Arctic expedition for handpicked pupils

Julia Sanderson, 16, from Gracemount High with Craig Mathieson of the Polar Academy. Picture: Mike Wilkinson Photography
Julia Sanderson, 16, from Gracemount High with Craig Mathieson of the Polar Academy. Picture: Mike Wilkinson Photography
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IT’S a life-changing journey to one of the toughest places on the planet – taking in subzero temperatures and inhospitable mountain passes so remote they don’t even have a name.

Now ten brave teenagers from the Capital are set to head deep into Arctic Greenland as part of a groundbreaking charity expedition.

The pupils – from St Augustine’s, Liberton, Gracemount, Forrester and Tynecastle High – will face plummeting temperatures as low as -20C as they haul their own 45kg sledges across sea ice and through deep, rocky chasms.

And leading the ten-day trek will be veteran explorer Craig Mathieson, who in 2004 became the first man to head up a dedicated Scottish expedition to the South Pole.

The Arctic challenge is being run by Craig’s charity The Polar Academy, which works to transform the lives of “invisible and forgotten” young adults across Scotland by building their confidence and using exploration to turn them into positive role models.

The three boys and seven girls, aged between 15 and 17, will travel 100km in total, accompanied by expert guides, a doctor and a teacher.

Craig insisted the expedition – only the second taken on by the charity since it was founded in 2013 – would prove “life-changing”. The 46-year-old said: “The Polar Academy is the most difficult thing these kids will probably ever do. It has to be difficult. We have to push them beyond what they’re capable of, so when they come back they know they’ve achieved something very, very special.

“When we take them back they have a story to tell that will truly inspire their peers. That’s what The Polar Academy is about – it’s to get teenagers to inspire each other. It’s giving them confidence without giving them arrogance and ego.”

The pupils were chosen by Craig during a selection weekend at sportscotland’s Glenmore Lodge – with the explorer on the lookout for youngsters who lacked confidence.

They now face eight months of intensive physical training before finally setting off in March next year.

Julia Sanderson is one of two pupils selected from Gracemount High School and will celebrate her 17th birthday while crossing the arctic ice.

She said: “I feel both nervous and really excited – I’m definitely wondering what it will be like to pull a sledge on skis for eight hours a day.”

The £170,000 cost of the expedition is being met with the help of funding from organisations including Edinburgh council, the Tiso Group and Bergans of Norway.

Chris Tiso, CEO of Tiso Group and a fellow adventurer, said: “The Polar Academy truly transforms the life chances of young people through training for and experiencing an expedition in the stunning and challenging Arctic wilderness.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com