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Photography by Ms Linda Brownlee | Styling by Mr Tony Cook
Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher

This year, 14 December will mark the 100th anniversary of the day that Mr Roald Amundsen successfully led four of his Norwegian compatriots to the South Pole. In the UK, however, they'll be eulogising the doomed five-man expedition led by Captain Robert Scott, who reached the Pole five weeks after Mr Amundsen, and perished in the snow on the return leg of the journey. To coincide with those commemorations The Queen's Gallery, at Buckingham Palace, is exhibiting a collection of photographs from Captain Scott's expedition, and that of Sir Ernest Shackleton, under the name The Heart of the Great Alone.

As Mr Hempleman-Adams has been to the South Pole (he went solo and unsupported in 1996) his perspective on the photographs is personal. "For me it's not about the iconic shots, like Hurley's one of the ship [The Endurance] in the ice," he says. "Everyone knows about them. I like the photographs of the men outside - when you see those guys pulling up fish cages, you know how cold it is in the dark. It was extraordinarily hard. Those images capture human endurance." He clearly regrets not being a part of what he describes as, "A wonderful era, in that there were still vast tracts of the world that were not mapped".

The wonderful scenery is immediate. But once you're on the summit you just think about getting down

Mr Hempleman-Adams has made good use of the maps created by his forerunners; in 1998 he became the first man to have reached both Poles and scaled the tallest mountain on each of the world's seven continents: Everest in Asia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, McKinley in North America, Vinson in Antarctica, Aconcagua in South America and Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania. Asked what he remembers about these extraordinary journeys, Mr Hempleman-Adams replies, "The wonderful scenery is immediate, but once you're on the summit you just think about getting down. The comradeship stays with you for longer, and you have fond memories that you revisit at a later stage - mostly in the pub."

"There is huge interest in exploration," says Mr Hempleman-Adams, who has been involved in the exhibition. However, a dispassionate observer might wonder if this isn't an extravagant celebration of failure. He doesn't disagree, "I always warmed to Shackleton. I don't know why - he never achieved anything he set out to do." This despite the fact that, according to Mr Hempleman-Adams, "These were hugely funded expeditions, like a NASA mission now, they took the best kit possible."

Unfortunately Captain Scott discovered that kit alone doesn't get the job done. "He never had much training or practise," says Mr Hempleman-Adams. "Whereas Admundsen, when he traversed Canada's Northwest Passage in 1903, met up with the local Inuits who taught him how to survive in cold weather. They told him to use skins from the indigenous animals, such as seals and polar bears, to keep warm. But also how to drive a dog team. So when he went down to Antarctica he knew how to drive these dogs and he was a superb skier. The whole team gelled and for them it was a relatively easy trip."

The comradeship stays with you and you have fond memories that you revisit - mostly in the pub

Mr Hempleman-Adams believes Captain Scott was also held back by his own snobbery. "Scott had never spent much time on skis," he says. "When a Norwegian suggested he try them Scott ignored him because he wasn't an officer. So Scott was up to his crotch in cold snow, rather than put a pair of skis on. That was his attitude, and his attitude gave him second place."

SHOTS FROM THE EXHIBITION


The Heart of the Great Alone runs from 21 October 2011 to 15 April 2012.
royalcollection.org.uk
Mr Hempleman-Adams' book, also titled The Heart of the Great Alone (£29.95, The Royal Collection), is out now

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