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Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

To the Pole and back but first, learn to ski

Twins take on great explorers in attempt on Antarctic record

Josh (left) and Zac Lyon leave for Antarctica next year. Photo / Christine Cornege
Josh (left) and Zac Lyon leave for Antarctica next year. Photo / Christine Cornege

They've never skied before but twin brothers Zac and Josh Lyon aren't letting that stop their attempt to cross from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole and back again.

The Waikato University students will be the first, and youngest, New Zealanders to undertake the 2260km journey when they set out in November next year.

They'll be pitting themselves against history's greatest polar explorers, striving to set the record for the fastest return journey in less than 69 days.

No mean feat, the trip will involve up to 14 hours' skiing a day, hauling a 100kg self-sufficient kit to the South Pole, where they will turn around and kite-ski back.

Fraternal twins Zac and Josh were inspired as teenagers at Tauranga Boys' College to undertake the expedition after hearing about it first hand from Jamie Fitzgerald, who made the crossing in 2007.

But it wasn't until this year that the ambitious 21-year-olds began putting their plan into action.

The first step is to learn to ski. After that is a trip in February to Norway, where they will spend four weeks learning how to survive in the harsh Antarctic climate, where temperatures average between 15C and 40C.

At the same time they will be kitted out with five layers of protective clothing as well as sleeping bags, skis, shoes and sleds, and be trained in polar travel, learning how to spot dangerous crevasse fields and to operate communications equipment.

Then a 35-day journey across the Greenland ice cap in April will be the final preparation for their adventure.

All up, the venture will cost about $400,000 and the pair are fundraising through a new website funding platform, ThrillPledge, to raise the $40,000 needed by December 14 for training.

The biggest cost, $163,000, is just for getting to the start of their journey which involves being flown in by a specialist company.

The pair said they were inspired by other polar explorers such as Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Britain's Robert Scott.

"We're just two guys who want to show you can pretty much achieve anything regardless of age or ethnicity or whatever," Zac said.

"We're pretty run-of-the-mill people," Josh said. "[It comes] down to motivation and hard work and that's what we want to show you don't have to be born into a family that has a big heritage to be able to do this stuff."

And despite the death of Scott, who with four others perished on their ill-fated Terra-Nova expedition in 1912, the twins say they're not too worried about the perils of polar travel, which include frost bite and altitude sickness.

Their mentor and director Rob Hamill, an Olympic rower and winner of a transatlantic rowing race, said the twins' hard work and preparation would stand them in good stead to accomplish such an amazing feat of endurance.

"This expedition, a world first, epitomises the very values of daring, adventure and courage instilled in New Zealand's history by the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Peter Blake."

For now, though, 77kg Zac and 75kg Josh need to concentrate on adding another 25kg to their frames to make the crossing.

- NZ Herald

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