Intrepid Finchingfield couple recount their journey across frozen Antartic tundra

PUBLISHED: 08:17 24 May 2019

Graham and Susan Tobbell celebrating once they reach the South Pole, Picture: Rune Gjeldnes

Graham and Susan Tobbell celebrating once they reach the South Pole, Picture: Rune Gjeldnes

Rune Gjeldnes

A world-famous explorer led a Finchingfield couple on an expedition to the South Pole.

Graham and Susan Tobbell, who are both in their 60s, and who conquered Mount Kilamanjaro only a few years ago, believe they may be the oldest couple to ski in the South Pole.

They were shepherded by friend Sir David Hempleman-Adams who is the first person to reach the geographic and magnetic North and South Poles as well as climb the highest peaks in all seven continents.

Rune Gjeldnes, the first man to cross the South Pole region without being resupplied, also joined the already distinguished group.

Graham, 69, a former Finchingfield Parish Council chairman spoke to the Broadcast about what is was like to travel with the elite adventurers and combat the perilous polar conditions, where temperatures dropped to nearly -40 degrees Celsius.

The group completed the 70-mile journey on skis and harnessed to a sledge, on top of a 9,000-mile high plateau. Visibility was sometimes so poor Graham couldn't see the person in front of him.

Graham, a retired university lecturer, said: "One of the hardest things to deal with is the completely unchanging landscape. Everything was white. So whether it was first thing in the day or the middle of the night the view would be the same so we wouldn't really know how far we were walking south. You have no landmarks, you depend on the leaders telling us what we are doing. If visibility was good, the only view was a blue sky and a 360 degree white landscape."

They boiled ice, mixing it with dried food for nourishment and all six shared a tent for warmth, whilst Susan and Graham each wore three pairs of gloves.

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After 10 days, the couple, who have two children, reached the South Pole on December 17 last year.

Ferocious winds meant the former Russian military plane due to fly them to Chile, could not reach them and Christmas was spent sipping mulled wine and singing carols at the Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions Base Camp.

As a makeshift present, Graham was given a strap which had secured his boots to his skis, until breaking on the expedition.

As to what it was like being led by Sir David, who has made 30 Arctic expeditions and arranged the world's 'highest' formal dinner party with Bear Grylls and the help of an air balloon, Graham said: "Because we are close friends we would just discuss things. He would explain what we need to do and what the plan was. After we had a break he would check our faces to make sure none of our masks had slipped off. Each evening we used a satellite phone to tell base camp our precise compass setting so that if we had lost contact they would know where to start looking for us. "

Susan and Graham met Sir David three years ago when they successfully bid on an expedition to Everest base organised by the adventurer.

After telling Sir David they intended to ski to the South Pole and passing a fitness test, Graham asked his friend who would be leading the couple.

"David replied 'we are friends, I'm leading us', he doesn't normally lead groups because he's so busy doing other things," Graham said.

While most people approaching their seventh decade might slow down, Graham and Susan visited the Arctic for the first times five years ago and have returned twice.

During their travels, which include trekking to Machu Pichu and visiting the Amazon rainforest, a car-sized boulder landed 30 feet behind them and water flowed so fast down a mountainside that signs and footpaths were destroyed in front of them.

The pair are already considering their next challenge and wherever they choose to go, it's a safe bet there won't be much opportunity for sunbathing or poolside margaritas.

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