male and were slipping implying that he was struggling to track accurately - lucky for me maybe!"

Dave has now covered almost 300km of the distance to the North Pole and as he gets nearer his target changes in conditions to flat smooth ice should allow him to increase his speed and he is expected to reach the pole and his place in the record books on 29 May.

You can follow Dave's progress on his website www.northpolewalk.com

16/5/2002

Arctic fast facts

* Mill will cover 800km of drifting pack ice which, in reality, will be 1,100km as he will be constantly pushed back by the weather conditions and the terrain.

* Below the pack ice is 4,500m of water Mill will climb pressure ridges up to 100m high which are formed by collisions of pack ice which can take 4-5 hours to climb

* To reach the pole will take approximately one million steps

* He will use up half a million calories which equates to approximately 65kilos of food and the loss of three stone in bodyweight

* Temperatures in the area can be as low as -60C but with the wind chill factor it feels more like -90C

* Mill will have to be on the look out for attack from polar bears - a female bear weighs 250kg and a male bear 350kg

* His diet on the expedition will amount to 8,000 calories per day made up of 70% fat, 21% carbohydrate and 9% protein. It includes suet with every meal, glucose bars, chocolate and protein powder

* Mill has been preparing for the trip by using dry land skis, climbing hills wearing a weighted backpack for six to eight hours daily

* He has also been pulling heavy tyres weighing the equivalent of 250kilos with a sledge harness along roads and tracks in preparation for pulling his pulk sledge to the Pole.

* Mill will carry an iridium satellite telephone and an Argos live time tracking system

* The telephone will allow daily contact with his Ground Support Manager at Ward Hunt Island and the tracking system can send 16 pre-set messages

* Each pre-set message indicates the status of the expedition - the last message will warn that Dave has serious problems and will initiate a rescue

 

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Dave in the huts at Ward Hunt Island



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Packing up the pulk with vital supplies for the trip



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Setting off over the ice through rubble fields and moving ice packs



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Dave's tiny tent has struggled to cope with sometimes ferocious winds



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Having covered nearly 300km Dave is determined to reach the North Pole solo


 

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